tv Organized Crime in the South in the 1950s CSPAN July 16, 2016 7:01pm-8:01pm EDT
national archives center for legislative archives hosted this event. it is just under one hour. >> thank you for attending this talk. researcher talks invites scholars to tell us about their projects and have the records support them. senatehe highly visible and house investigations of the 1950's have received much research attention over the last two years, we have invited historians to speak about their work in these records. several historians of spoken to us about the senate select committee on improper activities in labor and management. presentationsade
based on the hearings of the house un-american activities committee. also the senate special committee to investigate crime in interstate commerce. better known as the kefauver committee. ingram,t today, tammy senator estestled kefauver and the anticrime crusade in the south. researched at the center of the records of estes kefauver's famous investigation. she is also looked into senator kefauver's personal papers at the university of tennessee. bookresearch supports her project, the wickedest city in america.
such a tantalizing title. going to hear from tammy which city she considers the wickedest. she earned a phd in history at yale university. tammy has just been named a gilder lehrman fell at yale and will spend next year writing the first draft of the wickedest city. congratulations, tammy. as always, we will have time for questions and answers after the presentation. remember to raise your hand. thank you for joining us, tammy.
tammy: thank you all for being here. not to go over. i want to give you a brief overview of the kefauver committee's origins. of its limits to set up the rest of our talk. for the benefit of anyone who might not be thinly with it already, the estes kefauver committee had the formal title of the special senate committee to investigate organized crime in interstate commerce. it was empowered to investigate the use of the facilities in interstate commerce by organized crime syndicates nationwide. they were especially interested in gambling operations. the resolution proposing the creation of this committee was
introduced by senator estes kefauver in 1950 and approved by the senate in may. over the next 15 months of five-man committee conducted hearings and 14 major cities around the country. the couple took a very keen interest in the work of this particular committee. some of the hearings were and an estimated audience of about 30 million people tuned in to watch. many of them not from their living rooms. the local movie theaters were showing the talks. women were pushing their baby carriages around new york city and when the kid would fall asleep they would duck into the theater to watch a few minutes of it in. it was fascinating to see the senator's questioning mob bosses and their associates. and also some very prominent politicians whom they suspected of having ties to organized crime. final report was issued in 1951.
it concluded that organized crime syndicates really did exist. they depended upon the support in the cooperation of public officials around the country. interest in organized crime had peaked already. at the end of the second world war there was a great resurgence of interest in and concern about organized crime. the fbi had long downplayed the existence of the mob. hadpublic and the media paid less sustained attention to hope -- the last of the high profile gangsters of the prohibition era. there are a number of reasons why scholars have given for this review interest. there are four big ones that i think relate to this.
cities theren some was the perception that mob violence had increased. there was a particular murder of the kingpin in kansas city. the committee was actually already in the works at that point. that was a very timely event. kefauver, ithelped helps to underscore the need for federal action. another reason was labor racketeering. output was obviously of paramount concern. the two that have the most bearing on my project are that of more clearing to people that racketeers
interrupted the legal process in the cities where they had thrived more or less unchecked for decades. that law between the 30's in the 50's when we weren't paying close attention to what they were doing was a. of tremendous growth for organized crime. especially in the south. the outset of the cold war contributed as well. in an atmosphere of heightened anxiety and corrupt officials immoralkmail, any activities were subjected to greater scrutiny. perceptions of political corruption seemed especially dangerous. that is what is happening on the national level. i'm focusing on phenix city. that is the wickedest city in america. you may never occurred of it.
i book examines organized crime from the end of the civil war to the beginning of the cold war. it tells the city of how phenix city alabama a small city on the , how itochee river became the headquarters of the civil war. after fort benning was established across the river in 1918, the racketeers had a steady stream of revenue from soldiers on payday. they really constituted the most reliable source of income for the records. 1930's, the syndicate ran the city. it did so with the cooperation and the blessing of local officials. it was a dry county but they ran saloons. they ran brothels. gambling from numerous lotteries and slot machines.
saperstein's were in casinos and gambling halls and clubs. there was a grocery store where they joked you cannot find a bread. red -- slots in thenny store. they also ran some fancier establishments. thehe early 1950's, kefauver committee was investigating the extent of organized crime nationwide. and phenix city was running a pretty sophisticated enterprise. by some estimates, it generated $100 million a year. enabled racketeers to control local and state politics. the mob's wealth and power also
dependent upon or nefarious businesses. i will talk about this too much today but one of the things that my larger project is looking at is central to the rising was the growing power of the mob to control, exchange and profit from the sale of women's and children's bodies. prostitution, including involving children as young as 13 years old. that was rampant. also illegal adoptions. especially involving the children of single or poor mothers. it enriched the racketeers and phenix city but also linked them to criminal networks outside of alabama. the most striking thing that the
phenix city mob is the extent of its global connections. the mob they are exercise complete control over municipal activities. it also exercise tremendous influence in state politics. they made a few efforts to clean up the mob in the early 20th century but they got nowhere. that didn't change until the late 1940's when a stronger crime-fighting organization, group of local citizens, was organized. it was called the russell betterment association. its members became targets of mob violence right away. in 1952, they bombed to the home of one of the leaders of the russell betterment association. they set fire to the law office of another one. 1954 they tried to rig
the democratic primary to prevent him from becoming the state's new attorney general. it failed, they won the democratic primary. they assassinated him outside of his law office. corruptficials were so that the governor had to declare martial law. when the dust settled, the nation was shocked to learn that the three people suspected of his murder were prominent public officials. the deputy sheriff, the circuit solicitor, and the sitting attorney general of the state of alabama. himself into a mental hospital and avoided the prosecution. the other two stood trial and only fuller ever went to prison. he ended up getting out and moving back to phenix city where he was taking care of by former
associates for the rest of his days. the story made national and international headlines. the local newspaper won a pulitzer prize for his coverage of the case. for thes no surprise people of phenix city putin pleading with federal and state agencies for help for decades. they had appealed to estes kefauver and his colleagues on the senate committee to investigate organized crime. the high point of tensions and phenix city overlapped with the work of the kefauver committee. albert patterson, the man who was murdered, were pretty good in clayton says with him and exchange letters about how to deal with this problem. i came here couple of years ago in the hopes time of learning more about that correspondence. few letters and albert patterson's papers at the state archives alabama.
i wondered how much information he'd get into the kefauver committee. i didn't find very much between those two. i learned a lot more about the national dimensions of my study organized crime and political corruption in the jim crow south. my project is still very much a work in progress. i'm starting to write it up next week. -- next year. i can't outline precisely how it will all come together. i do want to focus on some of the most important things in my research. the first big take away from my the kefauver committee's work wasn't entirely new. it was the first effort by congress to investigate organized crime. but it mirrored and relied upon
the work of existing and hi-fi's commissions. the aid that they gave to the kefauver committee is absolutely essential for understanding the scope of its work in also the limits of that work. was the kefauver had his colleagues were communicating about in 1950 in 1951 were relatively new. most were organized in the mid to late 1940's. when the kefauver committee came around in 1950, dozens and dozens of local anticrime commissions were already engaged in the same work. onlecting up-to-date data local criminal enterprises in order to measure the full scope of their activities and their influence. networking with other anti-vice groups to find their way into
addressing local problems. these groups were publicizing the work of local criminal operations in an effort to paralyze them. the russell betterment society was founded in the late 1940's. one thing i learned is that the russell betterment association was a little bit unusual. it came out of a small town. most of the ones that existed were in larger towns and cities. images ofcouple of the kind of literature that they would put out. the greatere called crime commission. with a crime permission of greater miami. in 1948.unded
i realized how much they were up against funding challenges, unlike the kefauver committee. these locally organized commissions did not receive any public funding whatsoever. the may have had public officials on their members rosters but they weren't getting any money. one of the things they complained about to kefauver was how they spent most of their time not actually doing data are coming up with real solutions to the problems that the city was facing but they spent a lot of time trying to raise money so they can do those things. they did quite a lot of data anyway.
the commission in kansas city had a really good graphic design person. they have a couple of images here. i'm sorry these are so small. literature tended to focus more on how crime cost to the city money. its about going to morality. we're not asking who is participating in this. they were really concerned about how much money was costing the city to deal with these problems created by organized crime. these are typical anticrime commissions that kefauver and his colleagues were corresponding with. it would make sense that where .here were bigger populations
it helps to explain why the association was unusual. these commissions were absolutely instrumental in hising in kefauver and colleagues on the fullscope of organized crime activities in the united states. while committee correspondence suggests that commissions like the russell betterment association were really the exception, the committee's response to his shed some light on the work of that association. the files contained dozens of letters like this one from a man .amed john l he was complaining about the pervasiveness of organized crime. keep used to -- he appeals to to understander
that phenix city racketeers were not just a local concern. they should not be seen as a local concern. he alludes to the mob's ties to state government. and to its suspected involvement in criminal enterprises in florida. he makes clear that he believes there is a connection between the cold war objectives of the federal government and those of the russell betterment association. he says what we are fighting for democracy in other countries of the world please help us root out those people who seek to buy our own government. claims het his included a local newspaper clipping. one of the mob guys was getting a divorce and his wife lasted into the local newspaper. she was probably one of the better sources of information they could have had. parents were the ones who
were running the illegal adoption ring area her father was a doctor and her mother was his nurse. will talk about that at the end because it is probably the most salacious information. i thought it was just one of those legends that have been based on some grain of truth and greatly exaggerated. it was actually true. including the clippings with most of his letters. they did this in an effort to convince the farmer that this was well known. they're not just spreading rumors about the neighbors. this was a real problem. it is one of the committee needed to address. a dishr wrote back to him. -- m. -- m.
him. that time will permit them to come to every place. not every small town where there might be some problem. but he indicates he is interested in learning more about what is happening in phenix city. he was already corresponding with albert patterson and kefauver knew very well was going on. i do think he took a special interest in those letters. there are some other correspondence like this. memos scattered throughout the papers. saying that somebody had called and mentioned to bentley's name. who's house was firebombed by the mob. this man was the main kingpin in phenix city.
his name was tommy dynamite caps. each person had a specialty. , and aas a safecracker long list of known activities. he was there to blow things up. there are a lot of snippets of information scattered around. a lot of people were corresponding with kefauver and he knew a great deal of what was going on in phenix city. letters andng these they were members of the sum of kefauver's best sources of information. he often contacted the leaders of these commissions himself in order to solicit information. when there were no commissions to turn to, he would contact
local law enforcement. he writes a local journalists free collect huge wall working on some of their stories. i found a great one from a .irmingham reporter one of two of three journalists who just wrote a story about phenix city. they wrote a book following the patterson murder about the years of activities of the mob in phenix city. to over the next few months of data little deeper into the work of these commissions. now that i've seen how important their work was to kefauver. i'm interested in particular whether or not they were also
policing other criminal behavior. i think that the kefauver committee and its constellation of municipal anticrime commissions were responses to postwar years about crime and political corruption. reason they may have supported other law and order initiatives. it is impossible to fully disentangle genuine concerns about the organized crime syndicate from cold war era fears about all kinds of other supposedly immoral behaviors. we know that kefauver had a keen interest in some of these activities. he was an ardent supporter of legislation to limit pornography . he headed another committee later on that was interested in juvenile delinquency. commissionse local had initiatives that specifically mentioned that they are concerned with juvenile malignancy.
likewere doing things trying to ban comic books or encourage parents to not let the kids go see violent films. he's a something to kefauver committee records don't clarify for me. it may be interested in looking at the local commission to see how much they were corresponding with smaller activities. it is very difficult to find the records of these local groups. they are really fascinating. what are things that has come research? there is an awareness of the shortcomings of these anticrime campaigns. give the fulllly measure of the local involvement
in and sometimes local support for the rackets. before things became openly violent. it doesn't indicate anywhere in these records by listening to some of these committees talk that the many smaller towns and cities in particular were prominent local citizens. they were members of the jaycees. the guy who shot mr. patterson. he had been up for jc of the year. he was very embittered that even when. -- he didn't win. they were deacons in the local churches. little league coaches. one of the racketeers bought
uniforms for the little league team. they contributed money for the hospital. albert patterson himself, the man who was murdered by the mob, he'd been a local attorney. he done work for in the past. he defended one of the inntained pains -- kingpins a murder trial a few years before his own murder. he was in no way some pathetic to them. they tried to buy him off. tolerantyears he was of their behavior and he really only turned against them when
they turned against them when he joined the russell betterment association. kefauver was very quickly ambitious himself. they all reveled in his reputation for being tough on crime. my second big take away from my is thatthese records the kefauver investigation as we , organized crime was most known as an urban affliction. new york, chicago, los angeles, las vegas. if the committee's public activities confirmed what most thate already know, organized crime was real and running loose in the biggest
cities, the records of the committee show that organized crime flourished in smaller cities and towns. racketeers and corrupt public officials exercise control of local law enforcement and businesses. sometimes they politics as well. the committee assumes when they received some these letters from people complaining about local problems that the crime syndicates in smaller towns and cities were probably less common but they were smaller and probably less likely to engage in interstate business. correspondence taught him otherwise. he certainly knew that phenix city sitting on a state boundary was engaged in interstate commerce. scar respondents him time and again that this was so. this letter is very generic.
named wanda from alabama. the south was in trouble and the situation is dire, she says. she is obviously very upset about what is happening. most of the letters were very specific, they named names and had to dates and specific information about was going on and where and when. the files are organized by state. the southern states are thick files. letters detailing these kinds of activities. the sameep making kinds of complaints about their local problems. they really say they are linked androblems in other cities other parts of the country.
's paper to document their claims. many people were writing with complaints about phenix city. there also letters from places like birmingham and muscle .hoals savannah, georgia. cap chattanooga, tennessee. galveston texas. i could go on and on. the queries were all very similar. each letter outlined complaints about gambling, prostitution, intimidation. sometimes violent intimidation by small group of iraqi and employees. the men and women who wrote these letters also links these activities the things i mentioned earlier.
clinical corruption and labor racketeering. cold war security concerns. one person wrote a letter saying he was certain the communists were running the mob and muscle shoals. called himself or herself an american. and paranoid sounding note to the committee that said communism was the brother of the black market. another man wrote a letter to kefauver calling racketeers parasites. he said he thought they were an even bigger threat to democracy than communism was. a number of people in phenix city were saying that am as well. this is a huge problem. the real war is right here.
accusations as this one were so outrageous that kefauver and his colleagues didn't pay much attention to them. there was one where some he wrote the margin a crackpot. there are also letters from people who seem to have personal vendettas against specific individuals. i thought there would be more of those. it is obvious they were also receiving a lot of good information. sometimes kefauver solicited from people he trusted.
conclusion ons their final report in 1951 was no surprise to those southern citizens who are writing him 1.tters in 1951 and but it didn't lead to what they wanted which was a serious crackdown on organized crime is one of the smaller towns. the citizens pleaded mostly in vain for any kind of attention from the committee or any sort of help because they cannot rely on corrupt local officials to help them out. in phenix city, despite the work of the russell betterment association, the mob thrived in the early 1950's. after, it continued to
thrive. generale attorney facilitated the work of the racketeers there. it did not end until they overstepped in 1951 and they killed albert patterson and then the state government declared martial law. that was the only way to rooted out. most of the people involved did not go to jail. whenwere from phenix city the dust settled they all stated phenix city. he kept going to local political banquets. this is what they'd always been doing. of course organized crime did not end there.
most of you are far probably familiar with some of our high profile cases. such is the murder of fuzzy horde in jackson county georgia. pusser's campaign. question, which i'm still was why haven't we focused on the south. didn't kefauver pay attention to all these people? what were closer look at organized crime activities in thesouth really tell us? records don't offer any easy answer at first question. there was overwhelming evidence that organized crime thrived in the south and it had corrupted local and even state politics by 1950. everybody knew about this. it was no secret.
files alsonce outlines the extent of sophisticated and diversified work for decades before the 1950's. they provide some of the best documentation we have. what can this teach us about the south? a number of big things. one of the things that the kefauver committee got people thinking about was like most citizens they had the assumption that this was an urban problem. we can talk about what constitutes a real urban space.
it is about a highway. connections between urban and rural communities. phenix city was a very important market town for farmers. was also a way station for the very same kinds of vice and depravity that southerners associated with bigger cities, more industrialized cities. what is happening in phenix city challenge ideas about the safety and security of small-town life. even his industry and big agribusiness took over. as drivers of the national and regional economy. transition asthat well as challenges to the racial and sexual status quo were projected onto attitudes about the state's regulatory responsibilities. they needed to define and publish -- punish criminal behavior.
phenix city shifted away from an system to a more industrial one it embodied more difficult regional fluctuations between citizens and the state. by the late 1940's, when the appearance of cold war policy making reshaped ideas about safety and security in more global context. citizens heightened responses to the presence of organized crime reflected their growing anxiety about global and local threats to their safety. another big take away from this is that the correspondence files confirm how common it was for citizens to link their fears about organized crime to their fears about safety and security after the war.
as a case played out, cold war paranoia was making its way into american homes. people want to feel they can maintain some measure of personal safety control. the moral degradation of their communities by decades of device had been bad enough. but the cold-blooded murder of a prominent elected official prompted outrage. from is a wonderful quote one of the local papers near phenix city shortly after the pattison murder. he said, political assassinations only happen in latin american dictatorships. but not in alabama. it spoke volumes about how
rattled people were that this was going on there. they just didn't think it was going to go quite that far. at the heart of this book are a lot of overlooked connections between white southern resistance the civil rights and the backlash against organized crime as a foundation of cold war conservatism. i'm interested in the ways in a criminal subculture especially as ambitious politicians started getting involved. they were casting themselves as being tough on crime. the coexisted for so long they have reactionary ideas about race and gender. committee -- commitment to law and order masked these issues for decades.
the only prosecuted rapes and sexual assaults of black women by white men. to wrap up my summation of the committee and what it teaches us think most of our popular knowledge about organized crime comes from what we know thanks to the work of the kefauver committee. the limits of the committee working shape what we know. file in thendence committee's records is incredibly extensive and rich. southerners would deeply interested in the work of the committee. they worked tirelessly to get the committee's attention.
while the committee didn't conduct a serious investigation except for the ones correspondence files document and extensive network of organized crime activities of the cold war south. activities that had gone unchecked for decades. unfortunately for phenix city, they would continue far down the line. thank you. [applause] >> do you have a sense of how independent kefauver could be as thatator in a chamber
contained some many powerful southern senators? did they put any pressure against him? tammy: not from what i've seen. that is beyond the scope of what i'm working on. in the that i have read indicatedence would there was a serious pushback. in a way, this is not an easy thing to support. there was some wrangling over who was going to run the committee. and where funding was going to come from. everybody wanted some credit for it. i haven't come across anything
like that. i may knows that there is, i would love to know about it. who was trying to stop him. >> maybe i have a misconception. when i hear the mob, i think mafia. could you comment on the demographics of the mob? tammy: that's a great question. that is what we think of anything about the mob. within about a urban areas and the mafia. there was no particular ethnic orientation. there is nothing tying people together other than they are interested in these kinds of
activities. the people running it were relatively small. but they were very well-organized. sheppard was the big kingpin. there were some other guys who are considered bosses. themof people working for were just petty criminals like tommy who had proven himself to be adept at placing dynamite. rebel whome clarence ran at safe cracking school in phenix city. they had a building where they would bring people in and teach them about safe cracking. i said it was a sophisticated organization i sometimes jokingly call it disorganized crime. it was really very organized. specializeds very
and carefully set up. credible links between the italian mafia in new york or chicago or the irish mob and the rackets in phenix city. >> so was diverse demographically? tammy: it was all white men. most of them are from phenix city or nearby. a few people came in from the outside. there was one guy who was not born in the united states, but that's not true. as parents were immigrants but they'd come to alabama and he was born there. they called him the englishman.
most of the more locals or had been there for very long time. it had this reputation for a very long time dating back to the early 19th century. even before alabama became a state. people would run from the law into alabama. i was amused to learn that at was point the formal name sodom. [laughter] that was the name of the community. there is no organized theeteering operation until 1920's from the state passed a prohibition law. they began flouting it. the state attorney general came in. sheriff on trial
for refusing to enforce the law. with the election season came around. i started selling licenses to raise revenue. the city was broke. that is one of the reasons it really flourish there. way and ad the other lot of these violations in order to keep revenues up. >> you referenced the jim crow south. what was it about the fact that and was there an impact on organized crime because it was jim crow? i'm sorting through that.
i don't have a clean answer to that. one of my overarching concerns about this was what did it mean or how did it affect race relations in phenix city in alabama when you have this all-powerful white mob. what did that mean for race relations. from what i've learned about phenix city, the way that race played into it didn't quite work the way i thought it would. the mob had absolute control of the city government. establishments acted like everything else. they were segregated.
even though they segregated the black establishments, they were white owned. they put african americans in charge of running them. also wondered about political involvements of the mob and who with a supporting. as far as i've been able to tell , obviously the democratic party was running the county in the state. they were for anybody they can body. uy.by blake sheppard, the kingpin i was the one that i kuld find who was in the cla klux klan. patterson had a son in
john patterson who the governor of alabama. i interviewed him couple times. he has a vivid memory of watching the ku klux klan parade and he knew who they were because it was a small town and you can recognize their shoes. everybody knew that he was in the ku klux klan. was which isstion the to have this kind of local control? i have not been able to determine anything out of the ordinary or anything different. try tould occasionally exploit and manipulate the black vote in russell county. they would pay people to come in and vote who otherwise would not have been allowed to vote i haven't been determined to find
that that was the way they got elected. i don't think they had to. they just win in a race to the election returns and rode the numbers they wanted. they didn't even go as far as having to pay for roads. votes. patterson was promising that he would clean up phenix city. they were concerned about that. the immediate thing that got him killed was that he knew they had changed the election returns and he was going to testify before a grand jury in montgomery about that they knew it and they had to stop it. >> i'm from alabama. : parrish about 35
miles away. >> thank you very much, tammy. it is extraordinarily interesting. us so muchor telling about the kefauver investigation records. it was quite clear that there are rewarding items for your book. we are to hear about the next phase and we look forward to having you back someday. tammy: thank you all for coming. i really appreciate it. [applause] >> before the republican convention, c-span cities tour
will explore the history and literary life of cleveland, ohio. we will talk with author john grabowski as he explores how transportation shapes the identity and his book cleveland a city in motion. we will look at the cleveland public library and its langston hughes collection. he lived in cleveland. >> it was essential that he developed this kind of writing. he was introduced to the work of whitmanndberg and walt through his teachers. poem that issed a kind of famous. the clevelandit history center to take a tour of the power and politics exhibit with the chief curator
highlighting items in the collection relating to ohio presidential history. crawfordill tour the auto aviation museum. the motor cityas before detroit was. lake erie has great shipping routes. railroade a lot of shipping routes that could be taken. we also had the steel industry here. that is very important for the automobile industry to have the steel industry here. it all came together. >> this weekend watch c-span cities tour cleveland. the cities tour is working with our cable affiliates and visiting cities across the country.
>> i had a rough upbringing. i got involved with the streets. we started selling drugs. cocaineand then crack and we started selling that. i lived on the streets from the age of 13 to 18. >> 21 year veteran of the new york police department discusses his book about the police force. he talks about his former life as a drug dealer and as a police officer. when i criticize them, i'm talking about the bad police. the overwhelming majority are just coming to work to do their jobs. the cases out 212. cases involving bad policing. every time you see one of these
cases, you look at the person's background, they've been having complaints about the use of force. the guy was a mess. we don't find out about until he kill somebody. >> he argues there are ways that the work a bit ended other than dropping the atomic bomb. -- oness last about 51 hour and 15 minutes. i have been busy the last few days doing interviews about the nuclear security summit in washington, d.c., right now.