Drinking in the heart of Dixie


This is the third in a series of columns that trace the history of efforts to regulate the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in Alabama. What follows is an updated and expanded version of an article by the author that first appeared in The Anniston Star back in 2008.
Where were we?
Oh yes.
Dry counties needed money as much as wet counties, so they argued that since their citizens crossed county lines to buy and drink, they should get a share of the taxes that drinkers  paid.  Wet counties, with less legislative clout than they would have later, had to let them have it. So in effect the state of Alabama subsidized county dryness with county wetness. Make sense? If not, stop reading now, for what follows is going to get even more complicated. And weird.
While Alabama was dividing into wet, dry, damp, damp with draft and damp without, the dry counties were becoming home of one of the legendary alliances that never existed – ministers and moonshiners.  (It is often referred to as a coalition of bootleggers and Baptists, but as I have shown earlier, other denominations could have been part of the alliance as well.)
There is no clear evidence that preachers and distillers ever sat down and worked out an agreement.  But what was never formalized surely functioned efficiently to keep the legal liquor out of a county.
Bootleggers and their “employees” would vote dry to keep out the state stores. Church folk would vote dry to drive out the legal evil.  This secured the market for the illegal.
Planned or not, it worked. Until 1978.
That year it all started to unravel when some folks in counties up in the Tennessee Valley demanded that  the property taxes paid by the Tennessee Valley Authority should go  to  the counties where the property was located instead of to the state.  Sending that pot of money to Montgomery had enabled lawmakers to continue to keep state property taxes low, just as Black Belt planters, mineral interests, and timber barons believed God (and the Constitution of 1901’s subsequent amendments) intended property taxes to be.
But the Tennessee Valley folks doing the protesting had the ear of Gov. George Wallace, who depended on their support for other legislation he was pushing.
So Wallace proposed an 80-20 split, with the Tennessee Valley counties getting the bigger share.
Then someone pointed out that though the Tennessee Valley counties were getting shorted when it came to TVA property taxes, the dry ones (and most were dry) were getting a cut of the liquor revenue collected in the wet counties – remember that arrangement?
When this was pointed out the TVA property tax bill was amended to strip ALL dry counties of their liquor revenue subsidy.
That is when it hit the fan.
Wallace had become a hero of the dry counties when he vowed that, unlike his predecessor Big Jim Folsom, he “would never serve liquor in the Governor’s Mansion.” But now it looked like he was going to take away the money that enabled the dry counties to stay dry and at the same time provide the services paid for by liquor revenue.  The dry counties rose in protest so Wallace, to keep his legislative coalition together and focused, reconstructed the deal.
TVA counties would get 75 percent of the money, the state would get 20 percent, and the rest would be split among the dry counties, which would continue to get a cut of wet county liquor revenue.
So it came to pass that TVA, as well as the State of Alabama, was subsidizing prohibition. While all this was going on, Alabama was changing.
The population of the state was shifting from rural country to towns and cities. Court decisions forced the state to reapportion the legislature and give urban areas representation commensurate with their population.  Growing town began to need more revenue to pay for services town-dwellers expected.  One obvious source of the needed money was liquor taxes.  Increasingly towns wanted to sell liquor – for revenue and for the culture and amenities liquor brought. But towns in heavily rural dry counties were unable to overcome anti-liquor votes outside municipal limits.
So dry county towns began to press the legislature for help.
They got it in the form of the “municipal option law.”(To be continued:)
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.


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