A gem from the archives: the Bear's brief White House run

Posted 8/31/18

The 1968 Democratic National Convention, which convened in Chicago 50 years ago this week, is remembered for violence in the streets and infighting in the Democratic Party.Of lesser importance to …

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A gem from the archives: the Bear's brief White House run


The 1968 Democratic National Convention, which convened in Chicago 50 years ago this week, is remembered for violence in the streets and infighting in the Democratic Party.

Of lesser importance to history is that legendary Alabama football coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant was one of nine men nominated for president during the convention.

Bryant received one and a half votes from members of the Alabama delegation, according to a wire article in the Aug. 30, 1968, edition of the Daily Mountain Eagle.

"I couldn't figure the half-vote out," Bryant told reporters. "The other half of that vote must have been an Auburn man."

Bryant bested former Alabama governor and independent presidential candidate George Wallace, who received half a vote. 

Wallace was crisscrossing the country, regaling voters and reporters alike with his colorful quotes in the days leading up to the convention.

"I think a fourth party is good, and I think a fifth party is even better. It will take less votes to win," he said after touching down in Oregon on Aug. 22. 

A week later, Wallace, who would win five Deep South states in the 1968 election, predicted that voters who were fed up with both parties would come out for him in the fall.

"Like the old saying in the South goes: 'If I don't have anything to vote for but the national Republicans and the national Democrats, I'd let it lie out,'" he said in an article printed Aug. 29.

The big news in Walker County that week was not the Democratic National Convention, however, but a ruling by a federal court that required Walker County Schools to employ 53 African American teachers by the start of the new school year, which was less than a week away.

The Eagle reported the details of the order on Aug. 29 under the headline "Federals Force School Crisis."

At the time, the county school system employed 14 African American teachers in predominantly white schools and an additional 38 at all-black schools.

Justice Department guidelines had already ordered that Davis High (formerly Walker County Training School) and S.J. Hembrick Junior High School at Parrish be closed and that those students be reassigned to Walker County High School and Parrish Elementary.

County schools Superintendent Robert Cunningham said consolidation would result in overcrowding and possibly result in Walker losing its Southern Association Accreditation.

When the school year began on Sept. 4, both Hembrick Junior High and Davis High remained open. 

On Sept. 13, the Eagle reported that Cunningham had written a letter to the state superintendent stating that the board could not comply. It would mean closing the county's all-black schools if those teachers were reassigned to all-white schools and Cunningham warned that there would be "mass resignations" if the board attempted to reassign white teachers to the all-black schools.

Complying would also result in "irreparable harm" to the 700 students enrolled at Davis High and T.S. Boyd in Dora because of difficulty in rescheduling classes and the varying graduation requirements, the Eagle reported. 

Legal wrangling was expected to continue for at least one more semester. 

Much has been written about the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but the story of how the county responded to court-ordered integration is one that can only be found in the Eagle's archives.

The Eagle also reported on the deaths of several soldiers in Vietnam during the waning days of August. Three young soldiers from Walker County died within a week of each other. 

On a lighter note, the paper published a photo of Cub Scout Troop 58 of Townley visiting the Red Stone Arsenal Space Center in Huntsville and ran two columns on how various county residents were spending their vacations — "Miss Melba Sanders and Mrs. Dot Middleton have been vacationing in Panama City. On vacation in the Smokies last week were Mr. and Mrs. Jake Dill, Cathy, Karen and Ronnie."

For the past two years, this column has been a hodgepodge of stories, usually feel-good stuff that I've shared from other print and online outlets. This fall, I'd like to take a new approach and share stories strictly from the Eagle archives. 

The seeds of this idea were probably planted several years ago when I read a book by Idaho newspaper columnist David Johnson, who wrote a weekly column for 30 years by opening up the local phone book and profiling whoever took his call. 

I'm not quite that brave, but I do have enough courage to pull a musty bound volume off the shelf each week, crack it open and see where I end up.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.