January 1966: Jasper judge leads effort to strike 'white supremacy' from party logo


The material for this column usually comes from the Daily Mountain Eagle's old front pages, but I also like to scan the unsigned editorials written by the paper's past leadership.

The men who wrote these editorials didn't mince words when commenting on the issues of the day. Some of their work is inarguably politically incorrect when read from the perspective of 2019, but they were the mouthpiece for their time, not ours. Their work reveals how local people processed the events going on around them in the moment.  

On Jan. 21, 1966, the Eagle editors railed against federal voting registrars coming to Jefferson County when registration was being held "efficiently, without incident" by local officials.

It was estimated that as many as 90,000 unregistered black voters lived in Jefferson County at the time. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights issued a press release on Jan. 11, 1966, insisting that registration be made easier for prospective voters by taking it out into the neighborhoods and adding night, evening and weekend hours.

There is a glaringly obvious but unstated connection between this editorial and the one below it in which Eagle editors took the position that the words "White Supremacy" should be removed from the Alabama Democratic Party's logo.

Walker County's own Judge Roy M. Mayhall, who was then executive chairman of the party's Executive Committee, was involved in the effort.

Mayhall, who had served as a Walker County Circuit Judge from 1943 to 1965, had made statewide news with some remarks to the Walker County Young Democrats in November 1963 in the wake of President John Kennedy's death: "We have lost sight of the principles on which this great country of ours was founded. In so doing, and in making a mockery of sacred things we have fostered an atmosphere of hate which has contributed to this terrible act."

In January 1966, Mayhall and Alabama Democrats were coming off a loss that was considered to be their worst political defeat in a century. GOP Senator Barry Goldwater had been trounced nationally in the 1964 election but had carried Alabama with nearly 70 percent of the vote. He was the first Republican since 1872 to win the state. 

Eagle editors acknowledged that the number of African American voters was getting larger by the day and that they were "understandably" offended by the logo, which featured a rooster and the words "White Supremacy" above and "For the Right" below the symbol.

The editors also made the counterargument that party leaders had been justified in adopting the logo in 1904.

"It came about in the days after Reconstruction when the federal troops had finally been withdrawn. The white men, much tormented, had regained the upperhand...After having worked the way back from the most trying times the state has ever known, certainly it was only natural for the white man to stamp 'white supremacy' on his party's ballot," they wrote.

However, they added that the tagline that had made the party was now strangling it and could break it.

They advocated that it be removed for political and practical reasons. Mayhall and others who had run under the logo themselves without protest, the editors pointed out, believed that black voters leaning Democratic would turn Republican unless the party made the move.

Party leaders had no choice, according to the editorial writers.

"If it doesn't come Saturday, it will later. It's a matter of time and with the Republican competition building muscle by the day, time could be of an essence," they wrote.

An Associated Press article that appeared in the Eagle on Jan. 24 announced that the logo had been changed. Little was said about the vote itself, but another AP article available online provides some additional details.

Gov. George Wallace had flown to Birmingham intending to speak to party leaders but left as soon as he realized that he and states rights supporters were in the minority. 

The committee had initially wanted to settle the issue through a secret ballot, while the "states righters" in the party wanted a record vote. The committee eventually agreed to a voice vote. 

Committee members voted to put the word "Democrats" in place of "White Supremacy." The rooster and "For the Right" parts of the logo remained the same.

The committee included at least two men from Walker County: Mayhall and Leonard Wilson, who was identified by the AP as a segregationist and as executive secretary of the Citizens Councils of Alabama. 

Committeeman Charles McKay Jr. of Sylacauga, also identified as a segregationist, reportedly told the committee that the party "cannot afford to take a stick and run off a prospective 150,000 to 175,000 voters who might support the Democratic ticket."

The rooster remained in the state party's logo until 1996.

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