The Drought of 1944, Part II - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Diana Davis Reports

The Drought of 1944, Part II

An ad published before the vote claiming that service men abroad wanted the county to be "overwhelmingly dry" when they came home. (Jonesboro Sun) An ad published before the vote claiming that service men abroad wanted the county to be "overwhelmingly dry" when they came home. (Jonesboro Sun)
A Jonesboro Sun report from September 25, 1944, announcing the results of the vote over alcohol sales in Craighead County. (Jonesboro Sun) A Jonesboro Sun report from September 25, 1944, announcing the results of the vote over alcohol sales in Craighead County. (Jonesboro Sun)
An ad taken out the Craighead County Drys asking men whether a 13-cent reduction in school funding was worth more than the county banning alcohol sales. (Jonesboro Sun) An ad taken out the Craighead County Drys asking men whether a 13-cent reduction in school funding was worth more than the county banning alcohol sales. (Jonesboro Sun)

In 1944, America was at war, and Arkansans were on the front lines. Frank Snellgrove was a World War Two bomber pilot, who first served as an anti-aircraft gunner at Dutch Harbor, where the Japanese attacked after Pearl Harbor.  

"I went on out to the Pacific and flew 52 missions out there and then came back," he said.

Meanwhile, another Craighead County resident, M.J. Fox, served halfway around the world as a Sergeant in the Army Air Corps-Intelligence Division.

"I got sent down to London," he said. "(To the) Kodak plant processing fighter film."

In Jonesboro, "you could gamble anywhere here in town," according to Fox. "But, it's hard to imagine. Jonesboro is no worse now than it was then and in fact it's worse.

"Back then in those days you could buy wine and alcohol. Marijuana was frowned upon, but nothing was said about it to speak of. You could buy peracolic, which is opium," he added.

According to Snellgrove, Jonesboro also had several locations where prostitution was common.

"We had several houses of ill repute," Snellgrove said. "Most of them were down on Front Street. Then there was one down underneath the bridge on Bridge Street. There was still plenty going on after the war."

The free flow of alcohol in Craighead County, however, would soon dry up. In 1942, as both Fox and Snellgrove were serving their country, Arkansas passed Initiated Act Number One. Act One allowed counties to vote on the sale of alcohol, if the county could get a petition with at least 15 percent of voters recognized by the county clerk.

The clock was ticking in Craighead County. On August 17th, 1944, a hearing was set for a petition signed by voters. A week later Judge Clarence Freeze set an election date of September 23, so as to "allow service people and absentee voters a chance to get ballots returned."

However, advertisements published in the Jonesboro Sun at the time showed that it took much longer than 30 days to get packages to servicemen and women. Ads read that Uncle Sam recommended at least three months to get gifts shipped to military personnel overseas. So, it's questionable how many Craighead County residents on the front really got the chance to vote on the issue of alcohol sales.

"No we didn't vote," Snellgrove said. "We were gone.

"They made the county dry in '44 and really, at that stage in the game, I was pretty young and it didn't make a whole lot of difference to me whether it was dry, wet or otherwise," Snellgrove added.

Quickly, it became a showdown between the Craighead Country "Drys," versus the Craighead County Citizen's Committee, better known as the "Wets."

A barrage of persuasive advertising hit the local newspaper. The Drys said 13 cents per child would be lost in school taxes should the county go dry, but claimed that was a small price to pay for a child's well-being. The Wets asked that no changes be made in liquor laws until servicemen return home. They claimed that over 5,000 county citizens were away fighting the war.

The Drys countered with a half-page ad of a charging soldier shouting, "I'm protecting your home. Are you protecting mine while I'm away?" Underneath, a caption read: "Make no mistake. The majority of men in the service want liquor outlawed." In each advertisement, the Drys listed their names on every ad.

"Hoyt Purvis was a jeweler. H.A. Stroud was a doctor. Charles Stuck was Stuck Lumber Company. I knew all these people here and they was the leaders in the county, I might say," Snellgrove said.

The Wets compared the Drys' argument to prohibition and reminded voters just how important the rice crop was to Craighead County, and that voting for prohibition would be economic suicide.

Two days before the election on Saturday, September 23, 1944, the First Methodist Church presented a play, but not just any play. This was a temperance drama, which dealt with, "the evils of liquor."

Meanwhile, both sides worked feverishly to get out the vote. The Drys even offered transportation to the polls. A large voter turnout was expected. Sunday's paper showed that all the votes weren't in before presstime. On Monday, September 25, the Drys claimed victory.

"(I) couldn't tell much a difference when they took alcohol out," Martha Wall said.

Wall said she doesn't remember voting in the election, and neither does Anita Posey, who also worked downtown.

"I didn't know there was any danger anywhere (in the community), but I guess there was," Posey said. "Even though the tap went dry, gambling remained."

"The gambling had come in really before they voted the alcohol out," Snellgrove said. "So that was probably one of the things too that people talked about because 1948 is when Will Nash was elected Sheriff and the alcohol and the gambling had been in existence for sometime."

Nash, as locals say, again cleaned up the county. But the controversy over alcohol didn't dry up when the package stores left downtown. Instead, private licenses to serve alcohol were issued. And, in the heart of Jonesboro, you can still hear arguments over wet versus dry, even today. Some 58 years later, people are still talking about the drought of 1944.

Internet Reporter: Diana Davis
Internet Producer: Ryan James

 

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