The Prohibitionist Movement Congregating around City Hall
In this area on February 26 1891 the streets would have been packed with people fighting for or against prohibition when Clarke County and Athens were voting on whether or not to go dry. Throughout the late 1800s the temperance movement grew in strength especially throughout the American south. Many people disliked the idea of the newly freed slaves finally being permitted to consume alcohol and thus decided it would be best if people no longer drank (Smith, 2015). Georgia made a statewide ban on alcohol in 1906 but there were many loopholes in the system including the importation from other states which was hard to regulate and remained legal until a crackdown in 1916 (Smith, 2015). This system of prohibition necessitated large increase in government regulatory ability as the regulation of such a common good would prove impossible. This difficulty became all the more clear when people stated producing near beer which was by nature slightly alcoholic. Thus the state government had to begin regulating the alcohol level that would prove itself safe for the maintenance of order across Georgia (Smith, 2015).
Backstory and Context
Athens had open polls to vote on whether the county would be wet or dry in 1891. The battle was very hard fought victory for the prohibitionists with a fourteen vote majority by the end of the day ("ATHENS GOES DRY”, 1891). There was a very large turnout for this issue because it had become so integral to the political landscape with around 250 people from Athens alone coming to the polls (Clarke Goes Dry, 1891). For such a hardly disputed issue there is a report that there was no physical altercations among the voters or malice held for each other after the poll results were read during the day that the results were read ("ATHENS GOES DRY”, 1891)
It seems that there were many black and white people agreed on the topic of prohibition and they carried the day for prohibitionists (Clarke Goes Dry, 1891). Such a story of black and white people coming together in this time of such high racial tensions is quite a strange idea as the white power movement had a lot of traction in Athens at this point in time. Such good feelings would not remain in Athens permanently however as the day after the polls there was a case of a fight between a prohibitionist and a so called whisky man. The two men were not harmed by this altercation but it does demonstrate the tension that did loom beneath the surface of society at the time as both participants were pretty well known as one was a state senator and the other was a renowned lawyer ("THE FIRST FIGHT,” 1891)
The move to full prohibition in Athens followed about half a decade of a dispensary system in which Clarke County had banned private sale of alcohol (Strahan, 2009). Many people preferred the idea of a government regulated alcohol sales being safer for the wellbeing of Clarke County. There also was the idea that if alcohol were completely banned the government would be unable to cope with a rise in moonshining and rum running from an all-out ban (Strahan, 2009). Clarke County had already attempted to relegate alcohol sales to drug stores and only for people with prescriptions but this law was not very effective (Strahan, 2009). The government also put an emphasis on keeping liquor prices low to keep buying moonshine from being a financially viable option.
The people for the dispensary system also highlighted the issue of people buying tainted spirits if the government had completely illegalized liquor sales (Strahan, 2009). Due to the health risks associated with consuming tainted liquor including going blind or possibly dying, the dispensary had a chemist to ensure the purity of the spirits sold at the dispensary (Strahan, 2009). Clarke was the first county in America to use this system of regulation of the sales of alcohol which would put a tighter governmental grip on alcohol sales without banning the substance entirely (Smith, 2015). This way of selling spirits to citizens also had no incentive for selling excessive alcohol because the manager had a fixed salary and all profits went straight to the city coffers. This citywide investment began to pay off as an important source of revenue for the Athens and Clarke county government who split these profits (Strahan, 2009).
"ATHENS GOES DRY: THE PROHIBITIONS WIN THE FIGHT IN THE CLASSIC CITY BY A MAJORITY OF ONLY FOURTEEN." 1891.The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Jul 03, 1891. http://proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu:80/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/docview/193680128?accountid=14537.
"CLARKE GOES DRY: PROHIBITION CARRIED IN THE GEORGIA ATHENS."1891. The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Feb 26, 1891. http://proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu:80/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/docview/494994908?accountid=14537.
Smith, Ron, and Mary O. Boyle. Prohibition
in Atlanta Temperance, Tiger Kings & White Lightning. United States: The History Press, 2015.
Strahan, Charles Morton. Clarke County, Georgia and the City of Athens. Whitefish, Mont.?: Kessinger Pub., 2009.
"THE FIRST FIGHT: OF THE ATHENS PROHIBITION CAMPAIGN OCCURD AFTER THE ELECTION." 1891. The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Jul 07, 1891. http://proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu:80/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/docview/193655725?accountid=14537.