Interviewee: Ed Jones
Interviewer: Ben Houston
Date: July 2, 2003
Ed Jones, a native Nashvillian, begins with how he lucked into his first reporting
position at the Nashville Banner and then spent 20 years as a permanent public
relations staffer at the Chamber of Commerce. Then Jones addresses the persona of
publisher Jimmy Strahlman who denied he was a segregationist and preferred to say
that he advocated freedom of association (pages 1-2).
Next Jones describes the Nashville of the 1950s that he remembers: an
increasingly suburban community with a central city core that was ruled by the banks
and insurance companies. Jones recalls the bombing of councilman Alexander Lobby's
house in 1960 as well as the explosion of Hattie Cotton Elementary School in 1957 and
an incident in Clinton, Tennessee. Jones believed signals from the government that
racial violence will not be tolerated were imperative to resolve the issues of the time
Jones continues by describing the demonstrations in Nashville by itinerant racial
demagogue John Kasper and then discusses the role of businessmen and the
Chamber of Commerce in integrating. Greenfield Pitts was hired to stop sit-ins with the
ultimate goal of ending segregation with as little trauma as possible by doing it piece by
piece (pages 4- 6).
Although Jones believes the retail sector was motivated to desegregate for
economic reasons, the slow integration of the retail sector helped set the pace for a
peaceful integration of the school system. Next he gives his take on the roles of
reactionary groups, interracial groups, and the banking and insurance companies on
integration. Since reactionary groups consisted of only a few individuals and interracial
groups were barely a blip on the radar at the time, only banking and insurance
companies who were willing to cooperate, made a difference (pages 6-7).
At the time of integration, Jones explains, Nashville was a moderate city whose
power structure was composed mostly of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants interspersed
by a few minority organizations. They were glad they decided to do the right thing by
helping with integration. But there were radicals. One proposal that never gained any
momentum was the Proposal of Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government
that suggested closing schools rather than integrating them (page 8).
While most of the time the local government ran smoothly during this time period
there were a few factions. Jones discusses the steps that ended in the consolidation of
city and county government into a united metropolitan government. There was also
burgeoning black political power at this time through groups like the DCIPC (Davidson
County Independent Political Council) that requested black highway patrolmen and
through individuals such as Clement, who hired the first black secretary (pages 8-9).
His recollection of his time in the Chamber of Commerce is that they adjusted to
racial issues quietly without exploding into crisis mode. To conclude Jones speaks of
informal race relations today in Nashville. While de facto segregation still exists in
housing he applauds the diversity drawn in by the universities pagesi 0-11).
H: It is July 2, 2003, and I'm in the office of Mr. Ed Jones. Thank you for meeting
with me today sir.
J: It's a pleasure to have you in town.
H: I appreciate it. Can we start off with you telling the recorder when and where you
J: Yes. I was born [March 10, 1924] in Lawrence County, which is a rural
community near Nashville. My parents moved to Nashville before I was of
school-age, I guess four or five years old, and other than time out for World War
II, my home's been Nashville since.
H: And how did you opt for your current profession?
J: Well, actually I started as a newspaper reporter at the Nashville Banner. I was at
Washington & Lee [University] during World War II, and I left college to join what
was then the Army Air Corps. I had to wait for a slot to get in and I didn't want to
start another quarter, so I came back and went down to the Banner to see if I
could get on [as] copy boy, because I'd done high school journalism and college
journalism. They were decimated. The staff had all gone off to war and the
managing editor said, "Hell Eddie, you don't want to be a copy boy, you want to
be a reporter." I said, "that's right, Mr. Moss, I want to be a reporter," and that
afternoon I was on the police beat. Then I went off and did my service and then I
stayed in for awhile afterward, came back, went back to the Banner as a
columnist and general assignments reporter, then quickly got off into state
government as a PR [public relations] person in a couple of departments of state
government. I ended up as Frank Clements' press secretary in his last term as
governor from 1963-1967. When his term ran out, the Chamber of Commerce
was starting a [liquor by the] drink campaign here, and they employed me to run
that campaign. It was successful, and then when it was over, they hired me on
as the permanent staffer. I was executive vice-president there for twenty years.
Then I went back to the Banner as editor for the last ten years of the paper until
it closed. That's a quick trip, through.
H: Do you have any memories of Jimmy Stahlman that I should know about?
J: [laughing.] Yes, Jimmy Stahlman was very bombastic [character]. He was the "I
may not always be right, but I'm always the publisher" kind of guy. Frankly, I liked
him. He would deny vehemently that he was a segregationist. He lived in an
expensive apartment, I think it was Belle Meade Apartments right next to Belle
Meade Country Club. I remember hearing Mr. Jimmy tell somebody one time that
if a minority or black or whoever wanted to rent or buy the apartment next to his,
that was fine with him, but that he did not want the government to give a legal
right to buy that apartment. [He felt] it had to be based on economics and choice
H: Freedom of association.
J: Yes. He kept harping and resisting laws, government, that legally established
social patterns. I wasn't here, but some of the boys told me in 1948, when Strom
Thurmond, who just passed away, formed the Dixiecrat Party and the 1948
campaign and [was] announced as a candidate for president, Mr. Jimmy came
out of his office with a small yachting cannon, which he kept to start boat races,
and fired off a salute to the Dixiecrat Party and Strom Thurmond. There was a
great consternation in the sitting room because they just put up an edict that the
next person shooting firecrackers in the sitting room was fired. The managing
editor looked up the hall and said, who shot that goddamn firecracker? He
looked up and Mr. Stahlman's standing there with a lanyard in his hand and
smoke coming out of the cannon barrel. [Mr. Moss] said, "oh Mr. Jimmy, that's a
good one, that's a good one." [Laughing.]
H: Describe, if you will, the Nashville of the 1940s and 1950s.
J: Well, [during] the 1940s, I was basically not here. I came back in 1949, I guess it
was, [so I'll] just pick up in 1950. The character of the city, Nashville's first
shopping center had not been built, so you had three major retailers in downtown
Nashville: Harvey's, Caster [Knott], and the Cain-Sloan Company. There were
neighborhood theaters which got movies after they played downtown for awhile,
but if you wanted to see a good movie first, it was the downtown theaters,
Paramount, Loew's, and Knickerbocker, and I think a Princess. Fast food had
not come into being, [but] the closest thing to it was a Krystal Company, which
had opened a couple little restaurants here, but really they were counter
operations, not drive-through or fast food. So the two or three or four white-
tablecloth restaurants that we had were all in the central city. So, at that point in
the 1950s, the central city was retailing, entertainment, dining, [and] leisure time.
The suburban move [for] residential was growing like crazy, but services were
basically concentrated in the central city. The big businesses, Third National
Bank, Commerce Union Bank, First American Bank, were all locally owned,
controlled, [and] founded by Nashvillians. Two major insurance companies,
National Nashville Insurance Company and Life and Casualty, [were in the]
same situation. They were [both] locally owned and controlled. Equitable
Securities, which was the forerunner of the American Express Company, was
located here and helped to contribute to Nashville getting nicknamed the "Wall
Street of the South." So you had a small group of corporate headquarters, major
business entities, all of which had strong local ties. Then, of course, we've seen
over the past decade or so [how] Nashville and other cities that size get to be
basically branch office towns. [For example,] somebody buys a bank, but it's
controlled out of Birmingham or Atlanta or Charlotte. [We've seen] somebody
pick off the retailers, and both insurances companies have been sold and
merged in with home offices somewhere else. We've still got a strong business
community, but what's missing is that strong local presence of people who grew
up here, belonged to Belle Meade Country Club, [and] played golf with each
other. That's not in today's matrix.
H: People have described the Nashville of the 1950s as somewhat sleepy and
somewhat provincial. Would you agree with that assessment?
J: Yeah, I think so. It was fairly comfortable [and] business was doing pretty well.
The business leaders and political leaders competed and fought and scrambled,
but basically they had a sort of paternalistic attitude toward the city and
everything was going along all right. [Their attitude was,] let's just keep on
keeping on, and if you need us to get together to talk about the airport, we'll do it,
H: Where were the centers of power in Nashville in the 1950s? Who ran the town?
J: The banks and the insurance companies. Sam Fleming was chairman of Third
National Bank, and sometime during that time was president of the American
Banker's Association. Andrew Benedict was chairman of First American, and Bill
Earthman was chairman of Commerce Union. Bill Weaver was chairman of
National Nashville Life Insurance Company, and Alan Steele was chairman of
Life and Casualty. There were others. Victor Johnson, in manufacturing, owned
Aladdin, that was really one of the relocators here from Chicago. There were
some other manufacturing [companies too]. Werthan Industries was a big
fabricator of packaging and burlap, and the Werthan family was prominent and
involved with the other business leadership. You round those up with a few
more, [and] if you were going to run for public office or mayor, this is the bunch
you wanted to get behind you. [This group would] raise you money, they'd lobby
their employees, they would support your campaign, and then would want a seat
at your table after you got into office.
H: What do you recall about the events of your memories of the school integration
crisis of 1957?
J: Let me branch off for that just a bit. I think that we had one incident of a
councilman, I think his name was Z. Alexander Looby, whose house was
H: That was in 1960.
J: That was in 1960?
J: I remember that as kind of a wake-up call, that there's big trouble unless
somebody gets in charge and stops this crap. I think that Ben West was the last
mayor of the old city, and I think he sort of passed the word through the
grapevine that this kind of conduct would not be tolerated.
H: Now there was the explosion of the Hattie Cotton Elementary School in 1957
during the integration crisis. I don't know if you recall that.
J: I do. I think, as bad as it was, fortunately I don't believe anybody was injured or
lost their life in that.
H: That's correct.
J: [There were] a couple of incidents like that. Along in that same period, there was
a big racial incident in Clinton, Tennessee, up in east Tennessee, and Frank
Clement was in one of his terms as governor. I talked to him about this later,
[but] he was in sort of this same [situation] that if he didn't send a strong signal
that that's not going to be tolerated in Tennessee, that he was losing opportunity.
He sent one hundred Highway Patrol cars to Clinton, Tennessee, which was
about the size of my office. They pulled in town with their red lights blinking as far
as you could see, circled the town square, got out, and the troop commander
was an officer named Greg O'Rear, who was 6'4" tall. He got out of the first car
and said, there will be no more demonstrations, there will be no violence, [and]
we are [staying] in town until things settle down, [which] took about three days.
But that sort of thing was happening [all over]; reacting to radicals and
H: A similar event with John Kasper [itinerant racial demagogue] developed shortly
thereafter in Nashville.
J: Yeah. Kasper would roll into town and organize demonstrations, motorcades,
and what have you. I remember at one point, when Kasper was in town, I was
[the] PR guy from the state department of safety [and] the commissioner was an
ex-Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter named G. Hilton Butler. Kasper had
announced he was going to have a motorcade leaving from Thompson Lane and
Nolensville Road, and General Butler called me and said, let's get a plain car
and go out and watch it so we can see what happens. So we did. We parked a
cruiser and just kind of milling around. I've forgotten who the chief of police was,
but I think it might have been Hubert Kemp. I'm not sure, it could have been Ollie
Moore. Anyhow, whoever it was, there was a tough, blue-eyed, steely policeman
here named Morgan Smith, who was quick with a gun. He'd killed several people
that tried to escape. Kasper came up to whoever the police chief was, and I was
standing within earshot, and he said, chief, one of your officers just threatened to
kill me. The chief said, well, who was it, and Kasper pointed to Morgan Smith.
The chief said, yes, and he will too. What Morgan had told Kasper was, Mr.
Kasper, if any trouble breaks out, if there's any violence or any problems, I'm
going to blow your ass off. [Laughing.] That was my wonderful eyeball contact
with John Kasper. It was a very quiet demonstration.
H: I'm sure, there was plenty incentive to keep it quiet.
H: So in your estimation, and [from] your experience on the Banner and perhaps
even later in your business experience, what role did businessmen and the
Chamber of Commerce play behind the scenes in the school integration?
J: Well,, this is not so much school integration as it is a broader integration. I think
the thing that maybe got this city programmed and targeted was the downtown
sit-ins. That would have been what, in the late 1950s and early 1960s?
H: In 1960, yes sir, and thereafter.
J: Going back to the downtown character, then, it was the nerve center of the city.
Shopping was ready to come downtown. People had quit coming downtown to
eat in the few restaurants we had [and] stopped going to the movies. There was
then a Retail Merchant's Association, which was an adjunct of the Chamber, so
they were getting to feel the economic pains of the situation and determined that
time's run out, we've just got to change some things. There was an executive at
Harvey's Department Store named Greenfield Pitts. Greenfield was appointed to
quietly negotiate and work things out to stop the sit-ins. At least one of the
restaurants here hired goons which would stand at the door and literally punch
out African-Americans who were trying to come in. We had all that kind of thing
going. The leader on the minority side, in my recollection, was Kelly Miller Smith,
who was a Baptist preacher from Capitol Hill Baptist Church. So Greenfield Pitts
and Kelly Miller Smith, it may have just been the two of them, but I don't know
that, but that was an early contact established. Greenfield said, look, we want to
stop segregation, but we want to do it with as much relief as we can to your
constituency and as little trauma as we can to the radicals and the people that
are going to oppose it. To make a long story short, they came up with a plan to
take bits and pieces that on a certain day [would be desegregated]. The word
would be passed around that the ten-cent store lunch counters would seat
African-Americans. Then, on another day, the black balconies in the movie
theaters would be shut down and, if you bought a ticket, you could sit wherever
you wanted to in the movie. Then, on another day, the restaurants in the
department stores would integrate. I wasn't really in it, [but] I think maybe
between six months and a year, the whole series of quiet events took place. [It]
let Kelly Miller Smith round up his constituency at First Baptist [and say,] okay,
we've got a deal here to make this, this, and this happen. The word would kind of
go around through the Chamber of Commerce board and retail committee that
we've got this much accommodation and there's not going to be any marches
downtown next week or whatever. All of that, I think, set the pace for peaceful
integration of the school system. [The attitude was], integration's here, it's come
to our commercial life, and it's going to have to be in our social life also. That's
what really maybe kind of got things going.
H: Did you know Greenfield Pitts?
H: What do you think motivated him to do this?
J: In all honesty, I think it was not just him personally, but as a symbol of the
retailing community. It was economic. The shoppers had quit coming downtown,
there weren't any shopping centers, and I think people looked at the cash
register. Every one of the big department stores had a restaurant in it. Having
people refuse seating and the turmoil that went along with that, [they decided]
we've got to get downtown to where people are not afraid to come downtown for
all the reasons they always have.
H: How did his attitudes differ from similar retailers such as Cain-Sloan, for
J: You're talking about personal attitudes now?
H: Yes sir.
J: Cain-Sloan was very much a part of this retail board that Greenfield was
speaking for and representing. Personally, and I don't know this, he may have
had a more narrow view or opposing [view], but in the interest of his store, I don't
recall any opposition.
H: So, in other words, even though perhaps he was less inclined to support
segregation, the economics still drove this decision.
J: The economics is a key player in the retailing community. [His thought was], my
stores can't be out here and have everybody else doing something else.
H: As I understand it, the sit-ins over the next couple years expanded outwards into
the city to sort of isolated pockets of resistance, for lack of a better term, to other
restaurants and movie theaters.
J: I don't remember that. That very well may have been, but my total recollection of
it was the central city area. [I recall] that once the floodgates got opened up and
a new system set in place, that was the end of it. I can't remember any
neighborhood demonstrations or problems, but somebody else may have a
better recollection of that.
H: As I understand it, there was sort of a distinct reactionary element in Nashville.
Can you talk a little bit about them? For example, the Tennessee Federation for
Constitutional Government and Donald Davidson and people of that ilk.
J: I know those names and I've heard that organization, but I don't really have any
direct knowledge. I don't much believe that they had any substantial influence or
I would know about it. Like Kershaw [Jack Kershaw, Nashville segregationist,
artist, and city gadfly] you talked about. He's always been Jack Kershaw and
always will be, but he's never been any force to make anything happen.
H: Were you aware of any interracial groups at this time, [for example,] the
Tennessee Council on Human Relations or the Committee of Southern
Churchmen that were fostering interracial work in the city? Do you think that they
played any influence?
J: Yes, I would guess so. I'm not really well qualified to answer that, but in any
venue that was representative of or trying to bring the majority of communities
together, Kelly Miller Smith would be a leader. He was a strong man [and] he
was objective-oriented. [His attitude was], I'll do what we need to do to make
things work as long as my folks are getting a fair shake. I can't name you an
organization or a leadership group at that point.
H: You mentioned earlier that banking and insurance companies were very
influential in terms of the town. Did they weigh into the situation according to
integration? I don't know how directly they were affected being downtown.
Certainly [they were not affected] by the lunch counters and things like that, but
did they play a role?
J: Yeah, informally. Again, the Retail Merchant's Association was staffed by an
adjunct organization of the Chamber, and the bankers and the investment house
people and all those that you were talking about were leaders in the Chamber,
so there was some cross- pollination there through that process. As I recall, a
sort of general attitude of your bank chairman, investment-house people, [and]
insurance people was, if you need us tell us what to do and we'll cooperate.
H: As I understand it, Nashville had this strong mentality of being a very moderate
city and very proud of how it acquitted itself on this integration situation. Do you
recall that sort of ethic?
J: Yeah, I do. I'm probably not too objective about it, [but] I think Nashville acquitted
itself pretty well through a difficult time. I think it couldn't have done it if the same
people like the Flemings and the Weavers and the whoevers we're talking about
were organized as a group to try to make it not happen. I think we would have
had great turmoil [if that had been the case]. But either passively or actively, the
power structure, which was basically in the WASP, White Anglo-Saxon
Protestant group, and the minority organization, such as it was through Kelly and
others, [handled it well]. I have never looked at any other city and how they
handled it, but I think that Nashville, with some good fortune, handled it very well.
I think it was a feeling, when things began to settle down, of, aren't we glad we
did the right thing?
H: I should have asked you this earlier, but before the school integration crisis, in
the early 1950s, there were some limited areas of desegregation. I think city
cabs, buses, [and] golf courses [were desegregated]. Do you know how that
J: I really don't. What memory I have of it are not good memories. I know at some
point, and I think it was during that period, the park system closed the swimming
pools because they did not want to have mixed races in the pools. So instead of
trying to work out something, they just closed the damn thing. I think some of
them never really reopened. I think that art center out at Centennial Park now at
one time was a swimming pool.
H: There was some calls by this sort of group such as the Tennessee Federation
for Constitutional Government about closing the public schools rather than
integrating them. Do you recall your reaction to such a proposal?
J: My personal reaction was it's idiotic [and] it's not going to happen. I don't think it
ever really generated any steam. I don't think there was ever any serious
consideration of doing that, or if you wanted to, how you could do it. I think it was
just one of those passing things that some idiot said, we'll fight to the death and
we're not going to integrate.
H: I'm sort of going back and forth in time here, I hope that doesn't bother you. I
understand that the politics of the 1940s and the 1950s, and you sort of alluded
to this earlier, were quite factionalized. Can you talk about that a little more?
J: How do you mean?
H: I mean in terms of Ben West and shifting alliances in the 1940s, and Mayor
Cummings and the early metro county/city debates.
J: Mayor Ben West, as I recall, defeated and succeeded Tom Cummings as mayor.
While Ben West was mayor, Beverly Briley was county judge. Briley was a
scholar and student of governmental organizations, and Briley had gotten the
idea of forming a metropolitan government and combining the county and the
city. West kind of came along reluctantly. They proposed referendum to try to
consolidate the governments, but it failed. What was in the city limits voted
overwhelmingly for it, [but] those outside the city limits didn't want to be brought
in and they voted overwhelmingly against it and the question failed. Ben West
determined that metropolitan government was never going to be, so he annexed
the greater part of the Donelson area and brought them into the city. Briley
seized that as a way of saying, look, we're going to get you one way or the other,
come on and get your seat at the table. So they ran a second referendum and
this time it did pass.
H: I understand that at this time too there was also sort of a burgeoning black
political power in Nashville. Do you have any sense of that?
J: Yeah. DCIPC, Davidson County Independent Political Council, was I think largely
organized and operated by Senator Avon Williams, who was trying to get enough
black political clout and structure to bargain for support in elections. I'll put the
DPIPC out for you if you'll commit to doing this after you get elected. So that was
coming on and it was coming on pretty strong, and they were getting attention.
H: How about getting results?
J: I think [they were getting] results. Senator Williams was in the legislature when I
was in the governor's office. One Saturday while Clement was a candidate, we
met with Senator Williams and some DCIPC, and there was some things that he
wanted. I think black highway patrolmen may have been one of them, but there
were some symbolic things that he asked for that Clement delivered on. Clement
hired the first black secretary in the governor's office. Her name was Joyce
Sweeney, and I think she's still about here. He asked me to look after Joyce and
make sure that she was treated fairly and friendly. So I asked Joyce one day
how things were going. She said, well, pretty good, everybody's just as nice as
they can be, but I just kind of have the feeling they'd just as soon that I wasn't
here. So I told that to the governor and we talked about it and he said, well, what
can we do to give her more acceptance? I said, well, why don't we put her in
charge of the expense accounts? So we did.
H: [laughing.] She was everybody's best friend.
J: Everything was rosy.
H: That's smart thinking right there.
J: It worked.
H: That's pretty nifty. That's great. Talk a little bit about your tenure in the Chamber
of Commerce in the 1960s. The city issues are increasingly getting complicated
and involved with the integration issue, the housing issue, the busing issue, and
things like that. Talk a little bit about your recollections of that time.
J: Well, I went to the Chamber in 1967, so I think a lot of what you're talking about
was behind us at that point. The Chamber tried to and did maintain an open
door. I can only give you some vignettes. I don't recall having any dealings with
Metropolitan Transit or whatever, but there was an organization that was trying to
form here, and did form, called Regional Minority Purchasing Council. I believe
that lady is still running it; her name's Sherry Henderson. The idea was to try to
get purchasing agents in the banks, getting companies to look for minority
vendors, which was a sensible proposition. She didn't have any money, didn't
have place to meet, any way to get started, so I quietly let her take the
Chamber's boardroom and have her organizational meetings until the
organization was up and running. It got to where [we asked purchasing agents]
to see her. [We said], please see her, talk with her, and see what we can do. So
we were doing those things, but they weren't high-profile. In the twenty years I
was there, I don't really remember the barn-burning crisis dealing with a racial
issue such as we had had. We adjusted quietly.
H: It was more low-level stuff?
H: I see. Were there any particular obstacles in dealing with that low level stuff?
J: I don't recall any. I think that maybe my constituency was fairly limited, but I think
that there was more of a feeling of, let's don't have trouble, let's get things done,
let's do whatever it takes within reason to keep the city together.
H: How do you feel that informal race relations have changed in Nashville from the
1950s to the present? I mean we talk about integrating the schools and
desegregating the lunch counters, how do you think individual day-to-day
interaction has changed?
J: The negative is that the weakness still is in housing patterns. We are, for all
practical purposes, a segregated city in terms of residencies. I don't know how
you're going to cure that. I think it's kind of taken care of itself little bit by little bit.
The old blockbuster technique is long since gone. I don't think there's an area of
Nashville where there's even a suggestion that African-Americans couldn't buy in
or move in. That's something I don't know how you organize a campaign to
correct that, but that's where we've still got a weakness. I think that the positive
side of it is a couple or three places: the universities, with what they draw in
terms of both faculty and students, [and] in minority participation. We've got a
Cadillac leadership program here called Leadership Nashville, which is
deliberately designed to pick a broad cross-section of leaders, race, gender, the
whole nine yards. We've been running it for about twenty years, and it's formed,
by now, several hundred people who have had a year together. That spreads out
and does a good thing.
H: Is there anything else that I should have asked you that I neglected to?
J: I wish we had all day, because I enjoy talking with you and revisiting some of
these things. My memory is a little hazy in a few places, but I think you've got an
interesting project. Good luck.
H: Thank you. Do you have any concluding memories or anecdotes that you want to
J: No, I think I've covered it.
H: I've wrung you pretty dry, huh?
H Thank you very much.
[End of Interview.]