The Battle of Athens. Armed populist uprising against corruption. Tennessee, 1946

battle of athens sign
Returning battle-hardened veterans from WWII took matters into their own hands after a viciously corrupt election in Athens, TN in 1946 enforced by violence and intimidation by police against the veteran’s slate of candidates. There were 200 armed “deputies” at the voting booths. One deputy shot a African-American man trying to vote. Poll watchers were detained. The police then seized the ballot boxes.

What happened next was extraordinary. Ex-GIs emptied local armories of weapons and opened fire on the police station with weapons including Thompson submachine guns. They threw Molotovs at the station and eventually knocked down a wall with dynamite. The stunned police then surrendered.

The veterans forced the corrupt police into submission. Their slate was declared winners of the election, and they then cleaned up the local government.

Eleanor Roosevelt on The Battle of Athens

“After any war, the use of force throughout the world is almost taken for granted. Men involved in the war have been trained to use force, and they have discovered that, when you want something, you can take it. The return to peacetime methods governed by law and persuasion is usually difficult.We in the U.S.A., who have long boasted that, in our political life, freedom in the use of the secret ballot made it possible for us to register the will of the people without the use of force, have had a rude awakening as we read of conditions in McMinn County, Tennessee, which brought about the use of force in the recent primary. If a political machine does not allow the people free expression, then freedom-loving people lose their faith in the machinery under which their government functions.In this particular case, a group of young veterans organized to oust the local machine and elect their own slate in the primary. We may deplore the use of force but we must also recognize the lesson which this incident points for us all. When the majority of the people know what they want, they will obtain it.”

knox henry. battle of athens