"WET" vs "DRY" in Conway and Faulkner County
Editor's Note: Information for this article comes primarily from the Log Cabin Democrat issues of June 17 through August 1, 1933. Some information and the footnotes have been added.(1)
In 1919 the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, proposed by a two- thirds majority of both houses of Congress, was ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, including Arkansas. This amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors, and authorized Congress and the states to enact enforcement legislation.
Fourteen years later, in June 1933, the voters of Arkansas were preparing for the election of delegates to a state convention which would determine whether or not Arkansas would ratify another amendment proposed by Con- gress - the repeal of the 18th Amendment. The battle between the "wets" (for repeal) and the "drys" (against repeal) was fought in every Arkansas county and community. Statewide, the "drys" were led by the United Forces for Prohibition in Arkansas, while the "wet" organization called itself the Roosevelt New Deal Repeal Club. A "straw vote" conducted by the Little Rock Arkansas Democrat had found that Faulkner was the "dryest" county of the 75 in the state.
The Conway Log Cabin Democrat (in its issues of June 15 and 16, 1933) reported a volatile incident in the conflict:
"The arrest today of Rev. E. T. Miller, pastor of the Twenty-Eighth Street Methodist Church of Little Rock, and publicity agent for the United Prohi- bition Forces of Arkansas, added fire to a dry meeting at the revival tent on the courthouse lawn at which Rev. M. H. Ham, widely known evangelist, was the speaker. Rev. Miller was arrested for violation of the city ordinance against distribution of circulars over the business and residential streets."
Rev. Miller, riding in a large sound truck accompanying the prohibition leaders, had thrown out pieces of literature "promisciously" in the streets, and his arrest was ordered by Mayor B. G. Wilson, who six weeks before had issued a waming against such practices. Albert Jones, chief of police, found Rev. Miller at the courthouse and ordered hirn to appear in city court.
Rev. Miller took the rostrum under the tent, where some 400 to 500 persons had gathered to hear Rev. Ham, and told the assembly what had happened. The crowd immediately was thrown into "a seething temperment."
Chancery Judge William E. Atkinson rose from his seat and said "the schools and churches of this Christian town will pay any fine imposed on Rev. Miller, and I, personally, will account for his appearance in court."
Rev. E. F. Simmons, pastor of the Second Baptist Church, said "This action is a shame and a disgrace. Officers are permitting a gambling hall to operate right down town, bootlegging joints are open, and they arrest a man on this charge. The police chief and mayor ought to be put out of office."
The evangelist, Rev. Ham, declared: "The curse of the Lord will fall on this town, and the rest of the state will hear about Conway. I'm going into every county and tell what has happened here. The wet forces have struck their first blow in any of the 14 towns I have visited on this four-day tour of Arkansas.(2) If this action represents the administration of the city, the whole thing ought to be put out and a new one put in."
Rev. James W. Workman, pastor of Conway First Methodist Church, apologized on the part of the town for the arrest of Rev. Miller and said he believed the matter would be satisfactorily adjusted. Judge Atkinson said he would appear in municipal court in place of Rev. Miller, who was allowed to accompany the dry leaders on the remainder of their four-day tour .
In his speech at the rally, Rev. Ham charged that a $200,000,000 political combine, financed by foreign capital, had purchased the majority of the large whiskey distilleries in Kentucky in 1899 and was now attempting to overthrow Christianity and the United States government. He said the liquor interests which were behind the repeal movement also controlled the white slavery [prostitution] traffic in this country and were responsible for much of the crime in the nation. Rev. Ham also warned that the Conway officials' actions against one of the dry leaders would cause property values to drop 25 per cent in the city, and school attendance would fall off the next year. "The liquor traffic," he said, "is about as easily controlled as a skunk with Florida water," and he ridiculed the wets for their "campaign of lying."
The Kentucky evangelist later "bitterly assailed" Conway in addresses at Heber Springs, Searcy, Beebe, and Little Rock, and stated that "we will not send our children to colleges in such a town that will permit such outrageous performances on the part of its authorities." In a letter to the Log Cabin editor (June 17), one dry leader expressed regret that Rev. Ham had used the "unfortunate" incident to castigate Conway , and pointed out that J. M. Williams was providing "consecrated leadership" of 100 persons at Hendrix College who were working for the dry cause.(3)
On June 22, Conway police judge W. M. Harreil dismissed the charges against Rev. Miller. Harrell noted that chief of police Jones was "doing his duty" in arresting Miller because there had been a law violation, although Miller did not know it at the time. Judge Harrell further noted that Judge Atkinson had said the churches of Conway would pay the fine, "and I do not want to put any burden upon these churches."
Wets and Drys Prepare for an Election
In the meantime, the Faulkner wet and dry forces were preparing for the election, which would include a vote on repealing the 18th Amendment and electing a delegate from the county to the state convention. By petitions, the wets (for repeal) nominated A. M. Ledbetter, Jr., commanding officer of Company G of the Arkansas National Guard, and the drys (against repeal) nominated Rev. W. M. Harper, pastor of the Church of Christ in Conway and former Faulkner county judge.(4)
The Anti-Repeal League of Faulkner County held meetings at various churches and planned to have World War hero Sgt. Alvin C. York of Tennessee speak at a countywide rally on the courthouse lawn, but York's health forced a last-minute cancellation of his speaking tour of Arkansas. The local newspaper did not report any rallies by the repeal advocates.
Log Cabin Democrat editor Frank Robbins, a strict prohibitionist, wrote a front page editorial on June 30 which caused some confusion and contro- versy. Robbins contended that the 18th Amendment had created more prob- lems than it had solved, and was going to be repealed regardless of how the citizens of Faulkner County and Arkansas voted. Therefore he recommended that people vote to repeal the prohibition amendment and then concentrate on voting the state, county, and/or city dry. This position, which evidently was also being espoused in other counties, was attacked in letters from church leaders in Conway and Little Rock.
Although there was great interest in the repeal issue, a light vote was expected in Faulkner County - primarily since only around 3,000 of the more than 7,000 persons assessed had paid a poll tax and were eligible to vote.(5)
On July 18 the voters of Arkansas supported repeal of the 18th Amendment by a 3 to 2 margin and elected 55 repeal delegates to the 75-member state convention.(6) The same day Alabama voters also supported repeal, and the next day Tennessee voters followed suit. To amend the U. S. Constitution, it was necessary to have the approval of at least 36 of the 48 states, and supporters of the 18th Amendment were depending on the Southern states to provide a great part of the "against repeal" votes. The "defection" of Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee made it obvious to all observers that the
18th Amendment would be repealed. When the Arkansas convention met in Little Rock on August lst, 42 delegates voted for repeal, 15 voted against repeal, and 19 were absent or not voting.
Faulkner County was one of the 23 Arkansas counties in which the majority voted against repeal. In Conway and Cadron township the vote was 547 - 1,288 and in the rural townships repeal was defeated 346 - 831. "Dry" delegate candidate W. M. Harper received 1,319 votes to 509 for repeal candidate Arvor Ledbetter.
(1) See Mary Van Gundy, "The Wet Years in Conway, 1933-43," Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings (Winter 1973), pp. 86-91.
(2)Rev. Ham had previously spoken in Benton, Arkadelphia, Malvern, Hot Springs, Little Rock, Sheridan, Rison, Fordyce, Pine Bluff, Lonoke, Carlisle, Hazen, Stuttgart, and England.
(3) J. M. Williams was the former president of Galloway Women's College, a Methodist school in Searcy, which had been "merged" with Hendrix.
(4) W. M. Harper served three terms as county judge in 1923-1928 and would later serve two more terms in 1937-1940.
(5) Since no regular elections were scheduled for 1933 and Arkansas was suffering from the Great Depression, many potential voters - especially from rural areas - may have chosen to save a precious dollar by not paying the poll tax. These were the very people who were most likely to vote "dry" and against repeal.
(6) The official statewide tally was 67,622 for repeal and 46,091 against repeal. Repeal received a majority of the votes in 52 of the 75 counties. Faulkner and Boone (county seat at Harrison) counties were the only "large" counties in Arkansas to vote against repeal.
Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings
Spring and Summer, 1997