"THE SECRETS OF THE HOPEWELL BOX: Stolen Elections, Southern Politics, and a City's Coming of Age" by James D. Squires

"THE SECRETS OF THE HOPEWELL BOX: Stolen Elections, Southern Politics, and a City's Coming of Age"

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A sometimes eye-goggling history of political corruption in one corner of the postwar South. Squires (Read All About It, 1993), a longtime political reporter for the Nashville Tennessean, was born into a family that exercised a modest amount of power in that small city; his grandfather was a sheriff's deputy who carried a gun and a clenched fist, a man whose talk with cronies was full of references to ""sonofabitching judges"" and ""goddamn niggers."" He was also, Squires relates, one of the muscle men behind a vicious cabal of power brokers headed by one Boss Cramp, ""a leader of the machine's gestapo, quick to violence, not only capable but guilty of killing in the interest of racism, corruption, and political power."" That machine involved, for a time, much of Nashville's leading citizenry. It engineered elections, stole votes, organized lynch mobs, ran an illegal gambling empire, and in the 1950s, when it appeared that the traditional Democratic Party was going soft on civil rights, brokered the advent of Republicanism in one comer of the South, allowing that party a foothold that would later bring it to regional prominence. The growth of that machine, however, also inspired a backlash among Tennessee progressives that brought civil-rights issues to the forefront of Nashville politics some years before they would become a national concern. When those progressive elements finally accumulated enough support to break Boss Cramp and his cohorts by reorganizing city hall into a less centralized metropolitan government, they helped open the door to Kennedy's Camelot, to organized labor, and to a new way of doing things. ""As political systems go,"" the author proudly writes, ""Tennessee's is now as truly diverse and free of prejudice as any in the country."" Told in an easy, anecdotal style, Squires's complex story affords a microcosmic view of the nation's political evolution in the last half century.

Pub Date: March 6th, 1996
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Times