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GCGSI February Meeting: “ The Biggs Machine: Old Yume Politics in Polk County, Tennessee”
February 17 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pmFree
The Gilmer County Genealogical Society will hold its February meeting on Saturday, February 17, 2024, at 2:00 p.m. in the lower level meeting room of the Gilmer County Library. Tyler L. Boyd, author and President of the McMinn County Tennessee Historical Society and Archives will present the program “The Biggs Machine: Old Time Politics in Polk County, Tennessee,”based on his latest book’s title. He will tell how Sheriff Burch E. Biggs ruled Polk County from 1930 to 1948, building one of the most powerful and brutal political machines in American history.
Sheriff Burch Biggs once said, “In politics your enemies will do anything to beat you. I knew the only way to win was to be so strong that there could never be any question. And this is what I have done.” During the tenure of Sheriff Biggs, election fraud, graft, and police brutality were the order of the day. Aligned with “Boss” Crump in Memphis, he tried to extend his empire into neighboring counties. At the peak of his power during World War II, he was nearly unstoppable.
Edward Hull “Boss”Crump of Memphis, Tennessee worked mostly behind the scenes to build and sustain his political machine from 1910 until the 1950’s. However, his influence was not just in Memphis, but spread statewide as he used all of the familiar techniques of the big city boss: ballot manipulation, patronage for friends, and frustrating bureaucratic obstacles for the opposition. After a time, citizens tired of these techniques. Tennessee’s Battle of Athens, sometimes called the McMinn County War, was a citizens-led rebellion in 1946 against the local government in Athens and Etowah, Tennessee. The citizens of those counties, including some World War II veterans, accused their local officials of predatory policing, police brutality, political corruption, and voter intimidation.
Two years later, the McMinn County citizens’ actions inspired those in Polk County to form a bipartisan group of veterans they called the Good Government League (GGL) to challenge the Biggs machine. The GGL put out a full ticket for county offices in the 1948 election. But unlike in Athens, there were fatalities on that election day, and the National Guard had be sent in to restore order. In his presentation, Boyd will tell the Biggs Machine story, its connections to Gilmer, Murray, and Cherokee Counties, Georgia, and why it has been a forbidden topic of discussion in many Polk County households for the past 75 years!
Don’t miss Tyler Boyd’s timely presentation for the Gilmer County Genealogical Society’s monthly meeting on Saturday, February 17, 2024, at 2:00 p.m. in the Gilmer County Library’s lower level meeting room. The public is invited and admission is free.