About the League

 

 

 

League History - Ed Reid Era

About the Author: Lee Anna Maynard, PhD, is a freelance writer, editor and scholar currently based out of Augusta, GA, where she is on faculty with Augusta University. She received her PhD in English from the University of South Carolina and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy for Auburn University Montgomery. She has served as the managing editor for a regional magazine and her first academic volume, which explores the role of boredom in the Victorian novel, was published in 2009.

   

Municipalities Organize

Ed Reid sittingMunicipal leaders had made fitful attempts to commiserate and strategize starting as early as 1914 when several  individuals, including Commissioner James Wheatley of Birmingham and Dean  George Jacob Davis, Jr. of the faculty of the University of Alabama, met in  Tuscaloosa and discussed such subjects as constitutional limitations on debt  and taxation and the city manager plan of government. In 1926, the Alabama  Association of Mayors and City Commissioners was formed when nearly 100  municipal officials met in Fairfield and elected Mayor Sidney J. Reaves of  Anniston as its first president. Gestures toward organization basically  amounted to collecting dues1935- of $5.00 and meeting annually at a hotel to  “chew the fat and discuss administrative problems,” as Louis P. Mullins, a  charter member, remembered. Since membership was rather modest and the war  chest was nonexistent, no efforts were made to lobby the state legislature.  Despite urging prospective members to “be present without fail” at meetings in  order to, as the organization’s charter hopefully outlined, “develop a  cooperative approach to all Municipal problems of Statewide import” and “secure  the enactment of legislation that will enable all the Towns and Cities of the  State to perform their functions more efficiently,” early attempts to organize  sputtered out before any significant headway was made. By the mid-1930s,  however, a small cadre of participating mayors was driven to desperation by  their sense of being “kicked around the Legislature by the State and county  government leaders” and resolved to create an organization that would become a  true force to be reckoned with.

In 1935, with the advice and help of a  governor sympathetic to the municipalities’ plight, the organization that was  to become the modern incarnation of the Alabama League of Municipalities gained  both a toehold in the rugged terrain of Alabama politics and an executive  director whose charisma would define the group for decades. Governor Bibb  Graves not only gave the fledgling organization office space on Goat Hill in  the Capital until they could afford to lease something else but he also  suggested the League retain the services of Ed E. Reid, a charismatic,  energetic young man with a background in journalism and government, as the  first salaried director.

 Reid, only twenty-five years old, was born in Evergreen, had  grown up in Georgiana, attended The University of Alabama, edited a newspaper in Flomaton, and embarked on a political career in the state capitol of   Montgomery, serving as private secretary to the Speaker of the House. Defined  by his unbridled energy, dynamic personality and political savvy, Reid made  lasting impressions on all who met him, quickly revising the opinions of any  who might have dismissed him based on his relative youth or his diminutive  stature. In a region full of larger-than-life political figures, Reid still  managed to cut a distinctive figure: his highly-tailored suits, bright hair,  and purposeful walk accurately reflected his confidence, competence, and  ambition. Like a bantam rooster, he pursued the interests of his employers aggressively  and single-mindedly, all while wearing the latest fashions and relating – and  starring in – colorful anecdotes. Louis Mullins, former mayor of Elba, recalls  Governor Graves’ labeling Reid a “ball of fire” and a “go-getter” when he  recommended Reid to the 24 members of the current incarnation of the League.

   

Ed Reid Era – Early  Years

The League’s meager bank account – not  even breaking four figures – motivated its new director to seek outside  funding, and Reid was awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation that  covered his salary and provided a modest travel budget for a few years, enough  time for this driven, determined man to recruit many more members for the  League and funnel their membership fees into building the infrastructure that  those municipal members would soon find indispensable. In only four years, Reid  cultivated a nearly three hundred and fifty percent increase in the League’s  roster of member municipalities, from the legislatively-ignored original 24 to  a healthier 107.

Although their increasing frustration at being hamstrung by the  1901 Constitution may have been the tipping point for those charter members of  the 1935 League, gaining more power and influence in the State Legislature that  often decided their communities’ fates was only one of the reasons those mayors  determined the League needed to exist. In addition to marshalling a concerted  effort to effectively lobby state policymakers, the young organization was  charged with developing and offering resources to help municipal officials meet  the challenges of their communities. In much the same spirit that Progressive  Farmer magazine urged its readers to embrace agricultural technology and  turn an analytical eye to their farming in the 1930s, the charter members of  the newly-energized 1935 League of Municipalities wanted to create an apparatus  that would study, educate, and inform – almost establishing a practical science  of local government as opposed to the haphazard and motley application of governance found from the Wiregrass to the Shoals.

Efficiency, modernity, and consistency  were clearly watchwords for the new League, and the collecting and  disseminating of information was not only critical to accomplishing these goals  but also a natural fit for Reid, the former newspaper editor. His gift for  communication and promotion aided him as he traveled throughout the state  meeting and virtually requisitioning local political leaders into League  membership and as he began regularly publishing the organization’s goals, findings,  and accomplishments in the Alabama Municipal News. In the inaugural   issue, distributed October 1937, Reid’s publication named the League’s current  officers, explained the phenomenon of “pressure groups” and their impact on  legislative processes, explored the hidden costs of some legislative proposals,  and educated readers on the ins and outs of fire insurance for municipal  properties. His goal, as this first issue illustrates, was to provide accurate  information, informed opinions, and pragmatic advice for running towns and  cities – the principal that still guides the League’s monthly publication, now  called The Alabama Municipal Journal.

Despite all these early achievements of  the League, Alabama’s municipal leaders were still facing roadblocks from the  State Legislature as the 1930s came to a close. In the 1939 legislative  session, popular proposals to grant all municipal budgetary power to the state  lawmakers and to empower the governor to fill municipal vacancies threatened  the halting steps toward self-government and semi-independence the leaders of  towns and cities had made over the past few years. Thanks to the League’s  valiant lobbying efforts, these proposed policies were defeated, but there were  still thunderclouds looming over Alabama’s municipalities – debts that had  piled higher and higher during the Great Depression.

On January 10, 1939, as he was leaving  office, Governor Bibb Graves tried one final time to aid the League and the  municipalities it represented. In a speech to the assembled state legislators,  he praised the grit and gumption of local governments that maintained order on  shoestring budgets in times of great adversity, hoping to increase the  lawmakers’ appreciation of these relatively powerless officials: during the  Depression, he reminded legislators, “nowhere in this state has municipal  government broken down, although seriously threatened in a number of places.  Courageous efforts had to be made to meet the demands placed on municipal  services.” Exhorting the legislators to forgive the debts cities and towns owed  the state, Graves conjured images of an Alabama where municipal governments  ceased to function, a dystopia where “the abandonment of street lighting” would  make streets “a haven of criminal activity and reckless driving,” the  interruption of garbage services would have fostered disease, and fire losses  would have ballooned in the absence of dependable emergency services.

The financial strain and disruption of the Great Depression was  eased by a slowly recovering national economy as the 1940s began, but that  economic bounce-back was partly fuelled by the ever-widening scope of what was  to become World War II. One of Alabama’s important contributions to America’s  involvement in the war was the airmen trained in Tuskegee and at Maxwell Army  Air Field in Montgomery, where the region’s flight-friendly climate and the  Tuskegee Institute’s facilities and expert staff would create the nucleus of  the military’s experimental training program. These pilots, whose 99th Fighter Squadron  earned a distinguished combat record, satisfied rigorous, specially-formulated  entrance requirements to become the first African Americans to fly for the U.S.  military. Shrieking through the skies above Morocco, Czechoslovakia, Austria,  Hungary, and even Berlin, Germany, the pilots engaged in aerial dogfights while  protecting huge bombers intent on destroying fuel and munitions storehouses and  disabling tank and equipment manufacturers. Fighting discrimination and often  operating day-to-day in segregated environments, the airmen and ground crews  earned reputations with Allied and Axis powers alike for their prowess: as  escorts for B-17s and defenders of strategically important sites, the “Redtail  Angels” safeguarded their country’s and allies’ interests.

   

Alabama After WWII

Back in Alabama, cities and towns finally felt defended from  grasping hands eager to strip their remaining powers and pick their pockets. By  1945, with the help of the League and a few highly placed friends such as  Governor Graves, municipalities (and their treasuries) enjoyed a level of  protection from state policy- makers unprecedented in the twentieth century.  City and town governments netted nearly $8.5 million in additional funds over  the first 10 years of Ed Reid’s tenure with the reorganized League as a result  of League-sponsored initiatives. Though Reid’s leadership was key to this  success, he didn’t act alone. As Congressman Frank W. Boykin would observe  years later, the League was like a football team: while it “takes eleven men to  play the game, just one man carries the ball, and Eddie Reid has certainly  carried the ball.”

If Reid was the big-name player of his  team, easily recognized at the Capitol and around the state, he was supported by a bench that might not have been very deep, especially in the early years,  but most definitely was talented. Albert Rains served as legal counsel for the  Alabama League in the early ’40s, later becoming the League’s floor leader in  the State House of Representatives and then an advocate of housing legislation  in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawrence “Snag” Andrews worked doggedly  for the League and its municipalities, serving as League General Counsel for a  decade (1945-1955) and, as a state senator, passing more legislation to aid towns  and cities of Alabama than any other legislator. The League’s presidents also  played important positions, clearing a path for Reid to run with the ball and  making certain that he was running in the direction most beneficial to the  municipalities of Alabama.

If the Depression era tested the mettle of local governments,  with Alabama citizens expecting their towns or cities to maintain or expand  basic services in the dearth of methods to finance these functions, the  post-war period of financial stability forced municipal governments to stretch  in a different way. With the return of troops to their hometowns, many women  were displaced from the jobs they had assumed during the war years. Though the  need for Rosie-the-Riveter-style assembly line workers may have diminished as  the war machine shifted into a lower gear, the taste or need for working   outside the home did not abate for many women. As they sought new jobs and  began to build careers, municipal governments encountered the growth of a  somewhat unwelcome demographic – unsupervised pre-teens and teenagers. In  answer to their citizens’ requests and to stave off the troublemaking behavior  that seems to accompany bored youth in the afterschool hours, cities and towns  in Alabama began to develop daycare and recreational programs. (Wisely, they  also stepped up their law enforcement.)

   

The Cold War’s  Influence

If a somewhat different version of who  did what in office buildings and behind white picket fences affected municipal  governments in Alabama in the 1950s, these cities and towns also adjusted to  changing concerns regarding national security and disaster preparedness. Though  the whole country had been invested in the war effort during World War II, the  closest enemy troops ever came was the islands of Hawaii, with the Japanese  bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. The continental U.S. was never  successfully breached by Axis forces, partly because of the geographical  buffers of huge oceans on its east and west boundaries. The atom bomb, a  decisive weapon in the Allies’ victory, suddenly became a cause for great fear  in mid-century America. This game-changing technology meant enemies were ever  less constrained by geographical challenges and average Americans were ever  more vulnerable. Adding to the anxiety was Americans’ sense that it was their  way of life that was resented or despised, which meant that a nuclear attack  might be directed at bastions of apple-pie and county fairs – small town  America – rather than just military targets.

Preoccupied with the threat of a nuclear  strike, towns and cities adopted federally-promoted civil defense measures that focused on helping individuals increase their chances of survival through  preparedness. In Alabama, as around the country, schoolchildren were taught to  duck and cover, learning to clamber under their desks at a word from their  teacher or the first blast of a siren, and graphically startling  yellow-and-black signs began to designate many municipal buildings as nuclear  radiation fallout shelters. Over fifty Packaged Disaster Hospitals were  distributed across the state, accompanied by detailed manuals that explained  how to quickly assemble the kits in the event that brick-and-mortar care  facilities were obliterated, incapacitated, or overwhelmed. Despite the  labeling of these municipal efforts, planned city and town responses could  hardly be called “defense” – instead, they were about adapting to catastrophe.

Although their response plans were, thankfully, unneeded for a  nuclear event, Alabama’s municipalities were soon to face socially explosive  happenings. Their polarizing reactions to the early phases of the civil rights  movement and the social unrest that accompanied it took place in the  increasingly bright glare of a national spotlight, shaping public perceptions  of Alabama for decades to come.

   

Civil Unrest

Rosa Parks’ quietly brave 1955 decision  not to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus is often cited as the  symbolic beginning of the modern civil rights movement; however, the momentous  United States Supreme Court decision a year earlier in the Brown vs. Board  of Education case laid the groundwork for much of the upheaval, turbulence,  and change municipalities would face in the fifties and sixties.

League bldg originalHullStThrough the late 1940s and first part of the 1950s, under the  leadership of Ed Reid, the Alabama League of Municipalities had focused on  helping their member towns and cities create more stable, solvent, and seamless  operations, influencing key legislation that made Alabama’s highway department  financially responsible for maintaining state and federal roadways that passed  through municipalities; that increased the scope of decisions local governments  could make without consulting state lawmakers; that enhanced municipalities’  abilities to levy and collect taxes; and that established improved compensation  and benefits structures for mayors, commissioners, and other elected officials  in cities and towns. Just as importantly, the League facilitated quick,  reliable communication and interaction between municipal officials and state  and federal lawmakers. Within 15 years of its inception, the Alabama League  would rate in the top five in the nation and Reid was cited by the national  association as one of the five “best possible sources of information” on local  government.

As the preponderance of the population  of Alabama began shifting from rural to urban dwellings during the post-war  years, drawing more and more heavily on the infrastructures of towns and   cities, municipalities of all sizes depended on the League’s legislative and  administrative efforts. The League’s focus in those ten years immediately after  victory was declared for the Allies was primarily on helping municipalities  develop and expand with as few growing pains as possible; however, the  organizational and educational work accomplished during this time of relative  stability was to be tested by the turmoil accompanying the push for civil  rights.

The peaceful protests Alabamians ventured over the course of the  next ten years in pursuit of civil rights – including boycotting Montgomery  city buses, attempting to matriculate at state universities, and marching from  Selma to Montgomery in a campaign for voting rights – were often met with  reactionary violence and bloodshed, from the bombing of Dr. Martin Luther King,  Jr.’s home in Montgomery to the horrendous abuse of Freedom Riders,  Selma-to-Montgomery marchers, and Birmingham protestors. In addition to the  practical challenges of restructuring existing municipal functions as civil  rights were haltingly increased, city and town leaders were charged with keeping  the peace and maintaining order in environments simultaneously angry, fearful,  and irrational. Cameras caught and nationally publicized some of the  unconscionable, officially-sanctioned reactions to civil-rights demonstrations  in the state, though many municipal officials worked diligently to advance the  changing legal and social attitudes peacefully in hostile conditions.

   

The End of an Era

As local unrest reached a fever pitch,  the guiding light of the Alabama League of Municipalities, the man who, for  many, was the League, died. With Ed Reid’s death from cancer in July of  1965, John Watkins, the League’s Legal Counsel, became the new Executive  Director. Watkins had impressive (if compact) shoes to fill: Reid had not only  built the League from the ground up, but he had also turned it into a small but  efficient organization recognized nationally as a powerhouse of influence,  organization, and communication.

He had attended every legislative  session from 1935-1965 and was voted “Most Effective Lobbyist in the  Legislature” five times. In the words of Leonard Beard, a mayor of Sheffield  and the 1956 president of the Alabama League of Municipalities, no other league   in the country had a better reputation for “getting things done both at  the state and national level” or for conducting research, disseminating  information, and handling an incredibly high volume of daily inquires from  constituent municipalities. Reid’s early fame as a “go-getter” never diminished  – up until his death, municipal officials who had benefitted from the League’s  efforts under his administration touted his organization’s service and  even-handed representation of cities and towns of all sizes.

The trailblazer from Evergreen earned a nationwide reputation  for his expertise in local government matters and, more importantly for the  people of Alabama and the officials who served them, he showed municipal  leaders that they mattered.