Helen Pridmore and her mom, Peggy Glover, spot the results of the 1971 Democratic primary run-off election for Lowndes County sheriff on an old chalkboard that was once used to post election results in front of The Dispatch office. Tom Glover, Helen's dad and Peggy's husband, won the sheriff's race that year, as the chalkboard still plainly indicates 46 years later. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
A photo from the Aug. 4, 1971, Dispatch includes a caption that reads "Merle Fraser Sr., left, and Atwell Andrews inspect the unofficial results of the election." The photo shows the results of the Aug. 3 Democratic primary. A chalkboard showing the results of the subsequent run-off election — held on Aug. 24, 1971 — was found in the basement of The Dispatch and is now on display in the newspaper office's lobby.
Photo by: Dispatch file photo
February 24, 2018 9:59:40 PM
Over the decades, the way news is processed, packaged and delivered has evolved -- from newspapers to radio to TV and, now, social media.
The Pew Research Center says in 2017, two in three Americans got at least some of their news via social media and two in 10 get most of their news from that "new" source.
But if it is true that everything old is new again, the evidence of that has lain forgotten deep within the bowels of The Dispatch building on Main Street for almost five decades.
Discovered last year, what could be considered an early form of "social media" now hangs on the wall in The Dispatch lobby.
"Last year, some of the pressmen and I were looking in the basement and we found this chalkboard in a dark corner," said Dispatch Publisher Peter Imes. "We cleaned it up and sealed the chalk as much as possible."
The names and figures, written in chalk on the black, 4-by-12-foot chalkboard, were remarkably well preserved. It was instantly recognized as the results of an election.
A little research revealed the chalkboard recorded the results of the Democratic Party run-off election of 1971.
As word of the discovery trickled out, longtime Columbus residents remembered the chalkboard and how it was used.
Although no one can say when the practice started, at some point The Dispatch began posting election results on the chalkboard on the sidewalk in front of its offices, perhaps an answer to the radio and television and the advantage in immediacy those media enjoyed over newspapers. The board was mounted on the back of a flatbed truck at some point, but may have been put atop sawhorses in the later years of the practice. Incoming election results would be relayed from the newsroom to the chalkboard as a crowd watched as the numbers were posted.
"It was a community event," said Columbus attorney Steve Wallace recalled. "It seemed like the whole town was out there in front of the newspaper on election night."
"I imagine it was a very social way for political junkies to watch the results and visit with each other," Imes said. "In a way, it was a very low-tech version of today's social media."
The run-off of 1971
The Democratic Party run-off was held Aug. 24 and featured 10 races -- governor, a state senator race, tax collector, sheriff, county superintendent of education, chancery clerk, two justices of the peace, a constable and a county supervisor.
As was the custom, people soon began arriving in front of The Dispatch building with the big chalkboard illuminated by floodlights as night fell.
The Aug. 24 Democratic primary is perhaps best known for Bill Waller's upset victory over three-time Lt. Gov. Charles Sullivan. The chalkboard showed the final tally: 342,482 votes for Waller to 295,309 votes for Sullivan. Waller also carried Lowndes County, 6,598 to 5164, despite Sullivan having the enthusiastic support of Columbus state senator Bill Burgin, according to The Dispatch's coverage of the race. Burgin was one of the most powerful men in the Legislature at the time.
The closest race was for Lowndes County District 2 Supervisor where incumbent Chubby Ellis defeated Ruben Prescott by just 11 votes.
Such was the strength Democratic Party in that era that just two of the 10 run-off winners faced opposition in the Nov. 2 general election. Waller completed his run to the governor's office with an easy win over Independent Charles Evers, while Ellis easily won his supervisor's race in a three-man contest.
An interesting footnote: In the general election three months later, incumbent District I Constable Hoot West won reelection. Forty-six years later, West is still in office.
Glover for sheriff
Wallace, 67, remembers tagging along with his dad to watch as the votes were posted on the big chalkboard.
"I was just a little kid, so I wasn't much interested in what was happening with the election as to everything else going on -- running around with the other kids while the old men sat around and told lies," he said.
What little attention he did pay to the adults as they watched the votes being posted showed him the focus was on one particular race.
"For some reason, most of the talk was about the sheriff's race," Wallace said. "That was the race that always seemed hotly contested and drew the most attention on election night."
That was certainly true for Peggy Glover and her family, including her daughter, Helen, during the Aug. 24 run-off.
Peggy's husband, Tom Glover, was facing R.P. "Penn" Taylor for sheriff. With no opponent in November, whoever won the race would be the next sheriff.
"I don't remember too much," said Helen Glover Pridmore, now 53. "I was just seven years old. But it was exciting. Our house on Ninth Street was just packed with people and I remember them whooping and hollering all night."
Peggy (Dabbs) Glover moved to Columbus from Monroe County when she was in the eighth grade. Going down to watch the election results being posted on the chalkboard was a tradition.
"I went down there to watch. Everybody did," she said. "It was a lot of fun, a lot of excitement, even though us kids didn't really know what was going on."
On Aug. 24, Peggy did not make her accustomed journey downtown. The family gathered at home to await the results.
"People were going back and forth all night from The Dispatch to our house to tell us what was happening," said Peggy, who is now 86.
Tom Glover, who served as a constable for 17 years before making the run for sheriff, defeated Taylor, 6,614 votes to 5,360. It was Glover's only term as sheriff. He died in 1989.
"Seeing this board, it brought back so many memories," Peggy Glover said.
"Really, that election was one of my earliest memories," Pridmore said. "It's wonderful that the chalkboard has survived all these years later."
Icewater and the Roosevelt years
While the names and races clearly indicated the ritual of posting election returns on the chalkboard in front of The Dispatch ended with that Aug. 24, 1971, election, how far back the practice dates is probably lost to history.
It can be traced as far back as the late 1930s, which is about the time James Broome recalls he first made the trip downtown with his dad to see how the election was going.
"That would have been around 1939, maybe 1940," said Broome, who moved to Columbus at age 4. "The first time I can remember, my dad had taken me to a movie at the Varsity Theater and we were walking home. We lived in a little house across the street from Barrow (Elementary School) on Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue, so we went past The Dispatch on the way.
"What I remember is that it was just a mob of people out in front of the newspaper," he added. "All these people were standing around watching this man writing on a chalkboard. The guy I felt sorry for was the one who had to run in and out of the newspaper office all night bringing the results so the guy could put them on the board. It must have wore him out."
Seeing the old chalkboard that has preserved one of the big moments in her family's history stirs fond memories -- and a tinge of regret -- for Peggy Glover.
"Oh, it was such fun," she said. "Back then, elections were just so exciting, more exciting than I think they are now. Back then, it seemed like you voted for someone. Now, it's more like people vote against someone. It's not fun like that anymore.
"But wouldn't it be fun if it could be like that again, everybody going out and watching the election in front of the newspaper?" she said. "Imagine that."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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