Choose another Topic

Return to History Introduction

Return to Progressive Era-World War II 1901-1945: Individual Items

Return to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 34th Visit to Georgia

“Roosevelt Heard by Vast Audience,” September 27, 1928

(The following article is from the Sept. 27, 1928 issue of the Atlanta Constitution.)

Roosevelt Heard by Vast Audience

by Paul Stevenson

Amid a bedlam of enthusiasms not witnessed in Atlanta since the stormy days of free silver and gold standard fights, Franklin D. Roosevelt, distinguished democratic leader of New York and Georgia, fired the opening gun in the statewide fight in support of Governor Al Smith for president at the auditorium Wednesday night before a monster crowd that packed the vast building to its very eaves and overflowed into the lobbies, and which frequently burst into storms of cheers that rocked the walls of the building and last several minutes.

Mr. Roosevelt, the principal speaker; Robert C. Alston, chairman; Reuben R. Arnold, introductory speaker, and former Governor Thomas W. Hardwick, called on by the crowd as an added attraction, each speaking along different lines, stirred the huge crowd to a white heat of enthusiasm and evoked applause which made the very rafters ring. It was an epochal meeting of the present democratic campaign in Georgia and one that was attended by delegations from nearly every county in the state. Governor L.G. Hardman escorted Mr. Roosevelt to the stage and sat beside him during the speeches.

Led by Mr. Roosevelt, the speakers flayed without mercy the forces within the party who are opposing the nominee. They scored “political parsons” and Mr. Roosevelt particularly singled out Senator Tom Heflin, of Alabama; former Congressman W.D. Upshaw, of Georgia; Dr. John Roach Straton, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, New York, and Mrs. Mabel Walker Willebrandt, assistant attorney general, and each thrust apparently pleased the vast crowd as the cheers came in spontaneous roars of approval.

It was like the old-time days in Georgia when political campaigns inflamed the enthusiasm of virtually the entire population. The colorful crowd was boisterous and militant. The band played East Side, Wide Side and the crowds shouted in mighty symphonies of applause. The band played Dixie and the crowd almost tore the roof off the house. Old Confederate veterans tottered to their feet and gave the “Rebel Yell.” It was a democratic conclave from cellar to roof and the people in the crowd did not mind letting everybody know it.

Backing Mr. Roosevelt on the stage sat a crowd of representative democrats whose names would form practically a roster of the officials of the democratic party in Georgia; of the state officialdom; of the appellate courts, of the Fulton County officers and of the city administration. It was the most representative democratic gathering that has assembled in Atlanta in a decade or more.

Mr. Roosevelt spoke smoothly and without any effort at spell binding. He reviewed the record and achievements of Governor Al Smith and characterized him as the ablest executive in America today. He told of what he has accomplished in New York and said that what he has dome for that state he will be able to do for the nation when he is elected president in November. He predicted a great victory, not only in the national campaign but in the campaign now being waged in Georgia and in the “solid south” in behalf of the democratic national ticket. He then turned his attention to those who are fighting Governor Smith.

“Who are fighting Al Smith?” he asked. “I’ll tell you. There are some preachers and some members of that worth organization, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. And I want to tell you people that these preachers and these women of the W.C.T.U. are working side by side with the ancient order of bootleggers. They are pouring their money into the treasury of the republican party alongside the money sent their by the bootlegging fraternity. And what’s more they are fighting side by side with the forces led by the well known Ben Davis, of Atlanta, republican national committeeman from Georgia.”

Mr. Roosevelt scored the campaign of “vilification and lies” conducted against Governor Smith “not because of prohibition but because he is a Catholic” but he said the people of the United States every once in a while think during an election year. He said whenever the people do think that they elect a democratic president and he said this is one year when the people are doing some thinking for themselves.

“When I go back to the national headquarters I am going to carry with me the message that they need not worry about Georgia because Georgia is going to go democratic by an enormous majority this year,” he said.

“We’ll give Smith 100,000 majority,” an old Confederate veteran shouted.

“Prohibition is the cloak and coat of enamel behind which the republicans hide their sins and uncleanliness in this campaign,” Mr. Roosevelt continued. “I am getting letters from all parts of the United States in which the writers say that they are going to vote for Al Smith because they are fed and disgusted with any man who will say, like Herbert Hoover, that prohibition is a noble experiment. I say that it is an ignoble failure. I believe in a change one way or another. If it is a change to light wine and beer, a repeal of the eighteenth amendment at some time in the remote future or if the laws are made more drastic I say that Alfred E. Smith will enforce those laws in a manner that will please even the officials of the Anti-Sallon league.”

Mr. Roosevelt denounced attacks made on Smith because of his religion and specifically named Heflin Upshaw and Dr. Straton.

“I pray that the Almighty will spare these men until after the election in November as they are doing more than anybody else to make sure the election of Al Smith,” he said. “The republicans claim they are not responsible for the scurrilous literature that is being circulated against Smith but they are really glad it is being sent out. Well I only wish I could put that literature in every home in the United States in the next three weeks because it would bring about the election of Al Smith by unanimous vote.”

Mr. Roosevelt scoffed at republican claims of prosperity.

“They are not prosperous in New England, they are not prosperous in the great farming sections of the west, and we are not even prosperous in Meriwether County, Georgia, or any other part of the south where we grow cotton and peaches,” he said.

The speaker said that 444 farms are being abandoned every day in the year, that there is an average of three and one-half bank failures a day, and that farmers are either drifting to the cities or are enduring living conditions which are a disgrace to America. He discussed briefly other issues and closed by predicting a great Smith victory and declared that Smith “will carry a smile to the white house which has been an ice house during the republican administration.”

After he had finished speaking the crowd arose and cheered the speaker for five minutes. The cries for “Hardwick” were heard and became so insistent that Chairman Alston called former Governor Hardwick to the front of the stage. He spoke briefly but evoked enthusiastic applause.

“I am against Hoover, first, because I am a southern man and I cannot support the nominee of a party that was born in hatred of the south and of southern institutions. Second, I am against Hoover because I am a white man. I’ll never support a man who is represented in Georgia by black Ben Davis in Atlanta and yellow Mamie Williams, of Savannah,” he said.

Former Governor Hardwick pointed out that Hoover was responsible for the order requiring negroes and white people to sit side by side in his offices in Washington; that Hoover was a supporter of the Dyer anti-lynching bill which penalizes a county in the south $10,000 for every lynching while ten times as many people are killed in gang warfare in New York and Chicago without any penalty being imposed on the county. He said a “Hoover democrat” is a republican who is ashamed to admit it.

“A democrat is a man or woman who votes the democratic ticket in the general election,” he said.

Bond Almand, chairman of the Fulton County Young Men’s Democratic league, made a short talk at the opening of the meeting. Mr. Alston and Mr. Arnold made ringing addresses which kept the crowds in almost continuous fits of cheering.

Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 27, 1928