Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Labor Day

  Labor Day is upcoming on Monday. In bygone days, it was the benchmark day for campaign season to start. Historically, Labor Day barbecues were events where political campaigns had their roots. Camp stew and barbecued pork were devoured while folks listened to politicians promise how they were going to bring home the pork.

  The most legendary political Labor Day barbecues have been held in the Northwest corner of the state. There were two legendary barbecue events in that neck of the woods that were a must-go-to event for aspiring and veteran politicians, both locally and statewide.

  The Terry Family Reunion is held in the Loosier community of Lawrence County. This is where the large Terry family originated. Actually, a good many of the folks that attend have kinship or ties to the Terry family. Many of the folks in Lawrence County are kin to each other through the large Terry family.

  Every serious candidate for governor or major statewide office attended the Terry barbecue. It lasted all day. Some would arrive in helicopters, which garnered attention. Icons like "Big Jim" Folsom, George Wallace, Bill Baxley, Albert Brewer, and Howell Heflin attended every year.

  Another Labor Day barbecue was held in that area which was just as important if not quite as big and wide open as the Terry Event. The legendary L. O. Bishop of Colbert County was known for having a Labor Day barbecue bash. His event was big but more selective. Bishop was and has been for 60 years a leader in the Alabama Farmers Federation. He would only invite the ALFA-backed candidates. His barbecue is renowned as the best in the state.  

  Bishop and Howell Heflin were best friends. Heflin became the best friend the Alabama farmer had. Judge Heflin became chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He did a yeoman’s job for Alabama agriculture.

  Senator Heflin was from Colbert County. He was renowned for being a great lawyer, storyteller, and judge. Being from Northwest Alabama, he made the event of his best friend L. O. Bishop and the Terry Family Reunion every year. He not only made the events - he stayed there all day, grazed, and ate barbecue.  

  Helfin loved to eat. He truly loved barbecue. You could tell he liked to eat from his large, rotund physique. He considered himself a connoisseur of barbecue. In fact, he toured the state every year and he would plan his schedule so that he could eat at his favorite barbecue places in every corner of the state. When he would get through eating a plate of pork or ribs, he would smack his lips, sigh, wipe his face with his handkerchief, and say, “That’s some mighty fine barbecue, it’s almost as good as L.O.’s”

  It may be hard for some of you to believe, but after World War II and throughout the 1960s, organized labor was king in Alabama, unlike today where most of our large industries are not unionized. During that 20-year period (1946-1966), Alabama was the most unionized state in the South by far.  In fact, every major employer in the state of Alabama was a union shop.

  Beginning in Northwest Alabama, the Reynolds Aluminum plant in Sheffield and Florence was union. The Tennessee Valley workers throughout North Alabama were all union. The paper mill and Goodrich Tire plant in Tuscaloosa were union.

  The largest employer in Gadsden, the Goodyear Tire factory, was union.

  The Lee County Tire Manufacturing plant was union. The military base employees at Ft. Rucker in the Wiregrass were union.

  The largest employer in Mobile was the Alabama State Port Authority. Guess what, folks? All those workers belong to the union.

  The largest employers in Birmingham, as well as the largest employers in the state of Alabama, were the steel mills and U.S. Steel. You guessed it – the steel workers were all unionized. In fact, the Steel Workers Union in Birmingham was the largest in the nation.

  The GOP ticket that appears on the ballot in 60 days will feature a powerful triumvirate. It has gone under the radar since the presidential and senate races have taken center stage, but popular Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is up for reelection. Thus, the Republican ticket will feature an illustrious alliteration of Trump/Tuberville/Twinkle, which will be hard to beat in the Heart of Dixie.

  Happy Labor Day!

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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