70th Anniversary Of The Battle Of Athens: WWII Veterans Took Back Their Town From Corrupt Politicians

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Athens, Tennessee, where a bunch of GI’s returning from WWII retook their town from corrupt politician.


Upon returning from the war, GIs found that the town had elected Paul Cantrell, a democratic candidate, for sheriff. While fraud was heavily suspected, there was no way to prove it. The sheriff enacted heavy taxes and fines for every person who was arrested, booked, incarcerated and released. The more “human transactions”, the more money the government received.

Deputies began to arrest people on fraudulent charges, and often. They were known to routinely board buses and go through each passenger and arrest people for drunkenness (even if they were not). Some weekends saw over 115 arrests, even though it was a very small town. Collecting money from allowing roadhouses (pubs, bars, etc) to stay open was so much more profitable than closing them down altogether, that it became common knowledge in Tennessee that Athens was a “wide open” town during Prohibition times.

battleofathensWhen election time rolled around on August 1st, 1946, voters rushed to ballots in record numbers to vote out the corruption in politics.  But major voter suppression, such as roughing up all the GIs who stood guard or refusing to allow people to vote made the soldiers snap.  After a black man named Gillespie was shot in the back for legally trying to cast his ballot, former soldiers retrieved their pistols and shotguns and surrounded over 25 deputies into the county jail, where they were forced to eventually surrender.

Bill White, a former veteran finally fed up with the current administration, raided the National and State Guard armories and returned to the jail that Cantrell was holed up inside. After gunfire, explosives, and brutal force, Cantrell and his men surrendered with all of the ballot boxes they had hidden from the public.

Luckily, no one was killed during the attacks – even Gillespie recovered from the gunshot wound – and the correct count of the ballots saw Cantrell losing by a landslide. All extorted fees were returned to the citizens – a longstanding example of how the people can rise up to fight a corrupt government echoes with us today.


Unfortunately, the government and military today are too far developed for this kind of large-scale government coup. But there are still methods in which a town can regain their fundamental rights, such as their right to vote. Defunding corrupt politicians and using social platforms to spread information to counteract their propaganda has helped empower third parties or grassroots platforms in the United States.

While True Activist can’t really estimate how much force it would take to overthrow our current system the same way these GIs did 70 years ago, using politically legitimate methods to overthrow corruption are never overrated.

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This article (70th Anniversary Of The Battle Of Athens: WWII Veterans Took Back Their Town From Corrupt Politicians) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and True Activist.

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