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Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, & the Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game of 1934 and Tennessee's Most Famous Grocer

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 29, 2022 3:05 am

Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, & the Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game of 1934 and Tennessee's Most Famous Grocer

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 29, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Buddy Morehouse tells us about the childhood of President Gerald Ford and how a football game changed him and his friend Willis Ward's lives forever. Dennis Peterson tells the story of the legendary Cass Walker and his remarkable life... from the grocery empire that he built from scratch, to an unforgettable political run, a TV show, and much more.

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes:

00:00 - Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, & the Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game of 1934

35:00 - Tennessee's Most Famous Grocer

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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To search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Gerald Ford is often overlooked as a president. He was the 38th. However, Gerald Ford made an incredible impact on civil rights during his time in Congress and as president, and all because of his friendship with a man named Willis Ward. Buddy Morehouse tells the story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and a football game which forever changed both men's lives. Gerald Ford and Willis Ward in the early 1930s were two of the best high school football players in the state of Michigan. Gerald Ford was going to Grand Rapids South High School and Willis Ward was attending Detroit Northwestern High School.

So they were on opposite sides of the state. They were two of the best high school football players in the state. So in the fall of 1931, they both came to the University of Michigan. They met actually on their very first day of freshman orientation.

It was held in Waterman's gymnasium on the Michigan campus, and they met that first day. And they had known of each other by reputation because they had read the newspaper clippings and knew how good the other guy was. So immediately they introduced themselves to each other and really became great friends from that very first day at the University of Michigan in the fall of 1931. They realized they had a lot in common beyond just football.

They both had an interest in the law. They kind of had similar career goals. So they became fast friends in college and decided that they were going to room together when they went on road trips. They had formed this friendship that was outside of football, and then it just kind of got strengthened on the football field. And then every time they went, the Michigan football team would go on a road trip, the two of them would room together.

And then they basically remained great friends, obviously throughout college and then through the rest of their lives as well. The athletic director at the time was a guy named Fielding Yost, who had been Michigan's football coach for 25 years, starting in the early 1900s. And he became really one of the greatest college football coaches of all time, certainly one of the most influential coaches of all time.

But in 1925, he stepped down from being a coach, and he became the athletic director. And then he burned through a couple of coaches after that, and he eventually hired a guy named Harry Kipke to be his head coach. And Harry Kipke had been an All-American football player for him. He was one of the greatest athletes that Michigan ever had.

And when Harry Kipke became the coach, he wanted to kind of beef up the roster, beef up recruiting. And everybody at that time knew about Willis Ward. He was this phenomenal athlete, not just in football, but especially in track in Detroit. He was one of the fastest people in the country.

He knew he was an incredible athlete, and he really wanted him to come to Michigan not just to run track, but also to play football. The problem with that is that Fielding Yost was dead set against having any African-American football player on the football team. He didn't mind if there were African-Americans on other teams. There were some that played on the baseball team. But the football team was kind of his baby, and Fielding Yost was a fairly unrelenting racist.

He'd grown up in West Virginia. He was the son of a Confederate soldier, and he was really dead set on keeping his football team all white. So when Harry Kipke came to him and said that he wanted to recruit Willis Ward to play on his team, it caused a huge rift between the two of them. Yost was against it.

Kipke really wanted it. There were even some rumors that the two of them actually came to blows when they were discussing whether or not Willis Ward would be allowed to join the team. But eventually Kipke won out, and Yost backed down, and Willis Ward was able to join the team.

And then Willis Ward, when he joined the team, he became the first African-American football player in about 40 years to play at the University of Michigan. The way things worked back in college football back then, the schedules were not set many years in advance. They were really only set like a year or so in advance, only today. Right now, Michigan knows five years from now who they're going to be playing. But back in those days, they set the schedule like the year before. And Michigan had always only ever played teams from the north, teams from either the Midwest or maybe the East.

They'd never played a team from the south. For whatever reason, Fielding Yost wanted to get a southern team on the schedule. His brother-in-law was a guy named Dan McGoogan, who had worked in, he'd been an athlete at Michigan, and then he was working at Vanderbilt in Tennessee at the time. And Dan McGoogan was really good friends with the people at Georgia Tech. So Yost worked through Dan McGoogan to contact the people at Georgia Tech in 1933. He started contacting them to see if they would be interested in coming up to Ann Arbor to play a game in 1934.

So Yost and the people at Georgia Tech started trading telegrams back then, saying, would you be interested in coming up to play a football game that season? Now, Yost knew very well that the policy, the Jim Crow policy among the southern states at that time, was that they would refuse to play against any team that had an African-American player. So when he scheduled the Georgia Tech game, he knew for a fact that Georgia Tech was going to refuse to play the game if Willis Ward played. So he knew it was going to be a problem, but he still went ahead and scheduled the game. So in 1933, he scheduled this game, and once everybody started to get the news that this was coming out, they quickly started to realize that, you know, oh boy, we're going to have a problem here because they're not going to play the game if we have Willis Ward on our team. And it didn't really become an issue until 1934, when the schedule was officially announced. And then everybody started asking Yost, what are you going to do? Are you going to bench Willis Ward for this game?

Are you going to play it or what are you going to do? And you've been listening to Buddy Morehouse, who happens to teach at Hillsdale College, and he was also a documentarian who made a documentary on this very story. And by the way, this goes to show that racism was not a southern phenomenon, but a national one.

A national play, an athletic director at a top Big Ten school, and it probably wasn't the Big Ten then, was vehemently against having an African American athlete and a terrific one play on his team for no other reason than he was black. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, a love story of sorts, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to hillsdale.edu to learn more. Hey you guys, this is Tori and Jennie with the 902.1 OMG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NerdTech ODT. We recorded it at iHeartRadio's 10th poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NerdTech ODT, Ramejipant, 75 milligrams, can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango? It's true. I had one that night and I took my NerdTech ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NerdTech ODT, Ramejipant, 75 milligrams.

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See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. And we return to our American stories. We were just listening to the story of Gerald Ford and Willis Ward becoming fast friends at the University of Michigan.

By the way, when two guys decide to room on the road, this is more than a friendship. We rejoin events as word spreads of the approaching Michigan-Georgia Tech football game and the crisis, or impending crisis, of Will Willis Ward Eventually. Buddy Morehouse continues the story. The way it worked back in college football then is that freshmen weren't allowed to play in the varsity. So Willis Ward and Gerald Ford couldn't play at all when they were freshmen.

They were just on the practice squad. When they were sophomores, they were able to play. And because Willis Ward was pretty much the, he was definitely the fastest player on the team and one of the best players on the team, he moved into the starting lineup right away. He was one of the best players starting when he was a sophomore. And Michigan won the national championship both his sophomore and junior years. So Willis Ward is one of the best players on the best team in the country. Gerald Ford was backing, he played center and linebacker, and he was backing up a guy named Chuck Bernard who was an All-American center.

So Gerald Ford didn't play much at all when he was a sophomore and junior. As a senior, Chuck Bernard was graduating, so for the first time, both of these guys, these best friends, Gerald Ford and Willis Ward, were both going to be moving into the starting lineup. And they were so excited heading into that season, going into the 1934 season, because they were both going to be starters for the first time.

They were coming off two national championships and the excitement was just sky high. But all that kind of came crashing down in starting in the late summer and then the early fall of 1934 when this Georgia Tech situation came up. And everybody started asking them, you know, started asking Fielding Yost and Harry Kipke, you know, what are you going to do about this game?

You know, Georgia Tech is not going to play the game if Willis Ward plays in the game, what are you going to do about it? And it caused this incredibly contentious situation once Ward got out, both on the team and in the Michigan community and then really nationally. And it became a firestorm on the Michigan campus. College football back then didn't start in late August or early September like it does now. The games didn't start until early October. That was when the first game of the season was. The Georgia Tech game was going to be the third game of the season and it wasn't until October 20th that the game was played.

So this really started to explode in late September and early October of 1934. And when Ward got out, when Georgia Tech said, no, we're not going to play the game if Willis Ward plays, Fielding Yost wouldn't say anything publicly. He would not come out and say it publicly.

He was definitely speaking in the meetings that they had, but he wouldn't say anything, wouldn't make any press announcements, wouldn't answer any of their questions about it. Leading up to the game, as I said, it was creating this firestorm on the campus and there were really two sides that were forming. On the one side, you had most all of the faculty and almost all the students at Michigan who were saying there's no way that we should play this game if Willis Ward's not allowed to play. Either he plays the game or we cancel it. But we should not play the game and bench Willis Ward.

That's just not an option. On the other side were some of the more blue bloods, some of the fraternity boys on Michigan's campus who were taking the approach that, you know what, these are our guests from the south. We need to be considerate of what their feelings are and we need to give in and bench Willis Ward because that's what they want us to do and they're our guests. So, it created a huge rift on the Michigan campus.

The night before the game, there was this huge rally that had about 1,500 to 2,000 people attending it where everybody came to the microphone and they were giving angry speeches on both sides of it. There were also hundreds of telegrams that were received by the Michigan Athletic Office, most all of them saying that it's a disgrace that a school like Michigan would even be thinking of benching Willis Ward in a situation like this and demanding that they cancel the game if they're insisting that Willis Ward be benched. Really, the people in the middle of this were not only Willis Ward but also Gerald Ford. He was, for the first time in his life, as I said, a starter on the Michigan football team.

But he was watching what was happening to his best friend. Gerald Ford felt so strongly about it that he actually wrote to his father and then got the word to Harry Kipke that he wanted to quit the team. If they were going to do this to his friend Willis Ward, he didn't want to have any part of that, so he told his father that he was going to quit the team.

And if you think about it, that's an extraordinary thing for a 20-year-old college kid to be doing. He was living his dream of being a Michigan football player and on the eve of the only season where he was going to be a starter his senior year, he was willing to quit the team as a show of support for his best friend Willis Ward. That's how strongly he felt about it.

And that's a test of character that a lot of people don't know about Gerald Ford that really stayed with him for the rest of his life. But after he said that and he told Willis Ward what he wanted to do, Willis Ward went to Gerald Ford and he told him, he said, no, I don't want you to quit the team. I want you to play. I want you to go out there to play and I want you to pound them. So that's what Ford did. He said, if you want me to play, I'll play.

If you want me to pound them, I'll pound them. The weather was miserable. It was October 20th.

The weather was, it was cold and rainy. Michigan had started the season terribly and it was all because of the Willis Ward incident. This was just ripping the team up inside. They just came off two back to back national championships and then they started the 1934 season with two losses. So coming in the Georgia Tech game, they'd already lost two games and the morale of the team was destroyed.

But they were, they had a special mission, I think, in their hearts for the Georgia Tech game that they needed to go out there and they needed to stand up for their friend Willis Ward. So the game was played in these terrible conditions, but Michigan actually won the game 9-2. Georgia Tech's only points came out of safety.

Michigan scored, also scored a safety and they scored a touchdown in the game. And Gerald Ford had probably the best game of his, of his life that year. He was absolutely devastating the players on the Georgia Tech team. And the one play that really illustrates that is there was a player on the Georgia Tech team, a sophomore named Charlie Preston, who was from Atlanta. And there was, there was trash talk throughout the entire game, but Charlie Preston was just really, really going over the top with it. He was, he kept talking about Willis Ward in the game and using the worst racial slurs that you can imagine to describe him. And he was directing that at the Michigan players.

When Gerald Ford heard that, he snapped. And there was this one play where Gerald Ford and another player named Bill Borgman, they went after Charlie Preston during that play and they put the most devastating block on him that ended up breaking some of Charlie Preston's ribs. They had to haul him out of the game after that. That's how hard they hit Charlie Preston.

And that got in the newspaper that, you know, he'd been knocked out of the game. And on Monday morning after the game, Gerald Ford and Bill Borgman, they came to Willis Ward and they said, that was for you. That ended up being the only game that Michigan won that season. Record wise, it was the worst season in Michigan history. And it was all because their morale had been totally destroyed because of the Willis Ward situation. So this was not a team that was in, historically in trouble. They just came off two, had come off two national championship seasons. And then they end up having a one in seven season, which is the worst season in Michigan football history. And what a story you're hearing about how racism drove the great University of Michigan championship team to a tragic and terrible season. And all over one single claim that from an athletic director who deliberately did this, there's almost no question he did just listening to the story, why schedule a southern team? But for this kind of conflict and showdown, why else would a man do it?

And that's how deep the roots of racism can go in a human being. But what a thing young Gerald Ford did. He doesn't play. If my pal doesn't play, I quit. And his pal says, no, go pound them. And the one win they have in this tragic season.

Well, they pounded Georgia Tech and broke some ribs while they were at it on general principle. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, a love story in the end between Gerald Ford and Willis Ward here on Our American Stories. Hey, you guys, this is Tori and Jenny with the 9 0 2 1 OMG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NURTEC ODT. We recorded it at I Heart Radio's 10th poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NURTEC ODT Remedapants 75 milligrams can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango?

It's true. I had one that night and I took my NURTEC ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NURTEC ODT Remedapants 75 milligrams. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully, NURTEC ODT Remedapants 75 milligrams is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. And we return to our American stories. We were just listening to Buddy Morehouse describe what happened on that fateful day in 1934 when Michigan pounded Georgia Tech in their only win of the season. But what happened to the relationship between Gerald Ford and Willis Ward?

Let's pick up where we last left off. That game had a profound impact on both of them in every respect. What it did to Willis Ward at first was he was, as I said, as great as he was in football, he was even better in track. He was one of the best football players in the country. He was one of the best track people in the entire world. Back then, the fastest man in the world was Jesse Owens, who was from Ohio State, and he's the one who went on and won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. Well, Willis Ward and Jesse Owens were in college at the same time, and Willis Ward raced against Jesse Owens five times, and he actually beat Jesse Owens twice. There are people that don't think Jesse Owens ever lost a race in college or ever lost a race during that time. Well, one of the only people who ever beat him was Willis Ward. So you have Willis Ward, who is just as fast as Jesse Owens, the fastest man in the world. And going into the 1936 Olympics, everybody was thinking, the United States is going to have the greatest track team of all time. We've got Jesse Owens on our team.

We've got Willis Ward on our team. We're going to just do nothing but win gold medals. But the Olympics that year, of course, were held in Berlin.

Adolf Hitler's Berlin. And there was a lot of speculation as to what Hitler might do in terms of discriminating against the athletes who were not white from other countries. So Willis Ward had been so devastated by what happened to him in the Georgia Tech situation and what came to the Olympics.

He just said, you know what, I don't want to put myself through possibly having the same thing happen to me as happened to me with the Georgia Tech game. So he essentially retired from athletics after the 1935 track season at Michigan and never ran another race or played in another football game. He decided instead that he was going to go into the corporate world. He was hired by Henry Ford to work at the Ford Motor Company as kind of a liaison between the black and white workers. Henry Ford loved Willis Ward. He absolutely loved Willis Ward.

And he was trying to integrate his auto factories at the time, and he knew he needed someone to kind of be the be the go between. So when Willis Ward was in his early 20s, he was probably one of the highest ranking African-American business executives in the country working for the Ford Motor Company. Gerald Ford went on to law school at Yale and then became an attorney in Grand Rapids. And a few years after that, decided to run for Congress. But throughout the entire time, the Willis Ward and Gerald Ford kept in touch with each other, visited each other all the time, saw each other all the time. Ford became a congressman. Willis Ward eventually left Ford Motor Company, went to law school because he wanted to become an attorney, specifically working on civil rights cases. And then in 1956, Willis Ward decided he was going to run for Congress, too. And like Gerald Ford, Willis Ward was also a Republican. So Willis Ward was going to run for Congress in a seat in Detroit as a Republican. And Gerald Ford came to Detroit and campaigned for his friend after that.

So that was 20 years after their football days at Michigan. And the two of them are walking through Detroit knocking on doors together to try to get Willis Ward elected. He ended up not winning that race, not getting elected, but just showed their friendship kind of kept going on after that. When Gerald Ford became one of the leading people in the House of Representatives, he, in the 1960s when the civil rights legislation was going through the Congress, Ford was one of the main Republican supporters of the civil rights legislation. And he always told people that the thing that was strongest in his mind when he voted in favor of that was what had happened to Willis Ward and how unfair that was. So when he voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, it was the Willis Ward story and his friendship with Willis Ward was strongly in his mind. And it continued when he moved into the White House, when Richard Nixon resigned and then his Ford, of course, had become vice president.

When Spiro Agnew resigned and then he became president when Nixon resigned. And that whole, his whole friendship and everything with Willis Ward was still one of the driving factors in his mind any time it came to any legislation or anything else that was going on related to race. His relationship with Willis Ward was still there.

Gerald Ford was the president who signed Black History Month into law. And Willis Ward would come to the White House and visit with Jerry at that time. There's some great photos from 1976 of the two of them in the Oval Office just having a private conversation. It had been 40 years since their time in Ann Arbor and they were, you know, together at the White House. And by that time Willis Ward was a judge in Detroit.

So you have the judge in Detroit and the president of the United States, these two old Michigan football teammates just having a great conversation in the Oval Office. So their friendship continued through the rest of their lives. And then even after Willis Ward passed away in 1983, it even continued after that.

Willis Ward passed away in 1983. Gerald Ford then became kind of an elder statesman in the Republican Party. And one of the most remarkable things that happened is in 1999, the University of Michigan, they had an affirmative actions policy that was in place. And it had come under fire and was being legally challenged and it went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The president of Michigan at that time was a man named Lee Bollinger. And he was desperately trying to keep some semblance of this program in place because he wanted to have a diverse student body. And he knew this was a politically charged issue.

But he was desperate looking for someone. He was looking for a Republican who would be willing to say that it's important that we have this policy at the University of Michigan and at other universities. So Gerald Ford was actually the one who came forward in 1999 and he stepped forward and said, I will help. Gerald Ford wrote an op-ed in the New York Times basically talking about the importance of fairness, the importance of being able to have diversity in a university. And he based his entire argument around the story of Willis Ward.

And that's interesting on several levels. Number one, it's interesting because Ford never talked about the Willis Ward story very rarely. He was on TV one time in the 90s on The Larry King Show where he was on there with his son Steve and Steve had kind of prompted him to tell the story.

It's the only time we can ever find of Gerald Ford telling the story on camera. But it wasn't like he was exploiting it for political purposes or anything. He never told the Willis Ward story to anyone, but he decided when his alma mater's admissions policy was under fire, he decided that that was the right time to tell it. So he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times where he basically told the story of Willis Ward and for a lot of the country it was the first time that they'd ever heard that story. And it was a very, very powerful op-ed. And the Supreme Court voted soon after that to uphold part of Michigan's policy. And the swing vote on that was Sandra Day O'Connor. And there are a lot of observers who said that it was most likely Gerald Ford's op-ed that helped sway Sandra Day O'Connor's mind on how to vote on that. And a terrific job on the production by Carter McNish and a special thanks to Buddy Morehouse who teaches at Hillsdale College where Carter happens to be a student and who has also produced a documentary, Black and Blue, the story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Georgia Tech football game.

He did it along with Brian Krueger and that's available at Walmart.com, Amazon.com, or the usual suspects. A terrific story about friendship, about how love can transcend race, and about so much more, including courage and courage under fire, here on Our American Story. Hey, you guys, this is Tori and Jenny with the 90210MG podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NerdTech ODT. We recorded it at iHeartRadio's 10th poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NerdTech ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams, can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango? It's true! I had one that night and I took my NerdTech ODT and I was present and had an amazing time.

Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NerdTech ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully, NerdTech ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams, is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So, lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Music And we continue with our American stories. Our next story comes to us from our regular contributor, Dennis Peterson. A notable figure that resembles the American spirit would be none other than Orton Caswell Walker, or Caz for short. An unforgettable Tennessean, a businessman, politician, and personality on TV and radio.

Here's Dennis with the story. Cas Walker. Older people in the southern Appalachians react in a variety of ways to that name. Some people shake their heads in amazement, remembering some of his off-the-wall advertising promotions. Others grin, thinking of the man's tales of horse trading or coon hunting.

And still others frown, recalling a formidable political foe. Whatever their response, however, one thing is sure. Cas Walker could never be ignored. Cas himself made sure of that. Cas Walker was a celebrated grocer, a millionaire, and a self-proclaimed living legend.

Some people consider him the most colorful and controversial political figure in the region. That assessment is no small matter, considering Walker's background of poverty and lack of education. Cas was born in 1902 in an area of Sevier County, Tennessee, called The Sinks. His parents, Tom and Nana Mitchell Walker, reared 12 children, five boys and seven girls.

Cas said he was the youngest, the meanest, and the prettiest. He had less than two years of formal schooling at what was called Murphy College in Sevierville, Tennessee. His favorite subject was bookkeeping. But he dropped out of Murphy after beating up a boy who had tripped him as he went onto the platform for a recitation.

He said that dropping out of Murphy was the biggest mistake he ever made. From his earliest youth, Cas was always trying to make money to improve himself. For example, a pig drover who had spent the night at the Walker home couldn't find his hat the next morning. The man offered a quarter to the child who found it. Cas did. His siblings accused Cas of hiding the hat on purpose, and Cas said he might have done just that. But Cas used the quarter he'd earned to buy a crippled sow from the man.

Later, he bred the sow, traded the brood for four sheep, bred the sheep, and got eight lambs. He ended up selling the whole lot to his father for $500. When he was 14, Cas overheard his parents say that they would lose their home if they were unable to pay the note. He ran away from home and got a job with a logging company in Smokemont, North Carolina, so he could help them pay off the mortgage. He worked hard and saved his money. Soon, he was cashing paychecks for the other workers, for a fee of 15% of each paycheck.

Walker returned home, paid off his parents' debt, and in 1919 went to work for a coal mining company in Harlan, Kentucky, for $13.50 a day. Again, he worked hard, saved his money, and looked for other ways to add to his income. Meanwhile, Cas was developing ideas for his magnificent obsession to own his own grocery store. He even drew a detailed floor plan for that store on the ceiling of the mine with smoke from his carbide lamp and signed his name beside it.

I dreamed about that store every day, he said, but he did more than dream. He started putting $100 a month into the local bank. In 1924, Cas returned to Knoxville with $900 and a lot of determination. He bought his first store at auction for $750. He was 22 years old. Within four years, he had opened a second store.

From that modest beginning, he grew to 29 stores in three states, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. In less than 10 years, he was a millionaire. I didn't know a thing about merchandising, he admitted, but I knowed kindly how to excite a crowd. He quickly became infamous as the master of promotions and advertising gimmicks. He didn't always do things by the book, but what he did seemed to work. His first promotional gimmick at his first store was a chicken throw. He held one every Saturday for five years. He advertised that at 10 o'clock he would throw 20 live chickens from the roof, and whoever caught one could keep it. On the appointed day, he intentionally delayed the throw until 11 o'clock, ensuring a big crowd and building excitement. While the people waited, they got hungry and thirsty, and Cas was prepared to sell them popcorn, peanuts, and cheap soft drinks. He said another promotion almost worked him to death. He offered customers at his Pennington Gap, Virginia store a free flea dip for their dogs for every $10 grocery order.

In two days, he dipped 737 dogs. Walker knew that the key to successful advertising is image and name recognition. He wanted to convey an image of a common, hardworking, down-to-earth coon hunter and grocer who was concerned about his customers' needs. Therefore, he always acted with the innocence of a country boy in the big city. I try to be just as countrified as I am, he once told a reporter.

It's good business, and it's good politics. His newspaper ads each began with Cas Walker Says in big, bold letters and featured a photograph of himself, bald, grinning, and bespectacled. In the early 1950s, Cas became a pioneer in radio and television advertising. He produced his own live radio and TV shows, The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour. Eventually, his show was on all three of Knoxville's TV stations. A number of future stars performed on his show. Perhaps the most famous was Dolly Parton, who sang for him when she was only eight years old.

Other soon-to-be famous names on the show included Homer Harris, Bonnie Lou and Buster, Barbara Mandrell, the Everly Brothers, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Loretta Lynn. Of course, between songs, Cas advertised groceries. Sometimes he held the actual products in his hand and read right off the labels. Soon, people of all ages were singing his little jingles, quoting his slogans, and most importantly for Cas, shopping at his stores.

Stop, shop, and save at the sign of the shears and the name Cas Walker. Some people said Cas was crazy. As his reputation grew, so did pressure for him to run for Knoxville City Council.

He said he wasn't interested. His reluctance produced, just as he had expected and wanted, even more demand that he run. In 1945, he did, and he received 600 more votes than any other candidate. By the rules of the day, the councilman with the most votes became mayor, so Cas suddenly was the mayor. But he stirred up so much controversy that he was removed from office in a special recall election. He was the only mayor in city history to be recalled. Never a quitter, Cas was re-elected to the council 11 months later, and for the next three decades, he was never again defeated in an election. But that didn't stop him from stirring controversy. He gained perhaps his widest national attention in 1956, when Life magazine and the Associated Press published a photo of him in fisticuffs with another councilman during a debate over tax and property assessments.

Walker retired from active office in December 1971. Politics is a treacherous business, he warned. My record is clean.

I decided I'd better get out before something happens to spoil it. But even his enemies praised Cas for his legendary philanthropy. He paid for the burial of poor people. He gave groceries to hungry people. He initiated drives to rebuild homes for poor families displaced by house fires.

He was instrumental in the founding of Children's Hospital in Knoxville, and he spearheaded the Milk Fund, which provided milk for needy children. In spite of his great wealth, Cas continued to live in a modest, unpretentious house in East Knoxville for the rest of his life. Although Cas died in 1998, his legend lives on among those who remember him. Before he passed, he wrote his autobiography titled My Life History, a True Living Legend, and a legend he continues to be.

And a terrific job on the production and editing on the storytelling by Aaron Phillips and a special thanks to Dennis Peterson, a regular contributor and a terrific storyteller himself. And what a story he told. Cas Walker grows up in the poorest parts of Tennessee.

The Sinks is the nickname. One in 12 kids, he said he was the youngest, the meanest, and the best looking. Cas was always hustling for money. Very little actual schooling for the school of hard knocks. At 14, Cas overheard his parents might lose their home.

And what does a boy do? He goes out and does logging for a living, comes back and helps pay off the mortgage. And then, well, he's working in a coal mine, saving up money to do the thing he dreamed of, which is open a grocery store. And then, of course, nobody was a better promoter, almost a P.T. Barnum of grocery stores. Understanding media, advertising, and promotion, and in the end, image and branding. A classic American story. Cas Walker's story here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 18:42:13 / 2023-02-16 18:58:52 / 17

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