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|Size||13.0 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 16000 items)|
|Abstract||Braxton Bragg Comer of Birmingham and Comer, Barbour County, Ala., was president of Avondale Cotton Mills, planter, merchant, and prominent politician, who served as president of the Alabama Railroad Commission, 1904-1907; governor of Alabama, 1908-1911; and U.S. senator, 1920. Personal, plantation and other business, and political papers of Comer. Personal papers consist primarily of letters to his family, including his brother E. T. Comer, about family matters, hunting, and social activities, and about Comer's interest in public and higher education in Alabama. Plantation records include correspondence with agents, sharecroppers, and laborers on the Comer plantation; vendors of farm machinery and agricultural supplies; and others. These letters discuss business disputes, Comer's African-American workforce, the sale and purchase of feed and livestock, cultivation techniques, and varieties of plants and animals. Plantation records also contain laborer and sharecropper work reports and financial and legal documents relating to the sale and purchase of farm equipment, including union activities in the mills. Political papers discuss many issues included in the progressive agenda--regulation of public utilities and transportation, especially railroads; Prohibition; and convict leasing. Comer's battle to regulate the cotton futures market is also documented. In the 1910s and 1920s, papers show Comer's involvement in several Alabama political campaigns and in Oscar Underwood's unsuccessful bid for the 1924 Democratic presidential nomination. Many items document the role of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama politics in the 1920s. In 1940, there are items concerning Comer family history. Also included are scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, most dating from Comer's tenure as governor of Alabama. Topics include Comer's administration, railroad regulation, Prohibition, education, election reform, local and national elections, and Democratic Party politics.|
|Creator||Comer, Braxton Bragg, 1848-1927.|
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Braxton Bragg Comer (1848-1927) was an Alabama textile manufacturer, planter, merchant, and prominent politician, who was president of the Alabama Railroad Commission, 1904-1907, and governor of Alabama, 1908-1911. In addition to these elected offices, he was appointed to fill the eight-month unexpired term of U.S. Senator John H. Bankhead Senior, in 1920.
Braxton Bragg Comer was born in Old Spring Hill, Barbour County, Ala., on 7 November 1848. His father was John Fletcher Comer (1811-1858), a native of Jones County, Ga. Following his marriage to Catharine Lucinda Drewry in 1841, John Fletcher Comer moved to Barbour County, Ala., in 1844, where the family established a plantation and a saw and grist mill. John Fletcher and Catherine Drewry Comer had six sons, all of whom became prominent citizens of Georgia and Alabama. Hugh Moss Comer (1847-1900) became a cotton commission merchant in Savannah, Ga.; president of the Georgia Central Railroad and Ocean Steamship Company; and founder of the Bibb Manufacturing Company, one of the largest cotton manufacturers in the South. John Wallace Comer (1845-1919) was a Georgia planter and vice president of the Cowikee Mills at Eufaula, Ala. St. George Legare Comer (born 1847) was an attorney at Eufaula. John Fletcher Comer Junior (1854-1927) was a planter and postmaster of Midway, Ala. Edward Trippe Comer (1856-1927) was president of the Bibb Manufacturing Company after his brother Hugh Moss Comer's death, and owner of a large plantation at Millhaven, Ga.
After attending the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia and graduating from Emory and Henry College at Emory, Va., in 1869, Braxton Bragg Comer returned to Barbour County and assumed the management of the family plantation and mills. In 1872, he married Eva Jane Harris, of Cuthbert, Ga. They had nine children, including Sally B. Comer Lathrop, John Fletcher ("Fletcher") Comer, John McDonald ("Donald") Comer, Mignon Comer Smith, Catherine Comer Buck, Bevelle Comer Nabors, Eva Comer Ryding, Braxton Bragg ("Bragg") Comer Junior, and Hugh Moss Comer. In 1885, Braxton Bragg Comer moved to Anniston, Ala., and co-founded the wholesale grocery and commission firm of Comer & Trapp. In 1890, he moved to Birmingham, where he became president of the City National Bank and the Birmingham Corn and Flour Mills. Eventually, he turned to cotton manufacturing, and became president of Avondale Cotton Mills, managing six plants at Pell City, Sycamore, Sylacauga, and Alexander City.
In 1904, spurred by indignation over corruption in Alabama's railroad companies, Comer ran for the office of president of the State Railroad Commission. He won on a platform advocating regulation of railroad rates. In 1906, he successfully ran for governor as a progressive. During his administration, the Alabama legislature passed legislation reforming political campaigns, regulated the railroads and other public utilities and carriers, and aggressively promoted public and universal education through large appropriations for universities and colleges and the formation of a state high school system for both blacks and whites. A militant Prohibitionist, Comer also supported a state Prohibition law. Comer declined to seek re-election, and a 1914 bid for the Democratic nomination for the governorship was unsuccessful. In 1920, Governor Thomas E. Kilby appointed him to fill the seat of U.S. Senator John H. Bankhead, who died with eight months remaining in his term. Comer used his time in the Senate primarily to battle for an amendment to the Cotton Futures Act, which would have regulated the activities of cotton futures speculators. The amendment was successfully defeated by those who painted Comer as a cotton manufacturer seeking to restrict the profits of southern farmers.
After 1920, Comer concentrated on his business activities. As he gradually handed over control of Avondale Cotton Mills to his son Donald, he spent more time on his Comer plantation, and on hunting and fishing expeditions. He remained active in politics as an advisor to candidates and fellow progressive politicians. In 1924, as a supporter of Senator Oscar Underwood's presidential aspirations, he chose half of the state's delegates to the Democratic National Convention, hoping to ensure that Alabama remained committed to a "dry" presidential candidate. He also worked for the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Archie Carmichael in 1926. Active to the end, Braxton Bragg Comer died after a short illness, attributed to a gall bladder infection, on 15 August 1927.Back to Top
This collection consists of Braxton Bragg Comer's personal, financial, business, and political papers. The papers document Comer's family and social life, his work at Avondale Mills, his plantation at Comer, Ala., and his involvement in national and Alabama politics in the 1910s and 1920s.
There are a few items dating from 1907-1915, including a 1908 letterbook, which consists of Comer's outgoing letters on 213 leaves. A few of the pages have become transposed and are out of sequence. The letterbook is also missing several pages. The bulk of the collection contains Comer's correspondence, 1916-1927, as well as copies of speeches, circulars, plantation records, and other papers. An exception is the year 1921, for which there are only a few items, almost entirely of outgoing correspondence. Often one document focuses on several facets of Comer's life and career, so the correspondence and other papers have been kept in chronological order in one series. In the inventory, however, the papers are described in four categories--personal, plantation, business, and political papers.
Braxton Bragg Comer also kept scrapbooks filled chiefly with newspaper clippings relating to his political career. Most of these date from his tenure as governor of Alabama, 1906-1911. Topics include Comer's administration, the railroads, Prohibition, education, election reform, and state and national politics. There are also a few loose newspaper clippings from the 1910s and 1920s. In many cases, the dates and sources of the material are unknown. The scrapbooks have been dismantled, but the material has been kept in the order of the original volumes.Back to Top
The few papers from 1907-1908 include a gubernatorial proclamation on railroad regulation and other issues and several typed transcriptions of newspaper articles on Comer's speeches concerning Prohibition, public utilities, and the railroad interests, and one on Confederate veterans. A 1908 letterbook contains letters from Braxton Bragg Comer to family members, friends, and associates, mostly regarding financial matters. Topics include his advice to his sons Donald and Fletcher Comer, who were involved in managing plantations and other business concerns; arrangements for the purchase of a cotton mill in Eufaula, Ala.; sales of cotton; cotton manufacturing and mill management; and other financial matters. The letterbook contains several political letters, include some relating to the campaign of John P. Lusk for a federal judgeship, in which Comer gave political advice to Lusk, and entreated and negotiated with various political figures for their support. There are also a few letters in the letterbook concerning Comer family genealogy and other family matters, as well as Comer's intense interest in hunting and fishing.
From 1909 to 1915, the papers contain a printed message to the Alabama legislature on education, public lands, railroads, and Prohibition; a typed transcription of a newspaper article on Comer's speech on the development of public waterways and education in Alabama to a national governors' conference; scattered financial correspondence and receipts for land purchases, investments, cotton mills; and correspondence with Comer's brothers negotiating the establishment of a trust to maintain the Comer family graveyard and church in Old Spring Hill.
Braxton Bragg Comer's personal papers consist primarily of his letters to his family, friends, and other individuals, and concern his plans and financial arrangements for his children, his passion for hunting and fishing, his personal views on race relations and Catholicism, and his social activities as one of Birmingham's leading citizens. The papers also include material relating to Comer's interest in education, and documenting his many substantial gifts to Alabama's universities and schools.
Personal correspondence for 1916 includes Comer's letters to his children and grandchildren, written in a half-affectionate, half-scolding tone, and giving them advice, especially regarding finances. There are several letters to his granddaughter, Eugenia ("Ginsie") Blount, regarding her treatment for orthodontia in New York City. He also wrote to his daughters in Canada and Alabama regarding their investments, which included speculation in stocks and foreign currency, and to his sons, especially Fletcher as manager of Comer's Oldtown plantation in Louisville, Ga., and to Bragg at a plantation at Sylacauga, Ala., regarding plantation management and agricultural and financial matters, and disputes with vendors over accounts and orders. In 1917, Comer's sons entered the United States Army--Hugh Moss Comer in Company 7 at Fort McPherson, Ga., and Bragg Comer in the School of Aeronautics at MIT. Comer wrote them often, advising them to conduct themselves as men of honor. He also wrote his oldest son Fletcher, who struggled with "the Tiger Booze," and Donald Comer, who worked with him at Avondale Mills. In 1918, Fletcher decided to sell the Oldtown plantation. There are many letters and legal documents regarding its sale, Fletcher's debts, and his return to Birmingham to work at Avondale Mills. Braxton Bragg Comer wrote several letters to his brothers regarding the Comer Brothers' Trust Fund, which supported the family church and graveyard in Comer. Comer also wrote to his daughters-in-laws and did not hesitate to advise them on every aspect of their lives, including breast feeding their babies.
On 6 March 1920, Braxton Bragg Comer was appointed to the U.S. Senate. On the same day, his wife Eva died from a heart attack. During this period, there are many letters of congratulations and sympathy, as well as letters from Comer describing his loss and his wife's last hours. The personal correspondence also documents his move to Washington, including the visit of his nephew Hugh Moss Comer, his wife Bess, and their maid, who was "white enough to pass without any comment" in their hotel accommodations.
There are few letters in 1921, and, in 1922, there is much less correspondence with Comer's daughters and sons, most of whom were settled in the Birmingham area, and more with his nephew, Hugh Moss Comer, and his brother, E. T. Comer. After 1922, Comer wrote many informative letters to the latter, describing his plans for the Comer plantation, family life, and politics. E. T. Comer wrote many letters as well, including one on the death of Becky Comer, a former family slave, reminiscing about Saturday night baths. Braxton Bragg Comer wrote several letters regarding the heirs of Becky and Henry Comer and their right to the land their parents had lived on. In 1922, Mignon Comer Smith's husband died, and there are several letters regarding the settlement of his estate and the sale of their plantation.
In 1924, Comer married Mary Carr Gibson, and received many letters of congratulation. After 1925, Comer's correspondence shows that his chief concerns were his investments, the Comer plantation, fishing trips, and bird hunting. An ardent sportsman, Comer was on a perpetual and futile quest to find a good hunting dog. He kept up a correspondence over several years with various kennels and individuals, asking them to find him a good squirrel and possum dog and rejecting each candidate with a growing list of epithets. All the while, he constantly renewed his faith that he would find the ideal dog, claiming in one letter that "It is right interesting to me to read your beautiful letters about dogs, like a lady who has been through a beautiful display of dresses, bonnets and hats and looks at her selection after it gets home."
Every January, Comer set up camp along the southwestern coast of Florida and spent a month fishing with family and friends. From 1917 to 1923, he made one- to two-month-long big-game hunting expeditions to Alaska and British Columbia. There are many letters throughout the collection that document arrangements for these trips, and with taxidermists and tanners after his expeditions. Comer corresponded with several individuals, describing his exploits and asking their opinions on different hunting outfits and regions. He also corresponded with outfitters and guides in Florida, Alaska, and British Columbia, negotiating the terms for his expeditions. Letters from outfitters describe the abundance of big game in various parts of northwestern North America, especially of grizzly bears, and include a description of a man-killing grizzly. There are also many letters from sportsmen and gun companies regarding Comer's purchase of guns and ammunition, and documenting several disputes he had with the railroad over transporting ammunition and procuring and smuggling ermine skins from Canada. In 1919, he wrote the railroad asking for its policy towards travel with African-American servants to British Columbia. Also in that year, he began his attempt, which lasted several years, to buy government-owned land off the west coast of Florida in order to establish a permanent camp site. One 1922 letter to his outfitter in British Columbia complained of the guide Pete, "a Bolshevic ...[and] Union Labor man."
In 1923, the last year Comer made the journey to British Columbia, he was accused of slaughtering game, a charge he denied. As a result, he was forced to smuggle his trophies into the United States in the false bottom of a trunk. After that year, he confined his hunting activities to his fishing trips, annual expeditions to the Delta Duck Club in Louisiana, and shooting birds, possums, and raccoons on the Comer plantation. A few letters in 1927 relate to Comer's attempt to defeat a proposal to restrict bag limits on migratory waterfowl.
Comer, as a politician and businessman, was interested in race relations and the position of African-Americans in southern and United States society. In 1917, he corresponded with his nephew Hugh Moss Comer regarding the "negro disposition and condition." Hugh Moss Comer was adamantly opposed to the integration he saw in the northern United States, writing of the dangers of "a whole race organized by its own leaders who voice legal aims and purposes," the turmoil caused by the return of educated blacks to the South, and the folly of allowing African-Americans to serve in the U.S. Army, especially officers "full of revolutionary notions."
In 1922 and 1923, Comer corresponded with a Florida man, who accused him of anti-Catholicism. Comer wrote him a long letter, discussing the Tom Watson trial and the Birmingham trial of Reverend Stevenson, who killed a Roman Catholic priest. Another letter from Comer to the same individual concerns the "Catholic question" and the American Legion's resolution against Senator Tom Watson. In the same years, Comer ordered several anti-Semitic texts from the Dearborn Publishing Company, including "The International Jew" and "Aspects of Jewish Power in the United States."
In the 1920s, much of the correspondence concerns Braxton Bragg Comer's work for education in Alabama. He assisted Auburn University with its Semi-Centennial Campaign and was honorary chairman for that university's Million Dollar Drive. There are several speeches in the papers, including one supporting the Million Dollar Drive, another on the occasion of his receiving of an honorary D.D.L. from the University of Alabama, and several commencement speeches for Emory and Henry College, Auburn University, Birmingham Southern College, and Athens College, in which he criticized the theory of evolution, illicit alcohol, and moving pictures, which he called "one of the dangers of the land." There are many letters on the establishment of medals, and prizes at various colleges, including the University of Alabama and Auburn University, and a 1922 letter asking for support for the Movable School Truck program of Tuskegee Institute.
Other correspondence documents Comer's personal investments and his income taxes; his physical problems, including a hernial operation; a dispute in 1922 with a doctor over an eye operation, and another with the White Car Company over repairs to one of Comer's vehicles; a 1920 legal document establishing codicil charities in his will; and correspondence with members of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, South Birmingham, including one letter opposing unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South. In 1924, Comer wrote an acerbic letter to a publishing company saying refusing the Company's offer of a book on Braxton Bragg because he was named in honor of the general's conduct at the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War and not in Civil War, of which he did not approve. In the same year, he received a letter from the governor of Formosa sending him a complementary gift of oolong tea.
Following Braxton Bragg Comer's decline and death due to an infection of the gall bladder, there is a special 19 August 1927 edition of the Avondale Sun, the Avondale Mills newspaper, commemorating Comer's life and work and containing biographical sketches, letters of condolence from prominent citizens, and photographs.
Braxton Bragg Comer's plantation records include correspondence with his agents, housekeeper, and laborers on the Comer plantation; with vendors of farm machinery and agricultural supplies, seed companies, livestock breeders, packing companies, and stockyards; and with his neighbors regarding land sales and disputes over borders, fences, and hunting and fishing rights. He also corresponded with many individuals regarding land sales; business disputes; problems with his African-American laborers and their lack of expertise with farm machinery; and the sale and purchase of feed and livestock. There are also many letters regarding cultivation techniques and varieties of plants and animals, as well as purchases and maintenance of farm machinery and equipment. In addition to the correspondence, the papers also contain work reports for the African-American laborers and sharecroppers living on the plantation; lists of accounts and payroll; bills, receipts, and invoices for sales and purchases of farm equipment, livestock, and crops; and legal and financial documents regarding land sales and lawsuits.
Comer had a great interest in innovations in agricultural science and technology and corresponded with agricultural suppliers and breeders regarding tractors, cotton gins, cane syrup evaporators, pecan trees, peas, beans, cotton, hay, cattle, horses, goats, sheep, and pigs ("If those pigs are not dandies, my! how I will not like it"). He also corresponded with agricultural scientists at Auburn University about problems with his livestock and crops. Comer wasted no time in automating his plantation, installing an ice-maker and a refrigerator.
Comer corresponded, 1916-1924, with his plantation manager, W. B. Mitchell, in Comer, Ala., discussing livestock and crops. Comer, a man who had no patience with incompetence, wrote many letters to Mitchell, reminding him of the tasks he had to perform around the plantation. These letters paint a detailed picture of daily activities on a plantation of this period. After several years of dissatisfaction with his performance, Comer gave Mitchell his notice in 1924, and placed S. J. Dismuke in charge of plantation. For these years, there are many letters regarding his search for a new agent. Comer wrote Dismuke the same kind of letters and work plans that he had written to Mitchell. Comer spent a lot of time arranging for his pecan, oats, and bean crops, and attempted unsuccessfully to introduce a colony of bees onto the plantation for pollination purposes. Never satisfied with the performance of his plantation managers, Comer hired two other agents in the next three years and had made arrangements with a fifth at the time of his death.
Comer also corresponded with his brother, E. T. Comer, about problems with cattle tick fever, cholera, mange, and rat infestations, as well as the boll weevil, the prospects of the cotton crop and market, and his success with his crops and livestock. Comer greatly admired his brother's Millhaven plantation, frequently writing enviously of the latter's hardworking, skilled agent and his bounteous crops and healthy livestock.
In 1916, Comer became involved in the construction of the E. T. Comer Memorial Highway from Eufaula to Montgomery, Ala., and there are many letters from him arranging with the Barbour County officials for the construction and funding for the road. In 1922, after years of dissatisfaction with the pace of the project, he took charge of road construction. After this period, he received frequent reports and payroll requests from the foreman.
Incensed by the open manufacture and trade in moonshine in his home county, Comer wrote to Governor Kilby in 1922 about cleaning up Spring Hill and Comer. Kilby wrote him back, promising to send agents to Barbour County to break up the trade. In 1926 and 1927, Comer received several anonymous letters revealing the location of stills and the identity of moonshiners in Barbour County, complaining of the collusion of the sheriff, and asking for his help. He corresponded with state law enforcement officials in an attempt to enforce the Volstead Act in that area, which apparently was a major center for illegal liquor manufacture in the Southeast.
Many of Comer's letters to his sons, his brother E. T., and his agents contain comment on his African-American workforce, which included laborers and sharecroppers. He wrote mostly of what he perceived as their slothfulness, lack of understanding, and propensity for petty theft. Over the years, there were many letters to and from his agent and sharecroppers on the plantation, regarding production expectations and financial and legal arrangements. He retained much of the paternalistic attitude of the antebellum planter in his negotiations for both white and black churches in Comer, his 1924 fight for more help for the local African-American school, his letters to political allies asking that one of his sharecroppers be excused from military service during World War I, and through gifts of money and an annual Christmas celebration at Comer. In 1923, Comer wrote to a friendly judge regarding the will of Amos Battle, husband of Judy Battle, an ex-slave of the Comer family, to ensure the validity of the will to her advantage. Also in that year, he received letters from another sharecropper, Johnnie Sanders, who had been convicted of attempted murder. Comer wrote back to him and wrote many letters in 1923 and 1924 to Governor Brandon and the Convict Board, referring to him as "a colored friend of mine, a near neighbor and mighty near a cousin, one Johnnie Sanders," and asking for his parole.
On the other hand, Comer could be a harsh landlord and employee. He showed no leniency towards a hand caught stealing from the plantation's meat house in 1917. Also in that year, he reprimanded his housekeeper Fannie for refusing to feed table scraps to the dogs, instead saving them for herself and others on the plantation. One topic that greatly concerned him during 1924 was the scarcity and high cost of labor. On 3 March 1924, Comer wrote Dismuke that "any negro who violates his contract with you, make him pay up before he leaves or beat him to death. I mean that literally." In 1927, there are several letters referring to the May 28 Emancipation Day celebration on the plantation and its connection with the spread of illegal liquor and crime.
In 1925, a tornado hit the Comer plantation, causing much damage and the deaths of several sharecroppers. Comer wrote to his agent about the tragedy. There are many legal papers and correspondence in 1925, regarding a court case against Comer for his failure to license his tractors.
A sizable portion of Braxton Bragg Comer's papers concern his business activities. These papers are predominantly letters, but there is also some financial and legal material. Throughout the correspondence, there are many letters relating to cotton farming, textile manufacturing, and the cotton futures market, as well as mill management and union activities in the mills. Comer corresponded with fellow mill owners, cotton buyers, and investment bankers regarding the cotton market and economic conditions in the southern United States. He received many letters requesting his assistance or investment in the construction of new cotton mills, asking for loans or charitable donations, and seeking his advice about the cotton market.
Some correspondence concerns personnel issues in the mills and includes letters about derelict employees, group insurance policies for mill workers, and purchase of a sprinkler fire prevention system for the mills. A letter in 1918 discusses a walkout in the weave room at Indian Head Mills in Condova, Ala. Comer was staunchly anti-union, and there are many references in the correspondence to his opposition to union organizing in his own mills and his approval of the harsh treatment meted out to strikers by Governor Kilby in 1917. In 1922, Comer wrote to Governor Kilby expressing interest in buying a cotton mill from him and mentioning the use of "convicts for mill labor until we could build the houses for free labor."
In 1919, Comer purchased three mills at Pell City, Sycamore, and Alexander City for three million dollars. There are letters discussing this purchase and the building of a new mill at Sylacauga, Ala. By 1920, Donald Comer had begun gradually to assume the management of Avondale Mills. From 1917 on, Donald answered his father's correspondence while he was away on business trips or vacation, including letters regarding the management of Comer plantation and a road construction project in Barbour County. Braxton Bragg Comer answered mail for Donald Comer while the latter was on vacation in 1918 and during his illness and temporary break from the presidency of Cowikee Mills in 1919.
Beginning in 1920, Braxton Bragg Comer corresponded with his brother E. T. Comer, not only regarding family matters and plantation management, but also as a fellow cotton manufacturer. Braxton Bragg Comer was envious of his brother's management of the Bibb Manufacturing Company in Georgia and often praised its economic performance, even during economic downturns. The brothers also corresponded about cotton farming, the world market for cotton, and mill management.
After 1922, Braxton Bragg Comer's business correspondence pertains less to cotton manufacturing and more to his personal business investments, including Comer plantation. Topics include the high rate of farm foreclosures; hard economic times in Alabama and Georgia, especially for cotton farmers; Braxton Bragg and Donald Comer's joint purchase of the Birmingham Age-Herald with Mobile publisher and businessman Frederic Thompson; and the effect on business and industry of a new law contemplated by Congress that would tax undivided profits. Comer also wrote to a friend in San Diego, advising him on the feasibility of starting a cotton mill in that city.
In 1923, Comer's business correspondence centers around labor problems in South and the growing threat of the boll weevil to cotton farmers in the southeastern United States. Comer wrote to his brother regarding the migration of African-American workers to the northern and western United States and the growing realization of those workers who remained of the value of their labor, as well as Comer's attempts to replace these workers through the efficient use of farm machinery. There is a letter from J. S. Wannamaker, president of the American Cotton Association, regarding cotton speculation, the instability of cotton prices, central European buyers hoarding the available cotton on the market, and the need for cotton manufacturers and growers to raise wages. Comer wrote to R. H. Edmonds, editor of the Manufacturers Record, regarding Prohibition, its impact on public morality and on business and industry, including alcoholism in cotton mills. There are also letters about an audit of Avondale Mills.
Over the years, many people wrote Comer, asking him to build a cotton mill in their towns and assuring him that they had "an abundance of available white labor with pure American blood flowing in their veins." In 1924, he received a letter from a Texan asking him whether he had found that cotton mills attracted undesirable people to a city. There is also a great deal of correspondence in that year with various politicians regarding the proposed taxing of the undivided profits of private companies and with his brother, E. T. Comer, comparing notes on their mills and discussing the business climate for both brothers. One 1926 letter from a cotton farmer gives the farmer's view on changes in the grading of cotton and in the exchanges to prevent abuses on the Exchange. In that year, Comer also wrote to his brother defending government crop reports as beneficial to the farmer and of no consequence to the gambler.
In 1927, many letters document the sale of the Birmingham Age-Herald by Comer and Thompson.
Braxton Bragg Comer had a long career in Alabama politics, although his actual time in office was limited to serving as president of the Alabama Railroad Commission, 1904-1907; one term as governor, 1908-1911; and as U.S. Senator for eight months in 1920. By 1918, Comer was declaring to his associates that "I am out of politics, in business." That the two were not so easily separated is evident in his correspondence. His status as a committed progressive politician and his reputation as a fearless campaigner for the people and the causes he championed meant his involvement in politics was considerable throughout his life. Almost all of the papers, except for newspaper clippings, are from the period after Comer's governorship, and yet there is a large amount of material on Alabama and national politics in the 1910s and 1920s. In addition, Comer's business interests dovetailed with many of the political issues of the day, including legislation affecting agriculture, tariffs and taxes, labor, and regulation of corporations.
Throughout the collection, there are many letters asking Comer for political favors, urging him to run for public office or to support other candidates, asking him advice on voting, requesting money, and seeking his assistance in exposing corrupt officials. One 1917 letter from a prisoner asked for a pardon or parole, stating "I am not guilty of the crime which I was charged with--but on the other hand have already served the state nearly four years." Another correspondent in the same year requested his assistance in getting a friend's son cleared of a murder charge for "an unfortunate difficulty with a chinaman in which the chinaman was killed." In many instances, Comer begged off these requests, claiming th at his political influence had dimmed because of his opposition to the "railroad-liquor crowd" that was in power. However, especially during the administration of Thomas Kilby, he did occasionally recommend individuals for political appointments or request leniency for prisoners.
As a leading progressive politician, Comer was concerned with many issues that were part of the progressive agenda, while remaining in the conservative wing of the Democratic party. The major issues that concerned him were regulation of public utilities and transportation, development of the commission system in Alabama, labor laws, and social issues, especially Prohibition. He also battled to establish limits on the cotton futures market, especially during his tenure in the U.S. Senate.
Beginning with his service as president of the Alabama Railroad Commission, Comer had made railroad rate regulation the cornerstone of his political agenda. His political papers contain many letters, speeches, and writings relating to his struggle with the railroads while governor, and his ongoing attempts to limit their political influence. Comer wrote to several members of Congress regarding Interstate Commerce Commission hearings in 1916 and 1917, including Luke Lea, B. H. Meyer, and Henry B. Steagall. In 1917, there are also several letters regarding freight rates and railroad monopolies and a typed essay on Alabama's problems with the railroad interests.
The year 1918 was one of vindication for Comer. Milton Smith, president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, admitted paying $30,000 to newspapers in 1914 to influence that year's gubernatorial race, which Comer lost. There are many letters to Comer on the subject, including a letter stating that "At last, Milton H. Smith tears off his masque and not only reveals the fact, but literally admits that he is a pirate and has been one for years." In 1919, Comer received many letters regarding his libel suit against the Montgomery Advertiser, decided in Comer's favor, in which the newspapers, backed by railroad money, were proved to have successfully discredited Comer by printing false charges against him a few days before the 1914 gubernatorial election. Comer also corresponded in 1919 with Walter B. Jones, who accused him of "cowardly and constantly" maligning his father, Judge Thomas G. Jones, who had ruled in favor of the railroads in a famous case in 1906. One anonymous 1926 letter warns Comer of Walter B. Jones's slurs against him and offers ammunition against Jones, stating that his father rode "in a procession with negroes, carpet baggers and scalawags during Reconstruction days" and was closely affiliated with Booker T. Washington.
A longtime political ally William C. Fitts wrote Comer in 1916, asking him to write a letter refuting the slanderous charge that Fitts had attempted to bribe a newspaper to slander Comer. In 1917, Comer sent a note "to the men of the 366th colored infantry," expressing his high respect for African-Americans and their valor in battle. He received several letters over the years from H. L. McElderry, who supported a proposal to develop rural consolidated schools for farm production, and was very concerned with national roads and rural development. In 1922, there is a great deal of correspondence on the fight to make Mobile, Ala., a shipping port. Comer wrote President Harding in 1923, urging him to retain W. P. G. Harding as director of the Federal Reserve Board.
Comer also received three letters from William Jennings Bryan: one, dated 5 May 1923, congratulating him on his acquisition of the Montgomery Journal; one, dated 18 June 1923, mentioning the theory of evolution, fundamentalism, and his congratulations over Comer's acquisition of the Birmingham Age-Herald, saying that "Journalism furnishes the largest field for patriotism, just now"; and one, dated 20 February 1924, thanking him for writing a letter to the Age-Herald critical of an editorial rebuking Bryan, and mentioning Oscar Underwood. Comer agreed with Bryan's anti-evolution views, and there are several letters, 1924-1926, on that subject. Comer also corresponded with his brother E. T. in 1924 regarding silver-free coinage and the demonetizing of silver.
In 1917, Comer received a letter from Lillian Roden Bouron, asking him to support women's suffrage in Alabama and arguing that, with their husbands engaged in war, the issue was more crucial than ever for women. Comer responded that he was "in full accord that women should vote and am glad that the world is fast recognizing that she measures up to the best." Comer wrote in 1918 to Judge Denson expressing frustration with the "state's rights crowd" that wanted railroad bonds and higher taxation, and took money from the railroads. In 1919, he wrote several letters on labor legislation, including child labor laws and reduction of the work week, claiming that the "rights of the plant have been seriously overlooked." One letter Comer wrote in the same year to S. C. Cowan urged Cowan to consider women's suffrage and pleaded for commitment to the national party's platform over sectional differences.
Several letters between 1922 and 1925 discuss the controversial issue of the forced labor program in the Convict Department. Comer supported this program, although it was opposed by many other progressives in Alabama. In 1923, he wrote about the feasibility of revising the convict lease program to include turpentine camps, lumber yards, and coal mines, and received a letter from the president of the Alabama Board of Convict Supervisors expressing regret over "an unfortunate occurrence at Banner Mines" in which physical force was used to repress a strike by convict laborers in a coal mine. Following a negative editorial in the Birmingham Age-Herald criticizing the government's show of force, Comer received several angry letters supporting the program, including one recalling Comer's Christmas pardon of 100 convicts working in the coal mines, which had been inspired by a Byron poem. In 1925, Comer became involved in the proposed sale of the nitrate plants and leasing of the hydroelectric power stations at Muscle Shoals, Ala., to Henry Ford, and later to the Alabama Power Company, writing many letters to members of Congress opposing the sale. In that same year, there is a speech by Comer on the upcoming election and the progressive agenda.
As a strong supporter of both statewide and national Prohibition, Comer received many letters on the subject. In 1917, he received many letters of support, as well as a letter from William Martin, attorney general of Alabama, thanking Comer for helping to pay for the expenses of the "Girard liquor seizures." In 1923, he wrote a letter to the newspapers over the "lynching" of a Dr. Dowling and the lawlessness of those breaking Prohibition laws. In 1924, while he was working on Oscar Underwood's campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, a disgruntled former admirer wrote to him, calling him the "biggest hypocrite under the sun" for conniving with Underwood and Alf Tunstall, both of whom were regarded as "wets." Comer received similar letters from other Prohibitionists. In the same year, he wrote many letters regarding Prohibition, including a 27 February 1924 letter to George H. Malone discussing Underwood's chances of success in Dothan and Houston counties in the primary and the role of the Ku Klux Klan in Prohibition. He corresponded in 1924 and 1925 with Alabama Governor William Brandon regarding the latter's frequent pardons of bootleggers, whom Brandon defended as family men who had expressed repentance over their illegal deeds. In 1926, he wrote state officials about the lack of enforcement of Prohibition in Barbour County.
His status as both a producer and manufacturer of cotton led Comer to become involved in legislation affecting cotton interests, especially regulation of the cotton futures markets. He often wrote to his brother and others regarding cotton legislation. From 1916 to 1919, he corresponded with Henry Steagall regarding government price fixing and the 1916 Cotton Futures Act, and with Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Clarence Ouskey and other USDA officials about the cotton exchanges, cotton grading, and the Cotton Futures Act. He also received several invitations to speak on the Cotton Futures Act from various farmer's groups. Following his appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1920, Comer sponsored an amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill. There are many telegrams and letters in support of the Comer Amendment, which was ultimately rejected due to the opposition of the cotton exchanges and many cotton growers. Comer also kept up a rather acerbic correspondence with Meadows of the USDA's Bureau of Markets over the issue of the cotton futures markets, and wrote many letters and speeches on the subject as well.
In 1922, Comer wrote to E. T. Comer about his disappointment with southern senators over issues affecting the South, including cotton-- "Your friend Watson and our friend Heflin and Mississippi's friend Harrison constitute quite a spiked team. They make a vast hullabaloo and about things that are of the least importance, so far as the welfare of the country is concerned." He also wrote to Alabama Senator J. T. Heflin regarding regulation of cotton markets and was interviewed by the Birmingham Herald on the same subject. After his service in the Senate, Comer wrote frequently to South Carolina Senator Dial between 1922 and 1924, regarding possible strategies for passage of Dial's cotton bill and overcoming the opposition of southern senators, including Heflin. A 1922 letter to the editor of the Birmingham News poses the question as a battle between the "gamblers' interest" and the "business interest," and discusses the positions of Alabama's representatives on Dial's bill.
Comer was involved with the candidacies of several Alabama politicians for various races in the state. In 1917 and 1918, he received many letters on the upcoming gubernatorial election. He corresponded with Judge N. D. Denson, who explained his reasons for not seeking the governorship and discussed the political climate in Alabama. Comer also corresponded with Thomas E. Kilby about the election, the "Catholic, liquor, anti-people crowd," and Kilby's opponent William Brandon. He corresponded with others regarding Kilby's drinking problem and its effect on the Prohibition vote and Kilby's status as the "Prohibition candidate," the campaign, the Eighteenth Amendment, and what Comer described as the leading issues following the election--women's suffrage and railroads. Many people wrote to him following Kilby's victory asking for favors and political appointments.
In the year that Comer served in the U.S. Senate, he received many letters asking him to run for president of the Public Utilities Commission, and telegrams and letters urging support for Frederic Thompson to fill Bankhead's empty seat in the Senate. Comer wrote to others supporting Senator Frank S. White for the appointment and somewhat coyly indicating his own availability for the post. After his appointment, the papers document his political agenda in the Senate, in particular the Comer Amendment regulating the cotton futures markets; the political battle over the Alabama Public Utilities Commission election, the Senate minority leadership race, and his dislike of Congress. There is also a transcript of an interview, dated 5 June 1920, on his return home, in which Comer discussed his experiences in the Senate.
There are several letters in 1922 discussing the chances of General Bibb Graves in his bid for the governorship, including Comer's letter to Graves opposing his candidacy due to his position on tax policies.
Braxton Bragg Comer's political correspondence increased greatly in 1923 and 1924, when he became involved in several campaigns in Alabama and with Oscar Underwood's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Involved with the race for commissioners on the Public Services Commission, Comer and his son Donald received letters from A. G. Patterson, who was president of the Commission, regarding the need to support Frank Morgan and Fitzhugh Lee as candidates for Public Services Commission; from Frank Morgan defending himself against charges of anti-Catholicism and discussing his election strategy; from Brooks Lawrence of the Alabama Anti-Saloon League accusing Fitzhugh Lee of being a "wet"; and many letters, telegrams, copies of speeches on the election and the Lee/Lawrence controversy. Comer himself wrote a "friendly" letter to Fitzhugh Lee, advising him not to yield to family loyalties and switch to the side of the public utilities in the race for the Commission.
In 1923, Donald Comer wrote his father that many Alabama politicians were eager for Comer to run against Senator Thomas Heflin in 1924 as a sacrificial candidate. There are many letters discussing Heflin, his popularity, and the slim chances of beating him in 1924. Comer received a letter from John H. Bankhead Junior, asking him if he was planning to run for Heflin's Senate seat, as Bankhead was himself interested. Comer replied that he wished to wait and make a decision closer to the primary. Comer wrote his brother E. T. about his decision not to run for the Senate, stating that it was against his family's wishes. He made a statement to the press on his candidacy, in which he voiced support of the Dial Bill, regulation of the Interstate Commerce Commission to prevent high freight costs, lower taxes, development of waterways for freight, creation of a port at Mobile, Prohibition, and his opposition to enforced deflation by Federal Reserve. Comer also received many letters expressing disappointment that he was not going to make the race.
In 1923, Comer corresponded with Oscar W. Underwood over the appointment of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Comer wished for them to be staunch Eighteenth Amendment supporters. In 1924, Underwood asked Comer to select half of the delegates in exchange for his political support. Comer wrote many letters, asking his friends and colleagues to support Underwood, not a strong advocate of Prohibition, and to serve as delegates. There are many frank discussions of the two main issues in the selection of delegates--that they be Prohibitionists and that they not break ranks with Underwood under any circumstances. Underwood, a strong opponent of the Ku Klux Klan, wished to insert a plank condemning that organization, adapted from the 1856 Democratic platform. Comer warned his hand-picked delegates of that possibility and voiced his own sympathies towards the Klan. One correspondent wrote Comer that Underwood's chances in Jackson County were very bad, as "the Ku-Klux are very strong up there, and the Prohibitionists are running wild." There are many letters to and from Underwood, his campaign manager Alf Tunstall, and other Alabama politicians about the Klan, Prohibition, political maneuvering leading to Comer's part in the campaign, Underwood's strategy for winning the nomination on a second round selection, and his lack of support in the South. Comer also received a 9 July 1924 letter from Donald Comer describing events at the convention and assessments of the convention by several of the participants.
Comer's last great effort in Alabama politics came in 1926, when he campaigned for ex-governor Thomas Kilby, candidate for the U.S. Senate, and for Archie Carmichael for the governor's race. There are many letters regarding the governor, lieutenant governor, and senatorial races. The Birmingham Age-Herald, under editor Frederic Thompson, endorsed A. G. Patterson over Carmichael, and Comer received many letters objecting to that endorsement. He himself wrote the Age-Herald, expressing his support for Carmichael. There are many detailed letters discussing the battles between McDowell, Graves, Patterson, and Carmichael supporters. Many of Comer's correspondents were worried that Patterson and Carmichael would take votes from each other, leaving the race open for McDowell and Graves. Topics of interest include Bibb Graves's "unseemly" association with union labor and the Klan; McDowell's support by "the old railroad and negro interests," leaving Patterson and Carmichael "regular progressives"; the guarantee of votes in the cotton mills; an attempt to eliminate a third candidate in Comer's 1911 election; and corruption in Alabama politics. After Bibb Graves's election, there are letters speculating on his political appointments.
In the last year of his life, Comer received one letter from Bibb Graves, in which he lauded his own performance as governor, and another from Samuel T. Shelton, condemning the Ku Klux Klan and mob violence following an incident in Oneonta Church.
Following Comer's death, there are several items from 1940 relating to Donald Comer, including the Avondale Sun of 6 May 1940, which contains Donald Comer's speech on the dedication of Braxton Bragg Comer Hall at Alabama College, 25 April 1940, and a program for the dedication ceremony; a copy of the information on the plaque at B. B. Comer Memorial Church; two letters discussing Braxton Bragg Comer's letters on political matters in the Clayton Courier under the nom de plume "Remoc B."; a pamphlet on the origin of Barbour County; a letter to University of North Carolina professor Rupert Vance from Donald, containing reminiscences of his childhood and Comer family genealogy; and Donald's correspondence with Marie Bankhead Owen regarding a bust of Braxton Bragg Comer in the Alabama Memorial Building in Montgomery.
Undated papers include the correspondence of Braxton Bragg Comer and his family, friends, and associates, mostly regarding personal matters, business, and the Comer plantation, including letters from the Comer plantation mechanic and agents; letters to Comer from his daughters Sally B. and Mignon, one describing an attempted murder by a wife of her husband; and an anonymous letter giving information on stills in Barbour County. Other items include advertising circulars, Comer's speeches and addresses, a map of land plots in Comer, information on Auburn loans and scholarships, invitations to weddings, and lists of addresses.
Arrangement: In order of original volumes.
Braxton Bragg Comer kept scrapbooks relating to his political career, mostly dating from his tenure as governor of Alabama, 1906-1911. Most items are newspaper clippings, chiefly from Alabama newspapers such as the Montgomery Advertiser and the Birmingham Age-Herald. There are also several drafts and copies of correspondence and speeches, brochures, and pamphlets, and a few loose newspaper clippings from the 1920s. In many cases, the dates and sources of the material are unknown. Topics include Comer's administration, his battles with the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, Prohibition, education, election reform, local and national elections, and Democratic Party politics. The scrapbooks have been dismantled, but the material has been kept in the same order as the original volumes.
Volume 1 (pages 1-14) consists of newspaper clippings on Comer's inauguration as governor; his positions on education, Prohibition, and a Texas textbook fraud case; railroad legislation; the indictment of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company; and a trip in 1907 of the nation's governors and President Roosevelt down the Mississippi on a riverboat.
Volume 2 (pages 15-100) includes articles and some correspondence and form letters about President Theodore Roosevelt, the railroads, taxation, child labor legislation, and Prohibition; Comer's campaign, election, and aides and appointees; news of the Alabama state legislature; editorials and political cartoons on Comer and his administration; Comer's reply to W. W. Finley, president of the Southern Railroad Company, on the regulation of banks and railways; organized opposition to William Jennings Bryan in Alabama; and a 1911 article regarding Comer's political comeback.
Volume 3 (pages 101-226) includes a 1905 Saturday Evening Post article on railroad regulation by Robert LaFollette; an issue of the Alabama Citizen on Prohibition; other articles on railroads, Prohibition, child labor legislation, Comer's speech to Confederate veterans, railroad rates, the 1908 Birmingham coal miners' strike, Comer closing tent camps of striking black miners on the grounds that they were a "danger to the integrity of our civilization and also a promoter of conditions most harmful to every citizen and every property," and several copies of memos and correspondence regarding the strike; clippings about Judge Jones' decision regarding the railroads and the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 1908; a 25 July 1908 issue of the Free-Lance on Birmingham and Alabama politics; and an article on Alabama delegates at the 1908 Democratic National Convention.
Volume 4 (pages 227-308) consists of newspaper clippings, dated 1908-1909, regarding Prohibition; the 1908 miners' strike; child labor laws; the impeachment of Sheriff Frank Cazalas of Mobile, Ala., on the grounds that he permitted the lynching of an African-American accused murderer; the dissolution of Judge Jones's injunction by the Circuit Court; and a few articles on other aspects of Comer's political career.
Volume 5 (pages 309-379) includes material on Prohibition, including the Brooks Lawrence controversy; the Cazalas trial; and railroad regulation; and the lyrics to a song about Comer and Prohibition.
Volume 6 (pages 380-432) consists primarily of material from 1909 on Prohibition and Alabama Democratic Party politics.
Loose clippings (pages 433-461) include articles giving advice on cotton futures; the 1924 Democratic National Convention; Comer's speeches at Auburn University and Birmingham-Southern College graduates; an editorial regretting Comer's decision not to seek the Senate race in 1923; editorials in the Manufacturer's Record on Prohibition and an article on the benefits of Prohibition to the steel industry; an editorial advocating the placement of a Comer cotton mill in Halleyville, Ala.; a 1926 article on Comer's stand on the privatization of Muscle Shoals, Ala.'s power plants; and pages from William Jennings Bryan's Commoner magazine, 1911, on the trusts.
Processed by: Elizabeth Pauk, October 1993
Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008
This collection was processed with support, in part, from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Preservation and Access.Back to Top