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Art Hanes

Arthur J. Hanes
Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama
In office
Preceded by James W. Morgan
Succeeded by Albert Boutwell
Personal details
Born October 19, 1916
Died May 8, 1997
Political party Democratic

Arthur J. Hanes (October 19, 1916 - May 8, 1997) served as mayor of Birmingham, Alabama between 1961 and 1963, a tumultuous time that saw the city become a focal point in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement during the Birmingham campaign. Hanes, who served just one term as mayor, was part of a three-man commission that ran the city, a trio which included police commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor. Hanes would also serve as legal counsel for defendants in two important murder cases connected to the civil rights movement.

Early years

Hanes graduated from Birmingham-Southern College, playing on both the baseball and football squads, before then earning a law degree from the University of Alabama. He then became an FBI agent moving on to serve as head of security at Birmingham's Hayes Aircraft in 1951.

Mayoral career

Ten years later, he began as the underdog in a runoff election for mayor of Birmingham, with his opponent, Tom King, a former district attorney, focusing on economic factors. Hanes found his niche in the closing weeks of the campaign when he began to emphasize differences toward racial issues between the two men. Hanes distributed a photo of King shaking the hand of black man, noted his support among blacks during the primary and referred to him as "Washington's candidate," a clear appeal to those opposed to integration. Hanes won the election by nearly 4,000 votes[1]

Hanes' tenure as mayor of Birmingham was marked by virulent opposition to desegregation, an approach that helped the city to acquire the dubious nickname "Bombingham", a reference to the often violent nature of such protests. In addition, Hanes created a firestorm in December 1961, when he defied a federal court order by closing 67 parks, 38 playgrounds, eight swimming pools and four golf courses in the city. The order had demanded that those facilities integrated by January 15, 1962, but Hanes simply cut off $295,000 in park funds and dismissed its employees. Shortly afterward, he met with 60 local residents who implored him to reconsider his order, but Hanes remained adamant in his opposition. One individual had cited the inevitability of integration, but Hanes snapped, "That's your opinion, madam," and later closed the meeting by saying, "I don't think any of you want a nigger mayor or a nigger police chief, but I tell you, that's what'll happen if we play dead on this park integration."[2]

Legal Highlights

During the second of the Selma to Montgomery marches in March 1965, a civil rights worker, Viola Liuzzo, was murdered. The subsequent trial of her accused murderers, Collie Leroy Jenkins, Jr., Eugene Thomas and William Orville Eaton, resulted in a hung jury, but before a second trial could commence, the trio's lawyer, Matt H. Murphy, Jr., was killed in an automobile accident. He was replaced by Hanes, who had served as a pallbearer at Murphy's funeral, insisted he would "stick to the facts,"[3] a nod to the racist appeals made by Murphy in the first case. The trio was acquitted in the state court, but were found guilty in federal court on December 3, 1965, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Less than two weeks after that verdict was rendered, Hanes was in court again on another case when he filed a libel suit against Time Inc. on behalf of Bernard Lee Akin, Earl B. Akin, Tommy A. Horne, James Thomas Harris and Oliver Warner, Jr. The five men claimed that their businesses had been damaged when Life Magazine, in their December 15, 1964 issue, identified them as members of the Ku Klux Klan. The case was thrown out of court two months later when Federal Judge Seybourn H. Lynne ruled that the plaintiffs had not filed in the required one-year time period when they filed on December 16, 1965."[4]

In June 1968, fugitive James Earl Ray, wanted for the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee two months earlier, was captured in London, England and retained Hanes as his lawyer. Hanes visited with him on July 5–6, 1968, approximately 10 days before Ray dropped his bid to avoid extradition. Expecting to travel back with Ray, Hanes was outraged when his client was taken back to Memphis in the middle of the night. Unfounded fears of FBI agents questioning him without a lawyer were the basis for Hanes' anger, who also said, ""The case against this boy is full of holes and I've got a few bombshells that we're going to drop into those holes."[5]

Hanes never got that chance. On November 10, less than two days before the trial was to begin, Ray dismissed Hanes and replaced him with the flamboyant Percy Foreman, a move that was seen by many as a stalling tactic. Tensions between Ray and Hanes had begun to surface in September 1968 when Ray insisted that J.B. Stoner, a Georgia lawyer who was also a former Ku Klux Klan organizer, be added to the defense team. Hanes refused, but Ray dropped the request soon after meeting with Stoner. Ray's brothers had also complained that Hanes had not negotiated a better deal with Look Magazine on a series of stories on Ray's life, and also wanted libel suits filed against a number of magazines that had referred to Ray as King's murderer.[6] Ray eventually pleaded guilty to King's murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison in March 1969. Despite his dismissal by Ray, Hanes continued to support Ray's claims of innocence.

Hanes died on May 8, 1997.


  1. ^ Scribner, Christopher McGregor (2002). Renewing Birmingham: Federal Funding and the Promise of Change, 1929-79. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-2328-4
  2. ^ "Nation: That's What'll Happen". Time. December 22, 1961. Retrieved April 25, 2010. 
  3. ^ Reed, Roy (1965-10-18). "2d Liuzzo Trial Will Open Today". The New York Times. p. 1. 
  4. ^ "5 Suits Against Time, Inc., Dismissed by Federal Judge". The New York Times. 1966-02-10. p. 29. 
  5. ^ "Trials: A Very Important Prisoner". Time. July 26, 1968. Retrieved April 25, 2010. 
  6. ^ Waldron, Martin (1968-11-11). "Ray is Switching Defense Counsel". The New York Times. p. 1. 
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