This is the second excerpt from a four hour long interview that I conducted late in 2017 with Smyrna’s long-time Mayor Max Bacon.
William Marchione: Why don’t we talk about your schooling for a bit. How old were you when you entered school for the first time?
Max Bacon: Six years old. They had a kindergarten here, sponsored by the American Legion, up where the American Legion is now, on Concord Road. My kindergarten teacher was Doris Quarles, former Mayor Jimmy Quarles’ wife. You know what, I found a cancelled check, that mother wrote in 1953, I would have been five, and I would say for a whole year it was eight dollars. That’s what it cost. We went and we had something to eat during the day and they’d pick us up. It was just half-a-day kindergarten.
Smyrna Elementary School, King Street, now the site of the First Baptist Church Parking Lot, where Max Bacon attended school in the 1950s
From there I went to Smyrna Elementary. In ninth grade I would have gone to Campbell High School but they developed the very first Junior High School in Cobb County in 1963, and what they did was they took the old Osborne High School (this is how crazy the school board still is to this day) and they took the freshmen from Campbell High School, when it was on Atlanta Road, and took the Freshmen from Sprayberry High School, which is up on 41, and bussed them both to what was now called Osborne Junior High. Why, I don’t know. But I went there in the 9th grade. And from the 10th to 12th grade I went to Campbell. The best time of my life was when I was at Campbell High School. I always wanted to be a Campbell Panther.
Max Bacon’s Junior High School graduation in 1961. The future mayor sits in the front row, sixth from the right.
And, then, when I was a senior, my dad decided I was going to join the Georgia Air National Guard. When my dad was in the service he was in Europe and when that war was over he was getting ready to come back (all the fighting at that point was in the Pacific) and he wrote my mother and said “You know this is a totally different kind of war.” And he had this fear about his boys going to Southeast Asia. I joined in ’66. I was 17 years of age, went into the service and did my six months. When I came back I had my job in the Post Office.
I really wanted to be a school teacher and a football coach, so I was going to night school, while working during the day in the Post Office. Then I would drive all the way up to Dekalb College and it didn’t take me long to figure out that a mailman was making more than a teacher. So I sort of abandoned that and then I got into management and I really had a story book career with the Post Office.
I started carrying the mail with the Post Office where Zucca’s and the Tavern at what is now Market Village, and was with the Post Office from 1966, and I retired in 2006 as the postmaster. So I worked forty years for the Post Office. My goodness, if it hadn’t been for my dad. I was never disciplined enough. Once my money went in to Civil Service Retirement you couldn’t get it out. If I could have gotten it out I might have done something else with it, but thank goodness I couldn’t. I have a great retirement today as a result.
And of course, being mayor is a part-time job. When I decided to run for office I told three people—my dad, my wife, and I had to get it cleared through the postal service. The Hatch Act allows you to run non-partisan. So I ran, got elected, and at that time I was Postal Superintendent at Mableton, and then I came back to Smyrna, and then spent another 15 years being Postmaster of Mableton, and the last four years being Postmaster of Smyrna.
Installation of Max Bacon as Postmaster of Mableton
WM: Where is the Mableton Post Office situated?
MB: It’s on Floyd Road. You go out to the Covered Bridge, until you reach Floyd Road and then turn left. Actually I opened up that post office in ’87. And one of the things that amazes me is I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I ran the city and the post office at the same time. I had a good staff at the Post Office. Every day at lunch I’d drive back from Mableton through the Covered Bridge to Smyrna. I’d have my meetings during lunch time and then when I got off at five I’d head right back up to City Hall. I had flexibility. I carried mail for thirteen years and those were some of the best years of my life. I walked, I was slim and trim, and I had a walking route that went down Bank Street came back up to Powder Springs, came back across the railroad track, with no place to use the bathroom, no place to eat except GB’s, so if you needed to use the bathroom you had to get behind a bush or tree. But people were good. They used to leave me ice tea out on the front porch. This one lady, every week she’d bake a pound cake. I’d never see her but she’d leave the pound cake out there. I really enjoyed mail carrying, but then I got into management and I retired from there.
WM: Were there any teachers that you feel especially influenced you as you were going through school?
MB: I can think of two. Joe Lattanzi, who was the football coach and the American government teacher.
WM: What do you think you might have taught if you’d pursued a career in teaching?
MB: Government. And I wanted to be a football coach, but I never excelled at anything. I wasn’t in the Honor Society. I remember my last report card I finally made Honor Roll. I went through twelve years of school, before making Honor Roll on my last report card. I went to summer school. I was just your average kid.
Joe Lattanzi, longtime Campbell High School Football Coach, teacher of government, and Assistant Principal
But government intrigued me; how the federal government worked and elections. We had to memorize who the Presidents were and I just knocked that out. And I used to read about what they did during their administrations, and with my dad dragging me to these old barbecues in the 1950s. They had barbecues and served liquor. I was interested in that. He never had success until I was already out of high school. I would have happily been a government teacher. Joe Lattanzi and Jean Brannon, who was my fifth grade teacher, were my favorites. And she’s still around, her and her husband Jim.
I probably—well, I got a whipping in the fifth grade. I was acting up. And my parents had told me this, well my dad, “You get a whipping in school, and you’re going to get another one when you get home” And he also said that I had to tell him. Well, I didn’t tell him. But I knew that mother would find out at Thursday bridge club. It may not be this week, but it’ll probably be next week. Well you know I was in fear for like ten years that she was going to find out. But Jean Brannon, she had so much influence, even though she whipped me, but it was very gentle.
WM: She’s still living.
MB: Yes, I saw her the day before yesterday. She’s still getting around. She’s always meant a lot to me. Those were the two, Joe Lattanzi and Miss Brannon. They were the ones that I looked up to and respected the most.
WM: Did you do a lot of reading as a child?
MB: I didn’t. There was a library around the corner from us, and a theater. I remember mother would fix our lunch and give us a quarter and that would get us into the show, but there was a library around the corner, a very small library that Miss Mazie Nelson ran.
WM: At the corner of Powder Springs and Atlanta Road.
The Smyrna Library, dating from 1936, occupied a portion of the Smyrna Womens’ Clubhouse, pictured above. Not until 1961 did the city provide itself with a purpose-built library building.
MB: Right. Every summer I would get a book to read. But I never did a lot of reading. I’ve done a lot of reading more recently, like your book, which I’ve read three times. That’s about the size of book that holds my attention span.
I was in South Dakota recently and went to Deadwood where Calamity Jane is buried. I got a couple of books and I was intrigued by what those people were all about. The only other book that I’ve read was one on Sargent York, that he wrote in World War I and Unbroken, and the movie of the same name, and it turned out to be set where Max Parnell was, in that POW camp.
Max Parnell, World War II flying ace and Japanese prisoner-of-war, Max Bacon’s godfather and namesake (for further information on his career see the article posted elsewhere on this blog)
WM: Ofuna Prisoner-of-war Camp, wasn’t it?
MB: Yes. And I didn’t know that until the book came out and I started reading the book and I said, “Boy, some of these names sound familiar.” Reading that I got intrigued because that made a connection with Max. You know, Max wasn’t a teacher but he was someone I looked up to. But you never really knew what happened to him as a POW. I think my dad knew. My dad just said that they beat the hell out of him. And then Max finally, at the end of his life…
WM: Wrote his own account.
MB: Right. Max told me he didn’t think he was a hero. He’d say “Your dad went through more hell than I did.” My dad was “D Day plus three.” I’m still trying to research and find out more about him. But he and his commander were captured by the Germans. Not for very long, though, because the Captain could speak German, and he told his captors, “There’s a million of us coming and you need to surrender.” And they did. He got a battlefield commission. He went from a Sargent to a First Lieutenant. He got two bronze stars , a bronze with an oak leaf cluster. And I asked him: “Dad, how did you get the purple heart and the bronze star?” And he said, “Well, I got shot in the head and shot in the ass,” and I said, “How did that happen,” and he said, “Hell, I was running.” I read something about how he got his first bronze star, but I don’t know how he got the second one. But it was two separate actions.
Max Bacon’s father, Arthur Bacon, was a decorated World War II war hero, who participated in the Normandy Invasion
But you know what, the happiest I ever saw my dad, I was telling someone this yesterday, was when they would have reunions for the military units. One year, I want to say it was ’79, daddy hosted a reunion, and he called and told me to come up to the house, “There is this buddy of mine here.” And daddy said the last time he saw him was D-Day plus three. He’d been shot. They had him on a stretcher, and they were toting him off, and he have him a cigarette, and daddy said to himself, “That son of a bitch is dead, he’s not going to survive.” And when I arrived the guy was sitting on the front porch. And my daddy was just delighted. He had heard he was still alive, but he hadn’t seen him since then. I mean that was the greatest generation. Both of my parents were heroes. Everyone wanted to volunteer. You know the worst thing that all the guys were worried about was not getting to go overseas. And daddy’s unit was down in Fort Stewart near Savannah. Max Parnell got out of there because he wanted to go fight. Max joined the air corps. Daddy said he wasn’t smart enough. He kept taking tests to qualify to get something else. But finally, they went over and he was there.
WM: Your dad and Max Bacon’s eagerness to see action reminds me of the attitude of General Lucius Clay, the Marietta, Georgia native who served as military governor of Occupied Germany after the war. I recently read an excellent biography of him by Jean Edward Smith which emphasized how much that talented administrator regretted not having seen action in World War II.
MB: Max and daddy both told me that they wanted to fight. They were just the greatest generation. Nothing will ever compare to them.
WM: An awful lot was asked of that generation. Those were challenging times. You were into team sports at all?
MB: Yes, I played football and baseball, but not well enough to play varsity. Football you could play on your own team, so I played football. When I was growing up I played Little League ball at Brinkley Park and Cobb Park and played football all the way until I was a senior.
When I was in the eighth grade I had an accident. I was helping my dad during an election. I was sitting on the back of a pickup truck with Bobby Martin and his little brother. My uncle who was driving backed up into a tree and it crushed my foot and that pretty much ended my football career for that year. They told me I’d probably never play again. My whole foot was crushed. It could have disqualified me from military service, but my father wanted me to go to boot camp and he wanted me to go to tech school away from home. I went to Amarillo, Texas so I’d be away from home. I was gone for six months. When I came back I was in the Reserves for about four years, but I broke my foot again playing pickup football. Then I missed a drill and they wanted to see my medical records, and after examining them, they discharged me immediately. They said, ”You should never have been in the military.” I’ve had a couple of operations on my foot. My dad wanted me to experience being away from home and having that military experience and I enjoyed it. I got out in 1970.
Davenport Town, the impoverished black community situated just east of Smyrna, which was not annexed to the city until the early 1980s, during the administration of Mayor Arthur Bacon.
MB: You know one of the things that we haven’t talked about is the makeup of Smyrna and its lack of diversity. Nineteen sixty-six was the first year that they integrated the schools so we didn’t have any African-Americans period. Smyrna didn’t have any African-Americans living within the city limits. All the African-Americans basically lived in Davenport Town and Rose Garden Hills. Not until my dad was mayor were these neighborhoods incorporated into the city limits. He fixed that. He put sewers in there, sidewalks, and curbs and gutters.
Davenport Town was where our maid lived. I’d go with daddy to pick her up every day. She lived in the first house on the right. It had no electricity, no sewer. She had coal on the front porch. That’s how she heated the house. We’d pick her up and she’d come to the house every day. She pretty much raised us.
WM: What do you know about the Rose Garden Hills project? I’ve never been able to find any documentation of how that came about.
MB: A man named Tom McNeal, the principal of Rose Garden Hills Elementary, who also worked at Aunt Fanny’s Cabin, he built a lot of those houses.
WM: And he was an African-American.
MB: Yes. And he actually ran for City Council.
WM: A Couple of times, in 1985 and 1987, I believe.
MB: The Davenport Town and Rose Garden Hills residents just kept to themselves. No problems. White people didn’t go in there. We went in there because we picked our maid up there. Then we had another maid named Miss Lindsay Jones. Her husband’s name was Lighter. He worked for Lay’s Potato Chips. He had a daughter named Christina. She was beautiful, and was one of the first students to integrate the schools. They had a nice house. The house was in Rose Garden Hills were much nicer than those in Davenport Town. A lot of Davenport Town was open sewerage and the area was rough—a place called Lollis Place was located up there was a crack house up thereas well.
WM: I found some photographs of Davenport Town, dating from before 1951, when it still had dirt roads, no sewerage, no electricity. It was a pretty depressing area.
MB: I knew more about it than most. One of the routes I carried in the middle and late 60s was route 10 which included Davenport Town and Rose Garden Hills. Davenport Town was a mess. There were places that didn’t even have doors on them.
I still remember that my grandfather, Papa Moseley who lived in Vinings, right across from where the Pace house is now, had an African-American maid and when he took her home, I’d have to ride with them, and she lived up on top of this mountain there, where Bert Adams Camp was located. And those houses were dreadful, just shanties, didn’t have front doors or anything. Then eventually that area was developed and became valuable. They lived in one area, never really got involved in anything. My senior year was the year they integrated the schools but they didn’t allow the African-American to play sports at first. That occurred the following year. You didn’t see blacks even at the grocery store. They were just segregated. I don’t think we had any real problems. I just felt it was very unfortunate the conditions that they lived in.
My senior year the all-white Campbell High football team won six and four, the following year, they integrated, and won 7 of and 3, so they got better quality players.
WM: In the 1950s, Mayor “Hoot” Gibson used to say that there were no blacks in Smyrna. But the city was very small back then, less than a square mile in area.
MB: We hadn’t done much annexing up to then. As a matter of fact I think one of the biggest mistakes the city made in that regard was made back in the 70s. If they had run a water line to the Cumberland Mall they would have annexed that property, but they didn’t do that.
There were two areas where blacks lived other than Rose Garden Hill and Davenport Town and one of them was where Jonquil Plaza is. There were some African-Americans that lived over there and off of King Springs Road. There was an area back there in the woods where African-Americans lived.
Here we see some of the first houses built at Rose Garden Hills in the early 1950s. The developers of this neighborhood were realtor and developer Bill Reed and former Smyrna Mayor J. M. Hoot Gibson. Ton McNeal, a black contractor, and school principal (mentioned above) is said to have built many of these houses. This was the first middle class development for African-Americans to be built in the area, and according to Mark Reed, sone of Bill reed’s,his father and Gibson were criticized for undertaking this project in that era of de jure segregation.
WM: I knew about the Jonquil Plaza area. There was a street called Railroad Alley that ran from Elizabeth Street across the tracks. I ran into some information about the concentration of black who occupied houses there when I was researching the 1938 Smyrna race riot.
MB: Elizabeth Street was truly the other side of the tracks. Poor people lived over there. Quite a contrast to what’s there now. You can’t buy a new house in that neighborhood these days for less than $600,000. We started annexing the Davenport/ Rose Garden Hills neighborhood during my dad’s time as Mayor. If I remember the story when they incorporated Smyrna they planted a half dollar somewhere in or near the Masonic Lodge and measured out the city limits from that point, but I remember just before I got on the Council in ’69, the city annexed a thousand acres. What people wanted was the services Smyrna could provide. So if you want the services you seek annexation to the city. Cobb County didn’t offer much in the way of services. They didn’t have a police force. They only had a sheriff’s department. They didn’t have a parks and recreation department.
WM: Annexation meant higher taxes, but by the same token, if you to want to attract commuters, people with a decent income, you have to offer them services.
This cartoon appeared in the pages of the Smyrna Herald in 1968 when Oakdale was was under consideration to be annexed.
MB: And the thing I never understood about the county, we had these ongoing wars with the county about annexing. They didn’t like us to annex. In some cases they would put restrictions on zoning stipulating that an area couldn’t annex itself to the city for ten years. I couldn’t understand that. When the city annexes a piece of property then the county has no further responsibility to offer services. We provide the police, fire, parks & recreation, maintenance on the roads, but the county still gets the same tax income from the annexed areas, with the exception of a break on the fire district portion. I never understood it. What difference does it make to them if we annex an area! I guess it’s a matter of power: of who’s in charge.
WM: The pattern is very different in New England, where I’m from. The towns up there tend to be very large in the beginning, and then pieces split away and new towns come into existence. I was really surprised when I moved down here to find that towns are incorporated here as very small entities and then on a voluntary basis without much uniformity expand through annexations.
MB: You look at maps of our cities. They have a spiral, uneven sort of shape.
WM: Smyrna has an amoeba-like shape with lots of holes of unincorporated territory.
MB: We annexed the thousand acres in 1969 by going down the railroad track. That allowed us to annex the railroad and that’s how we got the thousand acres. That was one of the largest annexations ever and that was about as far from the downtown as you could go. It led to a lot of tax dollars and industrial development. In 1979, Marietta was marching down Cobb Parkway annexing all the property, and actually Council members Jim Hawkins and Jim Toleson convinced John Williams to allow the annexation of the Clock Tower (at the intersection of Village Parkway and Cobb Parkway) into the city and that stopped Marietta’s expansion on that side.
WM: Marietta is actually about one third larger than Smyrna in area.
MB: Oh, yes. And Marietta has always been the county seat and has always been the larger city.
WM: But Smyrna is about to overtake Marietta in population.
MB: Yes. I think the reason why is that they were eliminating all those apartments they had off of Delk Road—-a terrible drain on the city and the schools, so I do think that the 2020 census will show Smyrna to be the largest city in Cobb County. Marietta has always had the attitude—although I’ve had a great relationship with the mayor and with the Council— that they were the big city and so entitled to precedence. Now we’ve got these appointment to the Atlanta Regional Commission. I was the first mayor that raised the question, “Why does Marietta always get the ARC appointment?” I got together with the other mayors, and suggested that we rotate the position. Well, that really upset Marietta. I was on there for awhile and then other mayors filled the post. Austell was on there, then Powder Springs. Unheard of that towns that small would be on the ARC. But it was healthy for everybody. Marietta has the seat now again, and I’m okay with that. I think we have a good relationship, apart from the issue of annexation.
WM: In what year did you first seek election to the City Council?
Max Bacon represented Ward 2 from 1980 until his election as Mayor in 1985. Campbell Road ran through the center of Ward 2.
MB: It was 1979, November. Then I took office in January 1980. It was a two-year term. And then I ran for reelection two years later. And that was when my dad said, “I’m thinking of running for Mayor again. What do you think?” I said, “I think it would be great!” And then he said, “I think you’re going to have opposition this year. “ And I responded, “No dad, I’ve done a good job.” He knew what was what, and sure enough the last day of qualifying some guy I’d never even heard of qualified. It shocked me. He was a dentist. He lived in Cedar Cliff. His name was Gerry Richmond. I’d never heard of him before. And he and his wife hit the trail, knocked on every door together. But I worked so hard I got 81 percent of the vote. I was reelected for another term in ’83, and then in “85, when my dad died, I was chosen by the City Council to fill out the last few weeks of his term. I was then elected to a two year term as mayor in ’85 and ’87, when we went to four year terms. So I was elected in 1985, 87, 91, 95, 99, 03, 07, 011, and in 2015, elected nine times in all.
WM: You favored the four year term?
WM: Well, I don’t think we’d have gotten much done if we’d stayed with the two year term. All segments of the community have asked about term limits. Four years is a very long time. And what intrigues me is that we’ve got a special election coming up currently to replace council member Teri Anulewicz, for a two year term (the balance of the four year term she was elected to in 2015), and we have five people in that race. And I think that’s the reason we’ve got so many people in the race. If they like it they’ll run for four years, but the current race is just for two year, which can serve as a kind of testing time. A four year commitment is the standard and works well.
Tammi Saddler Jones, Smyrna’s current City Administrator, who assumed the post in 2017
The way our government is set up is with a City Administrator form of government. The City Administrator oversees the day-to-day operation. Under our charter, we have committees, but the committees really don’t function. The City Administration does the day-today operations and that’s the way it ought to be. I’m very much involved. If I’m okay to see the kind of money that they’re making I’m not going to interfere to do their job because I’m not making that kind of money. Of course, they’re professionals. That’s what they were hired to do. But I still think there’s tremendous value in someone who’d been here for a good period of time who remembers how we got here, what some of the issues are, what has worked and what hasn’t worked. I think that’s very important. You know one of my biggest goals is that I don’t want to ever forget where I came from.
When people come to the city I want them to feel welcome and have a good experience here. And when they build something I want them to say it was a pleasant experience. I don’t want them to feel that some bureaucrat has abused them and that its been unnecessarily cumbersome. And you know it’s getting like that to a degree. It’s not like in the sixties, but I have hope that residents feel that they can still talk to the mayor when they see him on the street, or come by to see him. Two people came by my house just yesterday morning on an issue. I was in my underwear getting ready to go to services, and they were knocking on my door. It’s still that kind of town!