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Passing Footballs to Passing Bills

 

"Crum" Foshee Red Level High School 1955

When Crum Foshee was running through, over and around players at Red Level High School, neither he nor the citizens of Covington County realized that one day Crum would be the most powerful legislator in the Alabama Legislature. All Crum really wanted to do was help his daddy and his brother run one of the largest ginning operations in the south. The daddy, Wheeler G. Foshee had built quite a dynasty in Covington County. He was raising cotton, processing peanuts and shipping all over the country.

Mr. Foshee had two boys about seven years apart who could carry on with the family business after he was gone. He made sure they new how to work, how to farm and how to make deals. Wheeler Foshee, Jr. was the oldest. He helped Mr. Foshee train E. C. "Crum" Foshee in the nuances of running their business. Even though separated by a few years, the boys became very close. That relationship lasted almost 80 years. The only thing that could separate them was death. That occurred on March 18, 2017 when Crum passed away from the ravages of cancer.

In order to understand Crum you had to know Wheeler, who played football on the first Red Level football team. He was small but he could outrun the wind, which he would later have to do as a turret gunner on a B-29 in the United States Air Force. Wheeler was wounded when his B-29 was damaged on a bombing run over North Korea and crashed in Japan. By the time Wheeler got out of the service, Crum was beginning high school and playing football. Crum's biggest fan was Wheeler. He is prone to exaggerate, but I do think Crum was an outstanding football player. Obviously Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant did too.

When Crum was a senior playing at Red Level he was a 5' 9", 175 lb. running back. He also played other positions, but his forte was power running. He didn't try to avoid tacklers very much. Crum was stocky and really powerful for a player his size. Coach Bryant had sent Gene Stallings to Excell, Alabama to look at a sophomore fullback and linebacker named Lee Roy Jordan. That night Crum Foshee of the Red Devel Tigers had a fantastic game and beat Lee Roy and the Excell football team. When Stallings got back to College Station, Texas, he told Coach Bryant about the short, tough running back from Red Level. Bryant looked at the report and told Stallings to sign him.

Clemson also offered Crum a scholarship, so he had to make a choice. For some reason he decided on Texas A&M. So in the fall of 1956, Wheeler drove his "little" brother to College Station. The "Aggies" won the Southwest

Conference Championship the next year, but Crum was not part of the celebration. After going through fall practice, Crum decided that he didn't like football as much as Coach Bryant did. He soon pulled into Evergreen on a Trailways bus ready to go back to farming in Red Level. Who picked him up at the bus stop? Wheeler of course! His daddy and brother were delighted to have him back, but were disappointed that he did not stay in college. He did attend Auburn before he decided that politics was "his game."

At this point we will skip a few years. Crum Foshee served four years in the House of Representatives and 31 years in the Senate. He was Rules Committee Chairman for twenty years. That meant that he was responsible for "setting the calendar" for the Senate. If you wanted a bill to be considered, you had to go through Crum to get it on the calendar. He was elected nine times by the people that knew his best, the people of Covington County.

Nobody in the legislature had the influence and power that ultimately Crum Foshee had. Governor George C. Wallace may have been slightly better at "cutting a deal" but not by much. If you wanted a bill passed you needed to not have Crum Foshee against it. The short football player from Red Level had become a giant legislator in Montgomery.

Most people don't know how Cliff Hare Stadium in Auburn became Jordan-Hare Stadium. As far as I am concerned, this was one of Crum's greatest victories. Ralph "Shug" Jordan had been the head coach at Auburn for about twenty years. Coach Jordan even had more friends than Crum did. One of them was Crum's brother, Wheeler. In fact, Wheeler was a pall-bearer at Coach Jordan's funeral. I know this because I was there.

Wheeler served as Prison Commissioner and Aeronautics Commissioner under Governor Wallace over an eleven year period. Therefore, he had many occasion to be in the governors office. He and Crum considered the idea of introducing a bill to change the name of Cliff Hare Stadium to Ralph "Shug" Jordan Stadium. Well, that was no hill to climb for Crum, so he sponsored a bill to do just that. It passed naturally. The only thing left was for Governor Wallace to sign it. He had actually agreed to sign the bill. However, someone on the Auburn Board of Trustees got wind of the deal. So, the Board of Trustees requested a conference with the governor regarding this proposed name change of the stadium. Of course Wallace agreed to have them come to Montgomery and discuss this legislation. George Wallace loved a laugh as much as he loved to make a speech. So, he asked Crum and Wheeler to be in the room when he met with the trustees. When they had made their presentation to Wallace as to why this would not be in the best interest of Auburn University, the governor pointed at Crum and said, "You-all need to be talking to that man over there who's got the bill in his pocket, and I am prepared to sign it." They knew that they had lost, but they wanted to cut their loss in some way. The trustees asked the governor to let them go out in the hall for a few minutes and contemplate this"disaster."

They finally came back in and sheepishly requested a compromise if the governor would accept it. They asked that the stadium be named Hare-Jordan. Crum said that was not acceptable. George Wallace, being the politician that he was certainly didn't want to lose votes from the Auburn people who accounted for about half of the votes in Alabama. So, he said, "Boys, we don't need to alienate any segment of the people in the great State of Alabama. Why don't we just rename the stadium Jordan-Hare." He looked at Crum. He looked at the trustees. Crum knew he was losing 50% of the deal and he wasn't gonna' lose the other half. Against Wheeler's objections, Crum took the deal. Now, when you go over to Auburn to a football game and see the name on the stadium, you may remember Crum Foshee.

Probably nobody knew that when the name was changed to Jordan-Hare Stadium that nowhere in the country had a stadium been named for a coach that was still coaching at their home stadium. But, that's a fact. Obviously, Coach Jordan was appreciative of the work Crum put into this. As was Jordan's custom, he never forgot. The Foshees never had much trouble getting tickets to Auburn home games as long as "Shug" was the coach.

Crum Foshee was not a saint. He had his faults like we all do. But, he must have meant something to a lot of people. There were over 2,000 signatures on the guest book at Crum's funeral on Thursday, March 23, 2017. There were more millionaires in that chapel than I have ever seen in one room. There also were folks in blue jeans and cowboy boots. Crum was not selective in picking his friends. They came from all walks of life.

It was fortunate for me to be able to see some old friends there and make new friends. John Teague, former Pro-Tem of the Alabama Senate, who I have known for over 30 years, said that Crum was a friend in the good times and when things were not going so good. He indicated that Crum was a big help when he was dealing with serious health issues. He said that a smile from Crum was better for him than the medicine he was taking. Crum did have an infectious smile.

Jere Beasley, former Lieutenant Governor, has been a close friend and confidant since our college days in the same fraternity. He was our quarterback. I was the right end and my eventual brother-in-law Don Hall, Jr. was left end. Jere led us to the intramural championship in 1959. He was always impressed with Crum's ability to get things done. He also said that he knew of no one who was as loyal to his friends as was Crum Foshee. He related several stories about Crum and McDowell Lee, former Secretary of the Senate. I am sorry to say that I cannot print those stories.

Seth Hammett, former Speaker of the House of Representatives reminded us of how Highway 20 became Crum Foshee Highway. He also talked about how Crum was responsible for much of the infrastructure in the state: roads, bridges, ie. He also talked about how tough it was to negotiate with Crum. It was hard to move him off his spot.

Tom Coker, former lobbyist from Lowndes County was once an adversary when I was coaching at Catholic High School. His good friend Mac Champion was the outstanding coach at Hayneville. Had I never scheduled Hayneville my record would have been considerably better. Over the years Tom has become a good friend and a lot of fun to be with. His comments concerned Crum's tenacity as a legislator. Tom was working for Howell Heflin, former United State Senator from Alabama. From his Washington office he tried to get legislation through the Alabama Senate for Heflin but Crum Foshee was there to block it. Tom made a statement that really moved me. In the end, Crum just gave out, but he never quit!

There were so many others that I talked to that were so ernest in there trust of Crum and their friendship with Crum. Former Governor, Jim Folsom, Jr. made reference to the many times that Crum had helped him in and out of office. However, the most passionate recollections of Crum Foshee were the comments of John Smith, former lobbyist. He and Crum were very close. They had breakfast together every Friday at the Cracker Barrel in Montgomery. On one occasion at the Friday morning breakfast, Crum told John that his cancer was worse than orignally diagnosed, and that the doctors were not very encouraging. John, being a very sensitive person, was apparently devastated. Crum comforted John to some degree with these words, "John, I don't care what the doctors say or what pain I must endure, when this is all over, I know where I am going."

From passing footballs to passing bills, Crum was a good person. His recent passing marked the end of a political legend in the State of Alabama. It has certainly affected thousands of people from the highest in government to the lowest crop farmer in Covington County.

Crum Foshee would have been 80 years old this coming December 17th.

 

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