Ben O. Jones oral history interview, November 9, 1981


Part 1
EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #72
Ben O. Jones
November 9, 1981
Interview #1
Donald R. Lennon

Mr. Jones if you would. Just begin by telling us a little about your background.

Ben O. Jones

As a matter of fact I don't have much background. I have no college education. I began with the county January 1, 1921.

Donald R. Lennon

You are a native of Craven County?

Ben O. Jones

No. I'm originally from Lutheran County. I came over here from the Coastline Railroad that comes in from Rocky Mount. I followed my boss man over here from the Coastline Railroad Company and was with the Norfork Southern Railroad Company originally. It was my first job here. Later on I got into the furniture business with J. S. Miller. Then we discontinued the furniture business and I went with the Maxwell company, a large wholesale concern here, as the bookkeeper. From there C. S. Miller, with whom I was in furniture business was elected county commissioner, came with the county. I got a call to come to the court house one day (I'd never been to the court house many times in my life). They were upstairs organizing in December 1920. They said they wanted me as county auditor. I told them I had a job out in (?)________ county auditor's place but by virtue of my relationship with the then chairman, who was C. S. Miller, I finally left the Maxwell Company and came up here January 1, 1921.

Donald R. Lennon

As auditor?

Ben O. Jones

As county auditor. And I remained county auditor until July 1966, I believe, when I retired. They requested me as clerk. I was also clerk during the war. I remained a clerk, I stayed with the county and served as clerk until December 1979. That's what, about fifty-eight and a half years I think.

Donald R. Lennon

So you have been an official with the county between 1921 to 1979 continuously.

Ben O. Jones

That's correct. And they made me the clerk of marriages when I retired as clerk. I have at least the distinction of having retired twice from the same employment (different positions, of course). I was the book auditor and clerk. Went through the depression which an experience that if I was young enough and knew that I had to go through it again-it take a nice sum of money to cause me to think about it.

Donald R. Lennon

Well tell me. New Bern in the early 1920's, what was it like?

Ben O. Jones

Well we thought it was alright. Of course we weren't prosperous like we are now you know but every bank closed in New Bern closed. Every bank except what was our old industrial bank.

Donald R. Lennon

Before the depression, what was New Bern like during the 20's as far as the size of it, the life style . . .

Ben O. Jones

The size of it-I don't know just how much increase we've had in population. I don't remember just what the population was the 1920. You know, New Bern was always been looked upon as a fine place to live and of course, I'm not capable of determining or thinking in terms of the accomplishments from the standpoint of education because I understood it was an educational center also. As far as business is concerned, my recollection is that business was going along as usual but in those days you know, the banks loaned money and they didn't have the laws and the requirements that they have now to protect them. We hope they're protected now. You take back in those days the county didn't, was not required to have any specific type of security for its deposits. In this county most around a million dollars in the (?) ___________ banks.

Donald R. Lennon

Well now, as the depression entered, as it came upon New Bern and the entire country, where you really conscious that there was something wrong before Black Friday, when supposedly everyone. . .

Ben O. Jones

Yes, some. It began to dawn upon us that something was wrong. For instance, back in those days the counties and the cities borrowed money directly. Now you know what they have to go through the local government commission. At that time they borrowed money directly. I remember one thing in particular that a fellow in George Eyer(?) Company were brokers in New York City. They have most of the loans that were made. And since the back, citizens Bank was treasurer. The president of the bank had come before the board of commissions and said we were running low on money. They decided they had better borrow some money to tie this over until they got in some taxes and things of that sort you know. They authorized the loan of some money and they borrowed fifty thousand or a hundred thousand dollars whatever it was, you know. Usually this fellow Eyre, with George Eyre Company would be the one which it was handled through. I went down to the bank that one day, the treasurer, the president to the bank, and the chairman of the board of commissioners who was W. B. Blaze at that time (the son of a very wealthy man here in town and one of the finest fellows that I ever knew but he was a little dangerous because his temper made him an aggressive type) had a letter from this George Eyer Company. As a matter of fact, before the county borrowed any money they were supposed to have a certificate from the county auditor that necessitated it out but none of those things were payed any attention to back in those days. They never had done it and they never started it. So this George Eyer Company had written the treasurer of the bank that certain notes were coming due and the auditor's certificate would be required and ordered to renew those notes if they didn't have the money to pay for them-the notes. That certificate said that there was no money available with which to pay the note, so they had asked for an extension. Well, at that time we hadn't enough money in the bank to pay the notes. The banker said that it wouldn't be practical to withdraw that amount of money for the bank. Of course all those kinds of things make you think a little bit you know. Yet this Eyer didn't require this certificate to begin with-of necessity. And now he was requiring the auditor's certificate for renewal. It was three hundred thousand dollars in notes that were maturing (?).

Donald R. Lennon

But to take that three hundred thousand dollars out of the bank would really leave them in a bind, wouldn't it?

Ben O. Jones

They wanted to take three hundred thousand dollars out of that bank at that time but their position was that they had to help the farmers you know. Well anyway, Bill called me in the room there where he and Henry Anderson was the president of the bank. They called me in there and asked me to read the letter. I read it and I said, "I can't sign that certificate." Bill said, "I was afraid of that." I said, "To begin with, it would not be factual." So I left there and by the time that I got back to the office, George Eyer had called me. He said, "Ben, what in the heck is the matter with you?" I said, "There's not anything the matter with me. What's the matter with you?" He said, "I can't bring you those notes in going into detail about any condition. I can't renew those notes without use of your certificate." I said, "Well you took them without it. If you renew them, you'll renew them without it. I can't sign that certificate." Well to make a long story short, we make a trip. Bill and Henry called me up Saturday morning and said, "Be ready at one o' clock." I remember Bill said, "Stick a shirt in a paper bag and be ready at one o' clock, we'll stop by and pick you up." Well, I knew where he was going. He was going to New York to see Eyer. They went up there and Bill Thumbs (?). . . .

Donald R. Lennon

Did you take the train?

Ben O. Jones

Yes. We went by car from here to Washington D.C. We did change for there. We got to New York on Monday morning and went around to Eyer's office. The then again said, "What's the matter with you?" Anyway they sent Bill Dunn who was the county attorney, he was along with us and we went around to the Barman's (?) Company's attorneys to talk to them about it. We talked to them and a fellow Hoyt who was at the head of that firm. He was regarded as an authority on North Carolina law. He sat there and studied law I reckon for a half or hour or three quarters and finally turned around to Bill Young who was (?) ____________ attorney and also the attorney for the bank. He was the treasurer of the bank, the treasurer for the county residents. He turned around to Bill Dunn and said, "Mr. Dunn, the only way I can see that Mr. Jones can sign that paper, that certificate, is for the bank to admit they have the money on hand, but are not in the position to pay it out." Bill Dunn said, "That under North Carolina law would be an act of bankruptcy and we couldn't do that." Hoyt said, "Well I just don't see how he can sign that." We came on back and corresponded back and forth you know and found that we'd rather see the attorney general fellow, Frank Mash, and old old gentleman. I remember the bright color of his eyes. He was seventy-five years old then. Bill Dunn asked me to take the case to the attorney general and I did. He studied it all for a while and turned to me and said. "Jones, you can't do that." I said, "That's what I've been telling them." Well, to make a long story short, the legislature met and examined the notes and they renewed them as a result of the action of the legislation as I recall it. I'm saying all this off hat. This isn't going to be published or anything?

Donald R. Lennon

No.

Ben O. Jones

That was what we had-we had two days conference here over those same notes over that same situation. We called in an extra attorney. Tom Warren who worked with the attorney who advised Bill Dunn. I finally called in Charles Johnson. You do remember Charlie Johnson. Charlie Johnson was the State Treasurer who later ran for governor in 1948. My office was my state contact you see. I kept in touch with Charlie Johnson all the way through. He was always a good friend of mine. That was the only time that I was very much into city politics. I'm interested of course, voting and taking an active part in politics. I was disappointed because of my interest in Charlie Johnson when he got defeated. That happens. Anyways, I went to the telephone. As I say they were having a conference with all five members of the board of commissioners. One of the members had been very critical of the board, and some of the things that were done. They had me in there and this gentleman named (?) Medtz, he's been dead a long time now, but he was a good friend of mine always. By the way, in the fifteen and one half years I never had a commissioner to vote against me. I expect that is a record. Of course that's personal, and don't amount to anything one way or the other. Anyway, Mr. Medtz said to me, "Well man, it looks like it's up to you." We were really in a bind about these notes. Some of them we knew about. The due date was in about thirty days in advance from when it was started. And of course it was getting nearer and nearer the due date. So I went into another office and called Charlie Johnson and told him what was happening. I said, "I've about decided to do this with you sanction. I'm going to tell them that if all five of the members of that board will sign that certificate (?) to me (?), stating that they had vowed, I was taking the position that was the auditor's duty to find the fact that there was money available with which those notes could be paid." Of course I knew it wasn't practical, but it could be used for those purposes. Now, I said that if all five will sign the certificate to me to the effect that they found the pact that money is on the deposit in the banks in sufficient payment notes, but that they had found that it was not practical to use for this purpose and therefore they're finding it a fact that the funds are not available with which to pay these notes and that was the basis of the law on renewal. It was specifically absolving me of all liability in connection with it. And both these lawyers will sign a certificate to me that relieves me of all liability. I decided I would sign with your permission. Charlie said, "If them damned fools would sign that kind of thing, go ahead." I wasn't prepared to those myself and I still got those letters (I don't know whether I can find them or not but I still got those letters) I prepared to (?) them myself, both the five members of the board and the two attorneys to sign. They all signed. But about that time the legislature was saying that they had better validate the situation which took us all of the . . .

Donald R. Lennon

Well, wouldn't it have been feasible to have compromised on the notes and maybe have paid part of them. Maybe pay off a hundred and fifty thousand and held the other fifty thousand for the bank?

Ben O. Jones

As far as I recall that didn't come up. Usually you pay the note and re-borrowed if you needed additional money. I'll say this much for the board of commissioners that I have worked under, and I worked under a bunch of them during the length to time, that was a situation that they could have said to me, "You either sign this note or you won't have a job." I had already told Bill Bladze. "I can't sign that certificate but I can help you so that it can be signed." He said. "That's fine. What do you mean?" I said, "Well there's twenty-five people in Craven County that you could appoint as county auditor who'll sign that paper without batting an eye. I'll give the excuse that I'm going into business or something else and resign and let you appoint someone who will sign." He said, "You know I'd be dead if you do. You will stay right here with us. We're not going to ask you to sign it if you don't want to sign it." I said, "I'd like to sign it, but I can't." What I started to say was that I never had any board of commissioner ask me to do anything that I couldn't do. Of course this was the nearest thing to it. It was simply presented as one of the things that had to be done to renew this note but they didn't asked me to do it if, in fact, I couldn't do it.

Donald R. Lennon

Was this around 1928?

Ben O. Jones

In the thirties.

Donald R. Lennon

Oh, this was after the depression had broke elsewhere.

Ben O. Jones

Yes. That's right. That was one of the first definite evidences that we knew much about it that I recall.

Donald R. Lennon

This was after the stock market crashed and everything in New York . . .

Ben O. Jones

That's correct. Now I don't remember just the year but it was at the very beginning of the depression. I know that much. I don't know whether that's worth anything to you or not!

Donald R. Lennon

Oh yes. Well now, how did the depression develop? You said the county wound up going default, was it on this note or was it on other financial?

Ben O. Jones

It was on the bonds and outstanding notes also. This particular notes-there was no default on that. It was later on that we finally had to default on the payment of interest and principal on all the bonds of the county paid from the (?) private fault of default (?). The organized bond holders committee for the holders of the bonds. When Montgomery of New York was the chairman of the committee and we kept the money on deposit. That was cured (?) also. We didn't pay out any money except on orders of this committee after it was organized. In other words, we couldn't pay one and not the other. They had a bond holders' committee and finally through that committee we had a refunding of the outstanding bonds. We had (?) __________ who had accrued interest of around four and a half million dollars. The average rate of interest was five and a half percent as I recall. Which of course is little now but at that time it was big. We fought with the creditors about three and half years and finally got a settlement with them that we could live with. The settlement we got was that they would give us anything off on principal but they accepted forty year renewable bonds at the average rate of interest of two and a half or three percent. The interest saved through the refunding on that basis, forty-year bond amounted to just about the same thing as the principal. Charlie Johnson made the appropriate statement at the time that Craven County made the finest settlement from the standpoint of any unit of government in North Carolina that was in the hole.

Donald R. Lennon

Was the indebtedness the result of overspending by the county or was it just a problem of the times that there wasn't enough tax money coming in.

Ben O. Jones

When the banks closed, anybody who had any money in the bank you see, were wrong side up. In fact, during the depression we finally got the equivalent of three or four levies, yearly tax levies uncollected. If people had any money it was tied up with the banks. One of the banks, the old Maximun Bank as I recall, didn't pay but three and a half percent dividend. This Citizens Bank, which is a treasury of the county, as I recall paid about twelve and a half on it or something like that. The other bank, which was the Eastern Bank and Trust Company (I believe that's the name of it.) paid around thirty percent, as I recall it. So you see, if you had in mind the national bank you didn't get but about three and a half percent. And if you had any money in the Citizens Bank, you only got about twelve and a half percent.

Donald R. Lennon

This was based on the indebtedness as opposed to their . . .

Ben O. Jones

They were put in to receivership all of them. The receiver liquidated the assets. After paying the secured accounts and the depositors had this dividend left (three and a half, twelve and a half, thirty percent). Now all that I'm giving you from memory and the (?) are being right.

Donald R. Lennon

John Larkins over in Jones County was involved in these bank receivership negotions, did he do any work in Craven on that or was he solely in Jones County, do you recall?

Ben O. Jones

He was solely in Jones. He was not connected with Craven at all as I recall. He wasn't a federal judge.

Donald R. Lennon

No. he wasn't a federal judge but he was appointed as a mediator of some type in negotiations.

Ben O. Jones

John's home is in Trenton. We came out of the thing with that settlement. And with our creditors that puts us on a basis that we could operate. We immediately began to get things in order. This had gone might well ever since. Now-I just hope we don't have any more depressions. If we had one now-I don't know the consequences do you?

Donald R. Lennon

No. it's frightening to think about.

Ben O. Jones

The claim as I understand it, they have built in protection and another thing, they do have some but you can get through but you can't stop the steam roller; it'll run over you. I got a different impression now about a unit of (?) government than what I had even then. I don't see how you bust the unit of government? Because every item of textbook property in that unit of government? Because every item of textbook property in that unit of government is subject to that particular debt. Now if it is a bond, a bond or not, where you would perhaps sign a first mortgage on your home for instance, you maybe look for a school bond. Well that school bond be full faith and credit of the county or city of which that bond is sold-school bond or any other kind of bond is pledged for the maintenance for the payment of both the principal and interest on that bond accordant to the (?) salary. Not only that, but as I understand it, if you own a Craven County farm and lived in Pennsylvania and were default in payment of it, you'd go to the federal court and get a mandate for amnesty (?) _____________ commissioners, they'd get tax sufficient to take care of it no matter if it's a dollar or fifty dollars. And you talk about New York going busted! Of course, I don't know the Rockefeller's and everybody else would have to go busted before I don't know how you go about clearing out entirely, but every dime of taxable property is involved and every bond that's issued.

Donald R. Lennon

Looking back at the thirties. Was there any tax money much coming in?

Ben O. Jones

No, very little. People didn't have anything to pay taxes with.

Donald R. Lennon

Was there much property lost by foreclosure by the county?

Ben O. Jones

If the county commissioners had done what the creditors had wanted us to do, the creditors were demanding that we foreclose the tax liens, take over the property and sell it for what we couldn't by it in debt and find out where you stood. We fought them on that all over the country but it that had been done, I would say that approximately fifty percent of the people that didn't lose their farms lost something during the depression. We didn't compromise tax, we held it against them and they paid it eventually.

Donald R. Lennon

What about businesses? Did a lot of businesses go bankrupt and close their door?

Ben O. Jones

Yes.

Donald R. Lennon

How did Middle Street look here during the middle of the Depression?

Ben O. Jones

About like it does now! Don't quote me on that. Of course they're doing all they can to revive the downtown area here and I think maybe they're making some progress. You live in Greenville don't you? I have a daughter that lives in, the same daughter that did live in Greenville, her husband is a supervisor of the American Bag Company. The American bag Company moved all its supervisors to Durham and she said that downtown Durham is the same way (as New Bern).

Donald R. Lennon

We still have a lot of vacant buildings in downtown Greenville too, in spite of all they've done that way.

Ben O. Jones

That just shows you how fast a situation can change. There's Belk's store down there, a tremendous store downtown here. I understand they've been trying to sell it since they've moved out from (?) ______________. I imagine that maybe a million or two dollars to build what they've got there. They got fine parking lot and everything.

Donald R. Lennon

We have a Belk's store in downtown Greenville that's vacant too.

Ben O. Jones

Catherine, my daughter says that there's nothing downtown in Durham but some colored people.

Donald R. Lennon

Same thing in Downtown Raleigh. It's just torn down buildings and boarded up fronts and everything. Did all of the banks close here in New Bern during the depression or did any of them manage to remain (?) solvent?

Ben O. Jones

Every one of them closed except the Little Industrial Bank.

Donald R. Lennon

What did the bank officials think in terms of W. B. Blades? You don't hear much about the Blades family anymore. At one time it was one of the leading families in boat and ship building and a little of everything.

Ben O. Jones

They were in the timber-lumber business you know.

Donald R. Lennon

They had a big saw mill and everything . . .

Ben O. Jones

Two of the brothers that were active here in New Bern, of course that was before my time, my recollection of what I heard was that they bought a lot of this cut over land down here then finally sold it to John (?) Elwood Lumber Company, who ran this big mill out here. Of course, they've been out of business for a long time now. They were our first millionaires. William and Jim Blades. William Blades was the father of the William Blades that was the chairman of the board here. Jim Blades used to have this big home over here where the bank is. It was a big home with columns that he built there. Do you remember seeing it?

Donald R. Lennon

I think so.

Ben O. Jones

Then somebody bought it and turned it into a hotel and then finally. I don't know all the circumstances, but First Citizens Bank finally got it. We really have got a fine bank building.

Donald R. Lennon

Did these bankers lose their personal fortunes?

Ben O. Jones

Yes, largely. Bill, this young bill, was the main stay in what is known as (?) Mord Biff subdivision down here in Morehead (?) City. I think he lost a lot of money down there and Bill was in the fisheries business too. He had a fisheries company. He was one of the finest fellows you ever saw. Ms. Woodley still has the home place here. I understood, of course I wasn't that close to him-he was just as nice to me as he could be, that he had a good many friends who took advantage of him too. He was one of the most attractive men I ever seen in the human flesh. In fact he was mentioned a few times as doing (?) _____________.

Donald R. Lennon

Oh really?

Ben O. Jones

Locally, now I don't know whether anywhere else or not. Now the other Blades, his son Vernon, he went bankrupt but he came back. Bill, his family had right much. But Vernon came back and he died some years ago now-not so may years ago. His son in law, called Beasley, told me his estate was valued at around seven hundred thousand dollars when he died, but Pop told me that at time, he had a whole lot of those little (?) cut over land which had blown sky high in prices, he says which was then worth three million dollars. Values in the (?) farm were determined by what you can do with it.

Donald R. Lennon

That's right. And the opportunities of the time. Tell me, speaking of old houses. I recall a very interesting and fascinating old house down here where the Sun Journal building is now located. It's across from the municipal building down here. That old square-turreted building.

Ben O. Jones

That building, as I understand it, is before my time. It was built by Doctor Hughes. Doctor Hughes was a very prominent local man. He owned quite a bit of real estate and that building, a mansion I suppose, had a porch all around the place. In later years, not the last year, J. W. Stewart owned it. He was regarded as a wealthy man too. Later on, I believe the last one that I knew of that owned it, of course it had gone down right much. I started to say Dr. (?) Gazes but I don't know whether he was the last one or not. Anyway Dr. Stewart's daughter lived there. He had two old maid daughters that lived there for an number of years.

Donald R. Lennon

I noticed that it was a very foreboding looking place and you could see a light on in there from time to time.

Ben O. Jones

I tried to maintain correspondence with the creditors during the fight of some three years trying to get a settlement with them. I tried to get that correspondence together and I've got an old binder somewhere. I thought that might be of interest to someone. They've thrown away a lot of the old records up in the attic.

Donald R. Lennon

No. You shouldn't do that!

Ben O. Jones

I don't I've thrown that away. I have it somewhere.

Donald R. Lennon

Legally they are not supposed to throw away any record because those are official state records. I'm talking about the county records in particular and to a certain extent the municipal records. What they're supposed to do is they're supposed to be controlled by the state archives. One of the most illustrious citizens of Craven County in years gone by, in your early years here, was a man by the name of Furnifold M. Simmons. Did you have any contact with the illustrious Senator?

Ben O. Jones

I knew him, of course I was too small a man to have any direct contact with him. Of course I knew him. Did you ever see him? He was a man about your size if would say. He was a powerful man. He came originally from Jones County and his home is down on East Front Street. It's still standing. I don't know who owns it now. He was defeated following the Al Smith fight. He was really the political of the seat for a long time as I understand it. You take this Tom Warren I mentioned, he was one of his main men. He was a local attorney, a very important (?) man himself. He was always credited for having a very fine organization. Not only a well-organized organization made up of outstanding people too. You know it's said that he made a three hour speech in Winston-Salem against Al Smith which of course had to defeat him but he carried North Carolina for Hoover. As a matter of fact I think that Herbert Hoover, I never even met the man but I think he's one of the greatest men that this country's produced. He was one Republican that I wouldn't have minded voting for but I didn't.

Donald R. Lennon

Are there any other anecdotes, personal or otherwise that come to mind? Any aspects of your career, of Craven County, or . . .

Ben O. Jones

I don't recall any. I'm good at recalling those things anyway. They may appeal to me and be funny at the time but I don't retain them very well. I'm sorry that Judge Nunn isn't living. If Judge Nunn were living you would really enjoy talking to him. He was a walking encyclopedia of history and just a fine fellow in addition. He was one of Senator Simmons' protégées. I doubt that he ever employed a secretary. He usually did his own typewriting.

Donald R. Lennon

Really! How did he ever find the time?

Ben O. Jones

He was the County Attorney here for a number of years. I was as close to him as I would have been to a father I reckon. His paper, he started out as a newspaper man. For instance if he had something printed the he could use, he would cut it out and paste on there instead of re-writing the papers. His papers were kind of a joke lots of times form that standpoint. But as far as content is concerned, I never heard anything said contrary to them. But he had a building down here. He owned right much property when he died. Up until the price of real estate (?) commenced ruin, why some of it was right sorry property, most of us thought. But I expect he left a sizable estate. This building down there, the top floors. I don't know the dimensions, but it was a tremendous room. He had the whole room upstairs. He had desks and tables here and there covered in papers and I don't reckon he ever had anybody go in there and do any sweeping and cleaning up. Tacked on the wall around he would have newspaper clippings of certain things that happened you know. I used to think that he had on the walls of his office more history than I could ever learn. About the time that they started, of course most of the schools here were old and considered out of date by the younger generation. They had a kind of upsurge toward the improvement in the educational facilities here about the time that movement started. I remember they had picture of school buildings in the store window here. They regarded them as practically a disgrace. But anyway, they said some of the ladies went down and called on Judge Nunn. Of course everybody knew Judge Nunn and everybody loved him. They said that they looked around at his office and said, "Judge, you ought to clean up this place. Look-a here at all this dirt and dust you have up here. You ought to get things cleaned up. Man of your standing!" He said, "You don't understand. If you don't bother it, it'll stay just like it is and it won't bother anybody. You come in here and begin to sweep and change around and all, dust and everything goes up, when you get through, it comes right back down. It you leave it alone, it won't bother anybody." I reckon there was any record that he couldn't find. We had his records arranged but I don't know how anybody else could find anything.

Donald R. Lennon

His own personal filing system! How about Charles Albernathy?

Ben O. Jones

Well, I remember him. Did you know his son?

Donald R. Lennon

I know his son's widow very well.

Ben O. Jones

His son's widow ate lunch out here at the Little Palace Motel.

Donald R. Lennon

How is she going?

Ben O. Jones

She seems to be doing all right. She was just a little way from me. I didn't get a chance to speak to her. She's a fine lady. Of course, Charlie was a very active fellow as long as he lived. I remember seeing a fellow from Goldsboro, who used to sell typewriters and typewriter supplies down here (I used to buy a little stuff from his from time to time), he ran for Congress, the boy did. This fellow lived in Goldsboro. I can't think of his name right now but anyway I was in Willow's Run and ran into him during the campaign. Charlie was running for Congress too and he looked at me and said, "Who are you going to vote for Congress?" "Well I always voted for my partner (?), I reckon I'll keep it up. I don't know of any reason not to vote for him." And he says, "Well I'm going to vote for what they call him, fat head some name like that. I'm going to vote for him." Well he had opposition from Goldsboro. Kind of a little bit tell you why. I went to Washington to the __________________ I believe he said a cousin of his owned a farm over in Virginia I believe and his son, he needed his son at home. He had him on the farm and they sent him overseas. He was in the service and they sent him overseas. And he said, I went up there to see the Senators and the (?) ____________________ to see if I couldn't help my cousin and I believe he said he had a heart condition and he needed his son who was a young man very much at home. He was going to see the Senators and the Congress to see if he couldn't get something done about it and bring him home. And he said the he Bailey, Josiah Bailey. . . .

Donald R. Lennon

He's the one who defeated Simmons of course.

Ben O. Jones

He was Senator. He says. I tried to see him but I couldn't even get into his office. The Senator was engaged and wouldn't be able to see me. He said I went to see another one and I couldn't see him, and he said I can go see old Clabber head or whatever they called him. I went in there and told the secretary that I wanted to see Mr. Albernathy; and she says come on in, he'll see you right now. He said I went on in there and told him what I wanted and he said he grabbed the telephone and called Admiral so and so and told him that he wanted this young man, whatever his name was, that was in Germany somewhere and he wanted him moved back as close as he could get him. He said of course he couldn't hear what was being said on the other side but evidently the man said it couldn't be done. I believe he told him that's what the other man told him and Albernathy told him, "That's all right, you'll be up for your (?) ______________ in a few days and I'll remember it." He said that brought on more talk and he said that after he got through talking. Albernathy hung up the receiver and says, "The man will be home in a few days." And he says he had a wire back in Goldsboro before he got back there that the man was on his way. Now he says, "Do you think I'm not going to vote for that man? Certainly I'm going to vote for him."

Donald R. Lennon

The Congressman has a lot of clout. It was Graham Barden that defeated Albernathy in 1936 or whenever it was that Albernathy ran.

Ben O. Jones

I reckon that's correct. I don't remember just exactly how the thing happened but Barden (?) _______________ as long as he got in. He was a part of the Simmons machine too.

Donald R. Lennon

As I recall he defeated Albernathy.

Ben O. Jones

I think you're right.

Donald R. Lennon

It was in the thirties, thirty-two, thirty-four, thirty-six, somewhere along there. I was just trying to think of names of major political figures that you might . . . That was a good story on Albernathy.

Ben O. Jones

Mr. Albernathy was a very (?) _______________ man. He didn't belong to the Simmons machine and of course he used to say that if you didn't belong to the Simmons machine, you had trouble getting started. But if you got too strong, they'd adopt you, take you over. I don't know what happens but it's a great pity that we don't have more of the Simmons machine types, if what they said about them is true. It was said that they were very reliable. Always true (?).

Donald R. Lennon

He controlled politics in North Carolina for about thirty-six or thirty-eight years.

Ben O. Jones

A long time. His clothes always looked like they were too big for him. I remember his coat sleeves always looked like they were too long. I remember when Mr. Hoover was President, you know the Congress had got bold up there and they had a lot of difficulty, somebody said, "Well they need Senator Simmons there now. If Senator Simmons was there he'd work around in the cloak rooms there with the Republicans and the Democrats and directly we'd have a Congress running smoothly." And it seems that there are some people that can do those things. He had friends among the Republicans too. The first the Republicans weren't so numerous as they are now. You can't hardly tell who's who now can you?

Donald R. Lennon

It's difficult at times.

Ben O. Jones

Yes it is. And that's the way it ought to be. I never had any inclination to run for public office. (?) The offices I've held are the only public offices I've held.

Donald R. Lennon

You were responsible to the County Commissioners, all the County Commissioners appoint an auditor.

Ben O. Jones

You see the County Commissioners, when I came to the county, they were elected for two year terms and later on it was extended for four years. It's been a four year term now for a long while. That gentleman that just went out of here just when you came in, he's the president of the chairman of the board in (?) Windsor. (?) , Havelock. He's a very fine man. It's said that in his later years, he wasn't in perfect health, in his office with the Norfolk Southern Railroad there was a certain time of the day that he would spend in his easy chair that he was not to be disturbed. But that's a great family of people. The sister of one of them, Judge Guion. . . .

Donald R. Lennon

Well I was getting ready to say that William B. Rodman II. In his papers there is a tremendous amount of correspondence with the Guion family because one of the Guions was William Rodman Guion I believe. I think it was William B. Rodman II's sister who married Isaac Guion or one of the Guions back there before 1900.

Ben O. Jones

This Rodman, the Judge was their father you know was a Superior Court judge.

Donald R. Lennon

He was a Supreme Court Judge. William B. Rodman I was in the State Supreme Court.

Ben O. Jones

I'm talking about Guion. Let's see here. You know these lawyers here, when I retired as clerk I gave up office I had occupied over here. Jim and Fred Carmichael, one night about nine o' clock my wife died in 1977. We, this our home, we moved this old house you know and next door to the court house, they moved it over there on the old school green. My daughters moved me over to the Palace Motel and that's where I've been staying at night. Did to after I retired as clerk. I got a call from Jim yesterday, he says, "Can you come over here a minute?" I says, "Yes, sir." I came over here and he and Fred were over here cleaning out his little office. They said, "We are going to fix your office over here." I said, 'My goodness I'm not even going to worry about it much." And they did. Folks have been so good to me. This place over here, that brick wall over here you know. This used to be Mrs. Lewis's home right here where his building is. She had quite a long porch around here. The Guion home was next here. Judge Guion's.

Donald R. Lennon

Oh really, I was thinking that the Guion home was back over here on one of the other streets.

Ben O. Jones

No, that's where the home is right over here.

Donald R. Lennon

Well now some of the Guions still live over here in one of the old homes.

Ben O. Jones

Oh yes on the other street over here. John (?) Mrs. Lewis, that wall over there was covered in ivy and she would sit out here on this porch you know, and it was during the W.P.A. days you don't even remember about that don't reckon. The government provided money.

Donald R. Lennon

I know about it although I don't remember it.

Ben O. Jones

Most of the folks was cussing (?) W.P.A.s and I kept them working around here all the time. We had to because they were getting a little money and such things, as I can have them doing for the county. In fact we remodeled the jail. We make a modern jail of it with W.P.A. labor. We built Count Hall with W.P.A. labor. This particular time I went to Raleigh for something I needed and I got back and I got this invitation here somewhere and I tried to save it but I don't believe I have. Anyway, I got back and found on my desk a note from Judge Guion. He was not Supreme Court Judge but he was a (?) _____________ court Judge for a while and he said, "Ben, you're playing hell now." And he went on to say what had happened was the W.P.A. folks, I had them working doing things around the jail over there and the courthouse, and they were cleaning up this wall (?) pouring lye. And Mrs. Lewis was in tears. She had called Judge Guion crying and said they had ruined the wall you know and all. He said clean them out. He says have your man Hargett (?), I had a fellow Hargett who was a small contractor, to work with those men to look at the materials and things of that kind. He says, "Have Hargett go see Mrs. Lewis first thing in the morning." Instead of having Hargett go see her, I went there myself. She was crying again. She says, "Mr. Jones, I know the wall belongs to the County. You got the right to do it. But now I've got to sit on that porch and look at that brick wall there. and that beautiful ivy was there before. I said, "Mrs. Lewis, I can't put the ivy back. No way to put the ivy back but I'll have anybody you want to come and plant anything you want (?) up that wall and I'll cover it up any way you want me to." I finally got by with it some way or another. Her husband was of the firm Lucas and Lewis, the wholesale and retail (?) association. I ran into that notation there (?) of John's. He signed, J. E. G. But he was (?) ____________ his brother. The other lawyers apparently were not as keen on (?) ______________. It' all right as far as liability was concerned as it were (?) ________________ John. John took tax quote (?) courses. His kind of attorney in charge of tax foreclosures. And if a lawyer ran into a tax foreclosure then it was handled by John. They wouldn't even go back and said if John done passed on it, it's all right. But they're not that keen on Rodman. Rodman was generally regarded as a very very fine lawyer and a very capable lawyer and difficult if he's on the other side against you. Now John was not so much a protagonist as. . .

Donald R. Lennon

Rodman had been a trial lawyer but John (?) was better off as office as far as thoroughness is concerned.

Ben O. Jones

He was a fine fellow. He lived right on this street. He married Mr. J. H. Jones's daughter. No relation of mine. Mr. Jones was in the horse and mule business and he also was a cotton broker. I heard it said one time that he had as much cotton on futures as perhaps as anybody in the country. Now Rodman, I wasn't familiar with his wife. She's living right on.

Donald R. Lennon

Is that right?

Ben O. Jones

John's wife died recently. He had one child that lived around on (?) New Street next to them. But Rodman's wife is still living as far as I know.

Donald R. Lennon

Well they must be getting pretty


Title
Ben O. Jones oral history interview, November 9, 1981
Description
Ben O. Jones, a native of Duplin County, North Carolina, served as Craven County auditor from 1921 until 1966. After retiring as auditor he continued as clerk to the board of county commissioners until December 1979, thus being in the service of Craven County for more than fifty-eight years. He discusses life in New Bern, the coming of the Great Depression, bank failures, and the responsibilities of the auditor's office. A transcript of the interview is also included. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon.
Date
November 09, 1981
Original Format
oral histories
Extent
10cm x 63cm
Local Identifier
OH0072
Creator(s)
Contributor(s)
Subject(s)
Spatial
Location of Original
East Carolina Manuscript Collection
Rights
This item has been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Researchers are responsible for using these materials in accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code and any other applicable statutes. If you are the creator or copyright holder of this item and would like it removed, please contact us at als_digitalcollections@ecu.edu.
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