By Eddie Whitlock
My daddy was arrested in 1982 for selling beer on Sunday, which was illegal in Georgia
at the time. I had been away at the University of Georgia since 1979. The day I arrived home
was the day he was arrested.
The Old Man dropped out of high school because he wanted to make money rather than
sit in a classroom. He took a job at the textile mill, but he didn’t intend on stopping there. He
admired his brother-in-law, a fellow who owned a service station in Coweta County, Georgia.
He and my mother were frugal. Throughout my childhood, they worked extra jobs. One
winter we collected pinecones for the forestry service. For several years, they ran a newspaper route. They saved as much money as they could. My mother would later say, “Y’all didn’t get everything you wanted, but you got everything you needed.”
My father built a garage where he could repair cars evenings and weekends. When he
had enough money, he added gas pumps and quit his mill job to run the service station full
time. My mother stayed in the textile mill. She did twenty years as a seamstress and another
twenty years as a nursing assistant.
My father’s little service station scraped by. It was an independent station, not a
corporate franchise. Every decision was his, which he liked. When Spalding County legalized beer and wine sales, my father considered getting a license to sell beer.
He spoke with his county commissioner about it, saying, “These licenses are $ 200.
That’s a lot of money for me. You’re not going to give licenses to just anybody, are you?”
“No!” said the commissioner.
My daddy said later, “They didn’t give them to just anybody, but they did give them to
anybody that had $ 200.”
Selling beer initially turned a good profit, but as more stores opened, that declined.
I don’t want you to think the Whitlock Family fell from on high morally to become
criminals. I’m descended from Bulstrode Whitelocke, a backer of Oliver Cromwell in his
overthrow of King Charles. I think we’ve always been a rather nonconformist bunch.
My father’s family had run moonshine in the 40s and 50s. My parents’ families met
because they were both in the business. One grandfather made shine while the other one
When the profit selling beer legally went away for my father, he quietly started selling
beer on Sunday. This proved to be very profitable since he charged double for the Sunday sales. It was that illegal revenue that put me through college.
When I was still living at home, it was my job to be the look-out on Sundays. If someone
we didn’t know drove up, I would let my father know. Any current transaction would be put on
hold until the stranger left.
I don’t think what we did hurt anyone. I realize the Sunday prohibition was to uphold
the religious beliefs of some folks in the community. Those were the same folks who publicly
opposed alcohol sales any day of the week.
We opened around 9 on Sundays. The first round of customers were folks who were
continuing whatever they had started Saturday night. Mixed in, too, were people headed for a
day of fishing. Fishing without drinking could be pure tedium if the fish weren’t biting. There
was no need to risk that.
Towards mid-day, many of our Sunday customers stopped on their way home from
having attended church. A couple stopped on their way home from having preached at church.
Over the years, we had a couple of celebrities come by on a Sunday. Among them was a
US Senator. I won’t tell his name, but it rhymes with Turman Halmadge. He was friends with
one of our regulars, a man who had gotten rich owning parking lots in Atlanta.
I am glad these folks did business with us. Like I said that money sent me to college. If
those folks had been better organized, they could have bought more beer on Saturday and
gotten it at the regular price.
When I moved to Athens to attend the University of Georgia, I didn’t think at all about
how my absence would affect my father’s illicit business. I should have, but I didn’t. He
continued the illegal Sunday sales for the three years it took me to finish my undergraduate
I arrived home from Athens that spring day in 1982 with all my belongings from Springdale Street. My stuff was packed into a Ford Pinto and a VW van. My friend David Moore
was driving the van. He had kindly helped me move my stuff back to Griffin.
My mother tearfully told me about my father’s arrest. She was hurrying to get to the jail
where my father was being processed.
He was released on bail.
The trial was short and to the point. He was put on one year’s probation and made to
pay a $ 1000 fine.
My father wasn’t the only Sunday bootlegger arrested that day. The sheriff’s
department had conducted a series of stings across the county that day. A dozen people were arrested.
Later, my father told me what had happened before the sting.
A few weeks earlier, my father was visited by the county’s new sheriff who said,
“Whitlock, I know you’re selling beer on Sunday.” Then he told my father the price he’d need to pay to avoid being arrested.
My father refused, as did many other Sunday bootleggers. When the new sheriff did his
crackdown, all those who had refused to pay the protection money were arrested.
One of the fellows who was arrested had a much more diversified criminal career than
my father. A few days after they were arrested, he approached my father.
“We’re getting up a collection to put a contract on the sheriff.”
Did you hear the screeching of brakes when you read that sentence? If you did, it was
the sound of my father’s criminal career coming to an abrupt halt.
“I was planning on getting out of the business anyhow,” my father told him.
He did get out of the business, all of them. He reopened the store long enough to get rid
of existing inventory, and that was it. His criminal days and his entrepreneurial days were over.
He closed the package store, the gas station, and the garage.
He spent the rest of his life being a wheeler-dealer. The man could make a profit on
almost anything. It was impressive. He wasn’t interested in doing anything illegal, though. You
might say the system worked. I wouldn’t.
Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages are legal now in Georgia, though there’s a
stipulation about what time the sales can start on the Lord’s Day.
What my father went through gives me my perspective on people arrested for violating
Alcohol is probably more detrimental to the health of the community than marijuana
Like alcohol, the active ingredient in marijuana has medicinal properties. Never mind
the foot dragging that has taken place in recognizing that. Suddenly, it is being recognized.
States across the country are legalizing marijuana. Even Georgia has allowed a couple of
“medical marijuana” dispensaries to open.
I’m fine with all of that and hope the trend continues until marijuana is treated like the
medication for the modern world that it is.
But. We’ve punished a lot of people over marijuana. We’ve made people criminals for
doing something that we’re now going to let others legally get rich from.
We need to set free every person in our state’s prisons who is there solely for marijuana
charges. We’ve wasted our tax dollars and their lives punishing them for something that should
have never been illegal in the first place.
Most of the folks jailed for breaking those laws were just trying to get ahead financially,
something this country normally champions. We don’t have to treat them like heroes, but we
need to quit treating them like criminals. Somebody – and probably somebody you know –
wanted to buy that weed.
Note: I want you to know that the sheriff was not assassinated. I don’t know whether the other
Sunday bootleggers were unable to raise sufficient capital or whether they couldn’t locate a
hitman. Whatever happened, my daddy was not involved.
That sheriff himself was arrested a couple of years later for financial shenanigans within
the department. He served a prison sentence and tried to run for sheriff again when he got out.
I have no idea what happened to him after that.
Eddie Whitlock is a Georgia native, a graduate of UGA, and a wannabe writer. He retired in 2021 from the Athens-Clarke County Library, where he worked as coordinator of volunteers, community service supervisor, and vending machine scapegoat.