UDH Hdr-Mirror Lake 1888

Its mission accomplished, the A.S.L. began to fade. Funding grew scarce as churches turned their attention elsewhere. Enthusiasm waned. Within the A.S.L., power struggles broke-out and factions battled over the organization’s direction. In short order, two of the old lions of the A.S.L. passed away, creating leadership voids and generating succession struggles. Sensing the organization’s weakness, politicians played both sides of the issue. They proclaimed support for the cause but refused to fund enforcement and looked the other way as speakeasies and bootlegging proliferated.

Prohibition was a colossal failure. Drinking did not stop. The law was universally flouted. The rich and powerful ignored it with impunity. The rest of society battled the predations of crooked goon squads of political appointees called Prohibition Agents. Corruption became widespread--from local police forces all the way to the White House and Congress. Everyone was on the take. Gangsterism flourished and men like Al Capone came to control whole cities. Gang wars and bloodshed became commonplace. Meanwhile, hundreds died from polluted concoctions passed off as liquor by criminals.

In Ohio, White fought off multiple attempts to reverse or limit Prohibition. He was successful in getting dry politicians elected but found it hard to get them to do anything meaningful. White continually battled for tougher enforcement of Prohibition but met with indifference from politicians and increasing hostility from the public. An attempt to link Bolshevism and bootlegging convinced few. Meanwhile, factional battles and fund-raising woes consumed much of White’s time. He stayed on as Ohio Superintendent until 1924 then left to pursue other opportunities.

James A. White's University District home (44 E. 12th Ave.) as it appears today.

In 1924, White decided to test the political waters. Thanks to the Ohio Dry Federation, he was well known across the state. His battle for Prohibition had won him many friends among conservatives, church-goers, and small town and rural voters. Many politicians owed him favors. Running on an “extra-dry” platform, White set his sights on the Governor’s office.

Unfortunately for White, the early 1920s were the high water mark of the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest. In Ohio, there were 300-400,000 Klansmen. Almost one in every five adult, white males belonged to the KKK. The Klan was active in every county and elected mayors, sheriffs, judges, school boards, and city councils. Summit County had the highest percentage of Klan members of any county in the nation. Klan Konclaves at Buckeye Lake attracted tens of thousands and snarled traffic for miles around. Indiana’s charismatic Klan leader D.C. Stephenson was a frequent visitor to Columbus as he tried to build the Klan into a national force.

The Klan was popular with many of the same conservatives, church-goers, and small town and rural voters that White was depending on. It was not, however, popular with White. He refused to join the Klan or support it. As a consequence, many potential supporters abandoned him and he was defeated in the Republican primary.

Moderate former governor and anti-Klan Republican Harry Davis won 171,404 votes. The Klan-endorsed Republican, Joe Sieber from Akron, won 97,970. White came in third with 94,625 votes.

After the election, 52-year-old White entered private practice. He established the White & Randall law firm and for many years was one of Columbus’ leading attorneys. He served on the Ohio Industrial Commission and headed up the Franklin County draft board during World War II. A devout Methodist, he was actively involved in his church, Indianola Methodist at Summit and 17th. He was also a major supporter of White Cross Hospital, the precursor of today’s Riverside Hospital.

All the while, White called the University District home. He and his wife Myrtle continued to live at 44 E. 12th Ave. and raised a son and three daughters there.

In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition. Ohio was the 35th of 36 states required for ratification.  Alcohol foes like White bemoaned the country’s decision but were powerless to stop it. The tide of national opinion had turned against them.

White died in 1949 at the age of 77. He is buried in Union Cemetery.

Westerville, Ohio, home to the Anti-Saloon League’s national office and vast publishing operation, maintains a museum about The Anti-Saloon League in its library at 126 S. State St. It also presents a website about the League at http://www.wpl.lib.oh.us/AntiSaloon.

Thanks to Belinda Mortensen of the Westerville Public Library for her help with this article.

The Dry Ohio advertisement is courtesy of The Ohio State University, Department of History. The Department has a useful archive about prohibition at http://prohibition.osu.edu. Included is a very interesting collection of Ohio Dry Federation campaign advertisements from the 1917 and 1918 campaigns.

Ohio State professor K. Austin Kerr is author of Organized for Prohibition: A New History of The Anti-Saloon League (1985), one of the best resources about The A.S.L. and its battle.