by Gerald Looney
As a young boy back in Elkhorn City, one of my first jobs was paperboy for the Louisville Courier Journal. Now as most youngsters that age my interests did not dwell so much in the contents of the newspapers but mainly in the wages earned. However, on occasions I did happen to read some of the contents of the daily news. This probably is where my vague memory of Greenville Tom Hawkins got its start. Also, probably due to my family being registered Republicans, G. Tom had the unofficial title of Mister Republican as he never missed a campaign, gathering of fellow Republicans and opportunities to give speeches.
G. Tom Hawkins’ homestead was in “Goose Holler” which was part of “John Moores Branch” in the community of Elkhorn City, Kentucky population around 1500 today. Not being very densely populated meant that neighbors were few and far apart. However, the next door neighbor to G. Tom just happened to be my Great Grandmother Louisa Rowe and some of my family remember G. Tom calling our across the “holler” to Louisa with the shout of “Louuuuuissssssssaaaaa, are you there?” Many members of my family had daily contact with G. Tom and several attended school with his children.
Greenville Tom Hawkins was the great grandson of William Ramey who just happens to be the very first settler in Elkhorn City, Kentucky. G Tom was born February 14, 1880 and his parents were Alford Hawkins and Marinda Ramey Hawkins. The young man began teaching school when he was sixteen years in a little one-room school in Buchanan County, Virginia, drawing one dollar per day for his efforts. It was to be a career he would follow for 52 years, teaching in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
However, education was not the only interest of G. Tom Hawkins. After concluding his studies with a year at Pikeville College in Pikeville, Kentucky, Tom pursued his desire to become an attorney. He never had the benefit of attending law school, but as was the custom of many who aspired to become lawyers in the early days, he read law books with the hope of passing the bar exam. On the fourth try, he was successful. But, G. Tom wanted more than just a career as a teacher and an attorney. He wanted to become a politician and make things happen as a legislator.
During the Civil War, G. Tom’s father Alfred Hawkins fought on both sides: he had been drafted into the Confederate forces but later was taken prisoner by Union troops. By choice he became a soldier for the Union side and its Republican leader, President Lincoln. Young Tom became a lifelong Republican and at one time, together with W. B. Johnson, owned a one-third interest in the Pike County Republican newspaper plant. That interest was sold in 1908.
In the early 1900’s G. Tom was elected to the Kentucky General Assembly. The enthusiastic young legislator, still in his early 20’s, began his first day by introducing over two dozen bills. But as a member of one party in a Legislature in which members of the other predominated, it was impossible to pass bills. Young Hawkins had to settle for a single amendment on someone else’s bill. Interviewed many years later by the Louisville Courier Journal, Hawkins was philosophical about his difficulties: “A feller just has to grin and take it.” He said.
Some of Hawkins interests are shown by his committee assignments in the Legislature which included suffrage and elections and constitutional amendments. His term in the Kentucky Legislature simply encouraged G. Tom’s appetite for politics. Over his lifetime, G. Tom Hawkins would run for County Judge, Circuit Judge, State Representative, Attorney General, Governor and United States Senator.
The August 3, 1938 issue of the Pike County News carried the Hawkins advertisement of his Senatorial platform, promising to keep the WPA and old age pension checks coming, to keep highway jobs going and to take care of unemployment security – a real concern of voters in the post-depression era. He also promised a national and international policy that “will give Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men”. Hawkins was confident going into the campaign: “I received last November in Kentucky 290,609 votes….I will get many more votes this time. I have been busy sweeping out the log cabin getting ready to receive our defeated Democratic friends…”. Hawkins’ confidence was misplaced; he lost the U.S. Senatorial contest.
Undeterred, he set his sights on another high office. In 1939, as Democrats Keen Johnson and John Young Brown fought for their party’s nomination in the Kentucky Governor’s race, Judge King Swope, John Sherman Cooper and G. Tom Hawkins did battle for their party’s nomination. The August August 10, 1939 Pike County News reported local results from Pike County voters: Swope 3948 votes; Cooper 184: G. Tom Hawkins of Praise, Kentucky (now known as Elkhorn City) 134.
G. Tom Hawkins’ interests were not confined to national affairs; the international arena also held a fascination for him. His ambition was to be a delegate to the United Nations Conference at San Francisco. Unsuccessful at receiving an appointment, he simply borrowed money and headed for California on his own. He wanted to convince the delegates to use the U.S. Constitution as a model for their new organization, simply substituting “United Nations” for “United States” wherever those words were found. Since Hawkins was not actually a delegate, he had difficulty getting in the doors until he produced letters from prominent political figures of the era. Then he was successful, not only at gaining admission, but also in making a short speech on religious freedom.
His term in the General Assembly was Greenville Tom Hawkins’ only successful major political race. However, he set an example for others of commitment to public affairs. Hawkins served as Republican chairman of his precinct so many times that it became known as the G. Tom Hawkins precinct. Although G. Tom died in 1958 at the age of 78, he was surely a rugged individualist who will live on for years to come in the memory of older citizens of the Pike County area. It is to our collective loss that we do not have more people like Hawkins on the scene today. The descendants of G. Tom certainly have rights to be proud of their Heritage. Thanks goes to some family descendants that provided information for this tribute to Elkhorn Citys’ most famous citizen and politician.
Thanks also is extended to the Louisville Courier-Journal for permission to use published information about G. Tom Hawkins and also his photograph.