On this date 96 years ago today, December 16, 1917, a World War I draft board scandal blazed across the front page headlines of The Atlanta Constitution. Draft Board members in Fulton county and one in Berrien County, J. H. Gaskins, were summarily dismissed.
James Henry Gaskins, a former resident of the Ray City, GA area, was a clerk of the Superior Court of Berrien County, GA (see Clerk). He had been appointed as clerk of the Berrien County Exemption Board with the implementation of the WWI Selective Service Act in 1917. The local exemption boards, composed of leading civilians in each community, were responsible for the administration of the selective draft. These boards issued draft calls in order of numbers drawn in a national lottery and determined exemptions based on the draftees’ dependents, essential occupations, or conscientious objection.
Gaskins was dismissed from the Exemption Board in December, 1917 after he became embroiled in a scandal over reward money for capture of a man who had failed to report for the draft. He continued, however, to hold his position in the clerk’s office of the Superior Court.
The following material, excerpted from the headline article, describes Gaskins case:
The Atlanta Constitution
December 16, 1917
PRESIDENT FIRES FULTON EXEMPTION BOARD: Fulton Board Members Discharged by President.
MANY DISCHARGES GRANTED BY BOARD WITHOUT WARRANT, STATE COMPLAINS
44 Per Cent of Whites Examined Were Excused on Physical Grounds, While Very Few Negroes Were Exempted From Service According to Statistics.
President Wilson has summarily discharged the entire exemption board of Fulton county, on the ground that the board has granted a large number of unwarranted exemptions and discharges.
Statistics compiled from an investigation in the action of the Fulton county exemption board shows that out of 618 white men called in Fulton county, 526 were exempted, and that the number of men exempted on physical grounds amounted to 44 per cent of the total white men called. On the other hand, the statistics show that 202 negroes were called in Fulton county, and only six negroes were exempted on any ground whatsoever.
Major Joel B. Mallet, in charge of the administration of the selective service law in Georgia, on Saturday transmitted to the Fulton exemption board the order of the provost marshal general, from the president, discharging the board…
Major Mallet has also received, through Provost Marshal General Crowder, an order discharging J. H. Gaskins, clerk of the Berrien county exemption board, for an alleged attempt to graft a part of a reward for the capture of a deserter. T. J. Griffin, Sr., of Nashville, Ga., has been appointed to succeed Mr. Gaskins.
The cases of both Mr. Gaskins and the Fulton county exemption board are still in the hands of the department of justice for whatever disposition the department may see fit to make of the cases.
Gaskins is alleged to have written a letter to the chief of police of Detroit, stating that he held the name and Detroit address of a Berrien county negro who was classed as a deserter for failure to report, and that he would furnish the chief with information for the arrest of the negro on condition the chief would send him $25 of the $50 reward which the chief would receive upon presenting his prisoner at the nearest training camp. The chief forwarded the letter to the provost marshal general.
Case of Mr. Gaskins.
The discharge of Mr. Gaskins from the Berrien county board came when the provost marshal general, upon receipt of Gaskins’ letter to the Detroit chief of police, asked Major Mallet to make an investigation. Major Mallet wrote to Mr. Gaskins and asked him for the name, serial and order number of the deserter he had written to the Detroit chief about. Mr. Gaskins came forward with the information. A copy of his letter was sent to Washington, and his removal followed.
Mr. Gaskins letter to the Detroit chief of police was as follows:
“Chief of Police, Detroit, Mich.
“Dear Sir: I have a negro who is in your city and he is a deserter, and if you will give me $25 out of the $50 reward I will give you his name and street number, together with copies of his registration and medical examination blanks that are required under the rules. You understand, under the rules, you only have to deliver him to the nearest training camp. Kindly wire or write me by return mail that you will do this. I will forward the necessary papers above mentioned.
(signed) “J. H. GASKINS”
This letter was forwarded by the Detroit chief to Provost Marshall General Crowder. General Crowder kept the original and sent a copy to Major Mallet, asking an investigation, commenting that “such action is entirely improper on the part of any member of any board.
“The seriousness of the character of the offense,” continued General Crowder, “prompts me to request an immediate investigation and report to this office by you.”
Major Mallet wrote to Mr. Gaskins:
“Will you kindly forward to this office your letter to the chief of police of Detroit, Mich., along with the name of the deserter referred to.”
Mr. Gaskins replied to Major Mallet:
“I have your letter and beg to advise that the negro, LeRoy Whittaker, order No. 126, serial No. 1456, was delivered to proper authorities at Camp Wheeler, November 6.”
This letter was forwarded to the provost marshal general, together with a copy of the letter which Major Mallet wrote to Mr. Gaskins.