Thursday, September 10, 2020

The late Schuyler Baker Sr., a top partner at Balch Bingham, had ties to Wallace-era highway scandal, which also connected to Ku Klux Klan grand wizard

An early partner in the Balch Bingham law firm and a "founding father" of what now is the BBVA bank-holding company was connected to a highway-funds scandal during the administration of segregationist Gov. George Wallace -- with federal money allegedly going to an engineering firm that employed the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan -- according to a news report from the 1960s.

The late Schuyler Baker Sr. a Birmingham attorney and longstanding ally of Wallace, was among prominent Alabamians mentioned in the report. His son, Schuyler Allen Baker Jr., now is general counsel at Balch Bingham, during a period when the law firm has been embroiled in several controversies related to race and apparent oppression of black Alabamians -- perhaps most notably in the North Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal, which involved indictments of two Balch partners.

Robert Shelton, Ku Klux Klan
At the heart of the 1960s scandal was a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads stating it had information that consulting engineers on federal highway projects in Alabama were required to hire friends of the administration as agents.

According to an Alabama Journal article dated Sept. 11, 1964, one of the engineering concerns mentioned in the report was Dixie Engineering, and one of its employees was Robert Shelton, imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. From the Alabama Journal:
A report of the preliminary investigation accompanied the letter. It listed several widely known Alabama figures, who, it claimed, had been listed by Highway Department records as agents designated to represent some of the consulting engineering firms.
Among them were McDowell Lee, secretary of the Senate and a close friend of Wallace; Gordon Persons Jr., son of the former governor; Schuyler Baker, Birmingham attorney and close associate of Wallace; and former state Rep. Pete Gilmer of Marion Junction, a former agriculture commissioner.
George Wallace
Other persons identified in the report were C.T. Fitzpatrick, a Montgomery businessman and friend of the governor; J.F. Rea, a Montgomery railroad engineer; and Joe Miller, a Birmingham civil engineer. . . The lengthy report also identified the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Robert Shelton, as an employee of one of the engineering concerns -- Dixie Engineering -- along with Lee.
 How did all of this raise concerns with federal officials? The Journal explained:
According to the letter from the head of the Federal Highway Administration, Rex M. Whitton, the results of a preliminary investigation by the Bureau indicate a violation of its rules against the hiring of outside agents in order to get engineering contracts. As a result, Whitton said the federal government may be prompted to suspend approval of existing contracts and may take administrative action to recover money already paid to Alabama.

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