The Butcher’s Union

The Entrance to Hill Grocery Company

Ansel Head’s maternal grandfather and his brother moved to Birmingham from Nashville around 1912 and started Hill Grocery Company. By the end of the 1920’s, they had grown to 235 “cash and carry” stores. Times were tough during the depression in 1930’s but their company thrived. His grandfather always said, “Be in the food or undertaking business; people are always going to eat and die.”

Each store had a meat department and a butcher. The mob tried to expand their foothold in Birmingham by organizing butchers. When his grandfather’s butchers resisted, they killed one of them. The police wouldn’t get involved, so his grandfather and brother armed their store managers and together they protected the stores and their employees. As far as Head knew, they never had to shoot anyone.

Shortly after the killing though, the union boss telephoned his grandfather and said, “We need to meet.”

“Like Hell we’re meeting”, he replied and hung up on him.

His grandfather’s office was on the second floor of the warehouse. As he was looking out, he saw the union leader getting out of his car. His grandfather left his office and came down the wide, steep steps that led directly to doors opening onto the street. Workers had left a brick next to the hand rail on the bottom step. Picking it up, his grandfather opened the door just as the union boss was reaching for the handle.

“I told you we weren’t going to meet. You step in this door and I’ll bash in your head,” he said as he raised the brick. His grandfather was not a big man, but he had broad, strong shoulders and steely eyes; he was fearless. No one who knew his grandfather ever doubted he would have done in that fellow if he hadn’t backed down and left.

None of his butchers ever did join the mob’s union.

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