Son of a Bootlegger
The story of South Carolina's second-ever All-American and the outlaw who sired him.
When South Carolina got selected for the 2022 Gator Bowl, I went looking for interesting details about the first Gamecock team to play in the Gator Bowl, in 1946. I learned that one of the best players on the team was a 185-pound center named Junior Meeks, who was a second team All-American in 1946 and was later inducted into the USC sports hall of fame. In hopes of adding some parenthetical background color to the story (“Junior Meeks, son of an apple farmer” or “Junior Meeks, one-time Guinness record-holder for blower of the world’s largest bubble gum bubble,” e.g.), I pulled up some old newspaper articles and census records.
What I found would not come anywhere close to fitting inside of a parenthetical phrase. What I found was a family drama spanning nearly a century about an outlaw, a mistreated young wife, and a son who grew up to be everything his father was not.
This is that story.
When Bryant Meeks leapt from his still-moving Ford sedan, there were five gallons of whisky in the back seat. The news report in the next day’s issue of the Macon Telegraph doesn’t tell us whether it was Meeks or the federal prohibition agents tailing him who initiated the high-speed chase that preceded Meeks’s voluntary ejection. But what we do know is that the pursuit took several turns through Macon’s downtown district, culminating in a driverless Ford sedan crashing into an unsuspecting Maconite’s front porch.
A pair of federal agents had spotted Meeks a few miles outside of Macon and began following him across a bridge spanning the Ocmulgee River, into the heart of the city. Once they were downtown, Meeks’s accomplice in the passenger seat — who, unlike Meeks, escaped — was the first to bail on the vehicle. Meeks, now alone in the car, turned left onto Orange Street, four blocks from the campus of Mercer University. As his pursuers began to overtake him, Meeks concluded that his only hope of evading arrest was to exit the vehicle. So he jumped from the moving car, which then veered off the road and crashed into the edifice of the private residence at 271 Orange.