Augustus Caleb (Gus) Remmel (1882–1920)
Augustus Caleb (Gus) Remmel, nephew of businessman Harmon Remmel, became an insurance executive after moving to Little Rock (Pulaski County). His acquired wealth and familial stature propelled him to leadership of the Pulaski County Republicans and the “Lily White” faction of the state party. His firebrand actions later gave him the chance to supplant his uncle as the recognized leader of the state Republican Central Committee.
Gus Remmel was born on June 8, 1882, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Augustus Caleb and Gertrude Remmel and raised in Fulton County, New York. After high school, he relocated to Little Rock to work as a cashier under his uncle, the noted Arkansas Republican Party boss Harmon L. Remmel, who operated as an agent for the state branch of the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York. By 1907, Harmon secured his nephew a federal patronage position with the Internal Revenue Service, although Gus continued working simultaneously in the insurance company, gaining advancement to agent and later assistant manager by 1916. His high visibility and prosperity in the city’s business community helped him become a noted civic leader. In 1918, he was elected president of the Little Rock Motor Club.
He married Little Rock native Ellen Cates in 1908, and they went on to have six children.
Gus typified the profile of the younger generation of white Arkansas Republicans of the time, many of them native Midwesterners who came to the state for professional opportunities. They usually lived in Arkansas’s larger cities and occupied white-collar professions. Many of them grew dissatisfied with the party leadership of Powell Clayton and Harmon Remmel, who succeeded Clayton as state party central committee chairman in 1900. They gained traction by adopting a unified distaste for the level of participation and favors that African American party members traditionally enjoyed under these two leaders. This “Lily White” Republican faction took offense at African Americans occupying federal patronage jobs (and holding any party posts) rather than white candidates. Their opponents, the pro-Clayton and Harmon Remmel–led biracial coalition, became labeled the “Black and Tans.”
Harmon Remmel applied effective leadership to avert the Lily Whites’ domination of the party. Nevertheless, by 1914, they overcame him, gaining a majority in party governing councils. Gus Remmel, now chairman of the Pulaski County Republican Party, soon arose as their preeminent leader. He preached that Republicans’ historical practice of retaining African Americans in their base held no value. He believed phasing them out from the councils of the party essential because it would demonstrate a full commitment to white supremacy that would attract many Arkansas voters away from the Democratic Party.
Remmel and his comrades, especially his secretary George L. Mallory, applied vigorous but genteel tactics to obviate the Black and Tans at their county conventions beginning in 1914. They ignored credentials, convened at “whites only” venues, packed meetings with their followers, and subjectively enforced procedural rules to ensure an all-white delegation to the statewide party convention. His model proliferated to other county parties and the state conventions, effectively preventing African American delegates and their allies from exercising any influence. Such offenses prompted Black Republicans to form separate county conventions to elect their own delegates. Remmel gained increasing power to enforce Lily White policies as the “party line” after his elevation to central committee chairman at the 1916 state convention.
Once again, at the outset of the 1920 Arkansas Republican Convention, Lily Whites acted to invalidate many would-be African American delegates from Pulaski, Jefferson, Yell, and Hempstead counties, prompting the Black and Tans to depart en masse to form a separate convention nearby at the Mosaic Templars of America (MTA) theater. Several sympathetic white delegates were a part of this monumental exodus. The Lily Whites were convinced that they finally succeeded in their objective. Subsequently, they elected an all-white ticket for state and federal offices and party positions.
Gus Remmel ridiculed the actions of the Black and Tan Republicans. He remained entirely unrepentant for driving them to leave, despite Lily White candidates comprehensively falling short at the polls in the election that November. On December 3, 1920, less than two weeks after the results were finalized, Remmel suffered an agonizing death from dengue fever. Both Republican and Democratic politicians in the state mourned him. Nonetheless, his death precipitated no healing of the racial fracture he cultivated in his party.
One of his sons, Pratt Remmel, was elected the mayor of Little Rock as a Republican candidate in 1951, the first Republican mayor since Reconstruction.
For additional information:
“A. C. Remmel Republican Leader, Dead.” Little Rock Daily News, December 4, 1920. p. 1.
Lewis, Todd. “Race Relations in Arkansas, 1910–1919. PhD diss., University of Arkansas, 1995.
“Remmel Heads Little Rock Motor Club.” Arkansas Democrat, August 1, 1918, p. 9.
Division of Arkansas Heritage, Delta Cultural Center
Last Updated: 12/28/2021