Jason Carter to attend Democratic fundraiser Friday

by W. Winston Skinner

Jason Carter, Democratic candidate for governor, will be speaking at the annual Atkinson-Arnall Dinner on Friday.

The Atkinson-Arnall event is sponsored annually by the Coweta County Democratic Party. This year’s fundraiser will be held at the Newnan Centre, 1515 Lower Fayetteville Rd., Newnan, 770-253-2682, ext. 233.

Attire is semi-formal – coat and tie for men. The event starts at 6 p.m. with a cash bar offering cocktails. The buffet style dinner will start at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $50 each.

The Atkinson-Arnall tribute honors the two Georgia governors from Coweta County, William Yates Atkinson and Ellis Gibbs Arnall.

Both Atkinson and Arnall were progressive Democrats. Atkinson’s wife, particularly, had strong political instincts and help her husband – when he was in the legislature – get the votes to pass a bill created the Georgia State College for Women.

Atkinson and Arnall both were governors during the era of the “Solid South,” when Democrats held virtually every elective office in Georgia and nearby states. Both had interests in education, legislature reform and economic development.

A native of Meriwether County, Atkinson grew up on his family’s farm and graduated from the University of Georgia Law School in 1877. He opened a law practice in Newnan the following year.

He was soon appointed county court solicitor and then rose through the ranks of Georgia’s Democratic party. Atkinson was president of the state Democratic convention in 1890 and served four terms in the legislature. His wife, Susan “Susie” Cobb Milton Atkinson, was the granddaughter of John Milton, the governor of Florida during the Civil War.

Atkinson was elected governor and re-elected two years later. While he was in office, the legislature passed an anti-trust bill, a commission was formed to select textbooks for school, and election legislation was reformed. He appointed a commission to study conditions in the state’s prisons.

Atkinson also sought to establish the office of lieutenant governor and to pass anti-lynching legislation, but those goals remained for later politicos to fulfill. The Atkinsons’ youngest child, Georgia, was the only child of a Georgia governor to be born in the Governor’s Mansion.

Atkinson left office in 1898. The next year he underwent an appendectomy, then a new medical procedure. He survived the operation, but died at age 44 on Aug. 8, 1899. His widow remained in Newnan where she ran an insurance agency and later served as postmaster.

Arnall was born in the house where Leslie and Carol Toole now reside on Wesley Street. His Arnall grandparents lived nearby in the home where Bob and Georgia Shapiro live today.

He grew up among cousins and friends in Newnan and was quarterback on the Newnan High School team.

Arnall attended Mercer University briefly, and matriculated at the University of the South where he majored in Greek. He then earned a law degree at the University of Georgia.

Upon completing his education, he returned to his hometown where he began practicing law. In 1932, he won a seat in the General Assembly. When he was only 31, he became Georgia’s youngest attorney general.

Arnall’s years as governor from 1943-1947 were significant. He appointed a new board of regents for the state’s universities and set up a system to protect the colleges from political manipulation.

Arnall worked to upgrade and modernize the penal system and undertook a thorough reworking of the Georgia Constitution. Under this leadership, Georgia became the first state in the nation to lower the voting age to 18 and the fourth in the South to abolish the poll tax.

Arnall died Dec. 13, 1992. Ellis Arnall and W. Y. Atkinson are both buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Newnan. Arnall’s first wife, Mildred Slemons Arnall, preceded him in death. He married Ruby Hamilton McCord, who survives him, in 1981.

Information on the Atkinson-Arnall Dinner is available at http://www.bennett-for-senate.com/atkinson-arnall-dinner.html .

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