Published Wednesday, October 03, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Newnan native Ellis Gibbs Arnall was recognized as a Georgia Giant – the first in a series – by the Floyd County Democrats.
The Floyd Democrats held their annual dinner on Saturday – renaming the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner as a Salute to Georgia Giants. The dinner was held at the Partridge Restaurant in downtown Rome.
Winston Skinner, assistant news editor at The Newnan Times-Herald, attended the dinner and spoke about Arnall, who grew up in Newnan and lived in Newnan for most of his life.
George Pullen, Floyd County Democratic Party chairman, said the Floyd Democrats had held a Jefferson-Jackson Dinner – an annual tradition for many Democratic groups – for years. “For a variety of reasons, the active members of the party decided to broaden that definition,” Pullen said, with an eye toward honoring a Democratic giant from Georgia each year.
“We want to recognize some great Democrats,” Pullen said.
Arnall was the first to receive the honor. “Ellis Arnall was certainly in many ways a man way ahead of his time,” Pullen said.
“Ellis Gibbs Arnall was a people person. He spoke to people. He wrote to people. He fought for people. He believed in the worth of people,” Skinner said.
He said Arnall did not want Georgia to be known as the place where the university system was compromised for political reasons or where “the prison system was so bad Hollywood made movies about it.”
Arnall, who was elected governor during World War II, “thought if Georgia’s 18-year-olds could put their lives on the line in the battlefields of Europe, surely, surely they could cast a vote at the ballot box in Rome and Newnan and throughout Georgia,” Skinner said.
Skinner recalled meeting Arnall in 1978. Skinner was then a summer intern at The Newnan Times-Herald. Arnall “would come in the front door and make his way through the building,” Skinner said. “He called everybody by name – the publisher, the news editor, the reporter, the advertising people, the bookkeeper, the janitor.”
He remembered that the next year, a portrait of Arnall was dedicated at the University of Georgia Law School. Skinner, then a UGA student, covered that ceremony.
“I’ve covered several governors and gubernatorial candidates since then,” he reflected. “My first experience covering a governor involved covering a governor who knew me by name.”
Early in his political career, Arnall began writing letters to people across the state. “It was initially a way of expanding his political base, and it worked,” Skinner said.
Skinner related that he – like many other Cowetans – has several treasured letters from the governor. “Letter-writing became a habit, maybe even a passion for him.”
Skinner lives in the neighborhood where Arnall grew up, and he told the Rome group about the neighborhood – Arnall’s birthplace, his grandparents’ home and Central Baptist Church.
He also related the story of a campaign barbecue – held at the Coweta County Courthouse. Most of the town ended up with stomach problems because rain sent runoff from the courthouse’s copper roof into the pots of Brunswick stew.
“I remember well going to Hillcrest Chapel Funeral Home, which is located in one of Newnan’s oldest and grandest homes, to sign the book when Gov. Arnall died in 1992,” Skinner recalled. Three other Georgia governors – Herman Talmadge, Carl Sanders and Lester Maddox – attended Arnall’s funeral.
Skinner described Arnall as “a great man” whose reform of voting, prisons, education and the university system as well as “his revision of the state constitution” and “his personal arguing of the freight rate case” continue to have a positive impact on the lives of Georgians.
“It is most fitting that you would remember him tonight as you salute Georgia giants. Gov. Arnall represented the high ideals of the Democratic Party,” Skinner said. “Those ideals were reflective of and reflected in his steadfast focus on the potential in the lives of the people of Georgia.”