I’m continually amazed regarding how things I run across end up connecting to other things later on. Bits and pieces of history tend to connect in the most fascinating ways….if I just wait long enough.
One day about six years ago I was sitting in the Douglas County Public Library on Selman Drive looking through various books dealing with Georgia history. I was trying to find some interesting bits of history I could bring to my readers at my Georgia history blog…..Georgia on My Mind. One of the images that intrigued me was of a man who was reclining in a wheel chair type of contraption. The caption told me the man’s name was William D. “Earnest Willie” Upshaw and he was a Congressman from Georgia.
I added Earnest Willie to a list of items titled “further research” and then……promptly forgot him until just recently.
As I research the early days of our county the same names keep coming up – Vansant, James, Selman, Upshaw – and many others.
Yes, Upshaw Street.
Recently, I discovered the man in the wheelchair had family that lived in Douglasville, he may have even lived here for a time, and not only was he a U.S. Congressman for the Fifth District, he ran for President in 1932.
Yes….he was a U.S. presidential candidate.
William D. Upshaw (pronounced “Upsure”) was born in Coweta County in 1861. During the 1870s his father, Isaac D. Upshaw ran a grocery business and also had some sort of hotel in Atlanta. At some point he decided to move his family out to the county in Cobb County, Georgia. "My father," Upshaw once said, "became afraid that his boys might fall prey to the gilded temptations of city life. Because he loved his boys better than he loved money, he moved us away from Atlanta to grow up amid the beauties, glories, and wholesome inspirations of rural life.”
The family lived on a plot of land close to where the Macland community is today near Powder Springs, but while the Upshaw family lived there the community was known as Upshaw since Isaac was the postmaster as well as a store owner, blacksmith, teacher and farmer.
In 1884, William D. Upshaw’s life changed tragically when he was injured during a farming accident. He slipped and fell across a wagon crosspiece fracturing his spine and leaving him paralyzed. His injury meant he had to endure a body cast, brace, a wheelchair and crutches for all but the last few months of his life.
For the next six to seven years he was immobile, but William kept himself busy. The picture I posted above was taken after the accident. Apparently a note on the back of the photograph is written in Upshaw’s own hand stating, “Yours Earnestly, William Upshaw. September 13, 1891. Sunday afternoon. My heart’s motto: Looking unto Jesus, Hebrews 12:2, My heart’s message: Remember, without a new heart in Christ all else is vain.”
The “Yours Earnestly” is important. During his confinement William began to write. He contributed poems and inspirational letters to Cobb County’s weekly newspaper and an Atlanta magazine called The Sunny South. He signed his writing and letters “Yours in Earnest” resulting in the nickname “Earnest Willie”. His writings became very popular, and he began to lecture. He also wrote a book titled Earnest Willie, or, Echoes from a Recluse where he stated, “I do believe in being deeply in earnest. It is the very passion of my soul. Earnestness is the secret of nearly every man’s success, and it is the lever that persistently pushes to completion nearly every movement for reform, whether it be great or small…”
The book was so popular it went into eleven editions.
Eventually, Upshaw managed to substitute a steel jacket for his body cast, and he moved from his bed into a wheelchair. An apparatus was devised which allowed him to ride in carriages, and he began traveling about, lecturing. The money he earned eventually gave him enough money to enroll at Mercer University in 1895.
By the turn of the last century Upshaw was vice-president of Georgia’s Anti-Saloon League where he fought hard for Prohibition by lobbying for the passage of the Volstead Act. He lectured for the Women's Christian Temperance Union and made many speeches at Bessie Tift College in Tifton, Georgia. You’ve probably passed the campus on your way to Florida along Interstate 75. Eventually, Upshaw succeeded in getting a building on the campus named for his mother. Completed in 1904, the building was named Addie Upshaw Hall.
In 1906, Upshaw founded the magazine The Golden Age, a weekly forum for his writings regarding his call for Prohibition as well as other issues such as the Atlanta Race Riots, a condemnation of lynching and the creation of vigilante organizations.
Upshaw was encouraged to run for Congress. In 1918 he won the seat for Georgia’s Fifth District defeating six seasoned political veterans in the process. He ran again in 1922 receiving 95% of the vote, and in 1924, he was unopposed. He ended up serving four terms.
While in Washington D.C. Upshaw became known as the “driest dry” in Congress. This website states he startled folks by holding evangelistic meetings, in addition to fulfilling his duties as a Congressman, because as he said, “all the laws made on Capitol Hill will fall like chaff to the ground unless they are planted in character.”
The same website I linked to above states…..His first important vote was for the 19th Amendment, providing for national women's suffrage; he was the only member of the Georgia delegation to support suffrage. He espoused a "square deal" for both capital and labor, but he clearly favored "the man in overalls and the man behind the plow." He supported a Constitutional amendment to restrict child labor. He helped defeat the anti-strike clause in the Railroad Transportation Act. He urged Congress to provide pensions for Confederate veterans, as well as for Union veterans. He wished to provide Jewish chaplains in the Armed Forces, as well as Christian chaplains.
Colliers Magazine said of him, in 1924: In a materialistic age, given over to thought and discussion of gross profits, net income, public debts, and taxation, Upshaw is an incurable romantic. He is a sentimentalist, an idealist, a dreamer, an exhorter, an evangelist, but with all these impractical qualities and attributes, he has and this is our final test the ability to put his stuff across; to do things. Upshaw would be intolerable if he were not so absolutely sincere and genuine. He has had an amazing career, because he believes in all the copy book maxims. He is one of the old Sunday school storybooks come to life.
In an article published in The Heritage of Douglas County: 1870-2002, Cameron Fincher discusses how he found a copy of William D. Upshaw’s book Clarion Calls from Capitol Hill (1926) in a bookstore specializing in out of print books. Fincher connected to the book because he had grown up on Bowden Street where Upshaw’s brother, Herschel, owned a house. Fincher had heard stories about his neighbor’s famous brother, and how he had been involved in Washington politics….even running for President.
During the 1932 presidential election William D. Upshaw ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Prohibition Party. A vigorous campaign across 20 states was held.
I ran across this poll card on file at Emory University from the 1932 election. This wasn’t an official ballot….just a poll prior to the election readers of a certain magazine could take part in. Notice William D. Upshaw’s name is listed on the right side of the card.
Cameron Fincher states, “Some [folks who live in Douglas County] still do not know whether to be proud of a ‘local’ candidate for president or astounded at the number of Americans who voted against alcohol instead of FOR Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
I’m in that number!
Upshaw received almost 82,000 votes nationwide and for the remainder of his life, he fought an increasingly lonely battle to revive the Prohibition Cause. He tried again in 1942 running on the Democratic ticket, and was unsuccessful and another stab to return to Congress. The Prohibition cause was dead at that point.
Following his election defeats Upshaw returned to lecturing. Later, he moved to California and joined the faculty of Linda Vista Bible College in San Diego. He also became an ordained minister at the age of 72 and traveled across the United States for the National Christian Citizenship Foundation preaching against liquor and Communism.
On May 2, 1951 William D. Upshaw walked! He was healed by a Christian minister by the name of William Branham who was purported to be a Christian healer.
This website recounts the event and how Upshaw stood and walked at the meeting and walked every day afterward for the rest of his life. The site also has a recording of Upshaw talking about the event you can listen to. Though it was later in his life you can hear the emotion in his voice, and can see why audiences were often swayed to his views.
William D. Upshaw passed away November 21, 1952 and is buried in California at Forest Lawn in Glendale.