An Interview of the Honorable George T. Smith on October 17, 2008

By Bell, John C.; Walbert, David F. | The Journal of Southern Legal History, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

An Interview of the Honorable George T. Smith on October 17, 2008


Bell, John C., Walbert, David F., The Journal of Southern Legal History


JOHN BELL: Today is a day of conversation with George T. Smith. I am John C. Bell, Jr. with the firm of Bell & Brigham in Augusta, Georgia. David F. Walbert, from the firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert in Atlanta, Georgia, is with us today as we conduct this interview.

Governor George T. Smith holds the distinction of being the only person in Georgia history to win contested elections in all three branches of state government - legislative, executive, and judicial. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1959 to 1967 and was Speaker of the House from 1963 to 1966. Governor Smith served as Lieutenant Governor from 1967 to 1971. He was on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 1976 to 1980 and the Georgia Supreme Court from 1980 to 1991. Good morning, Governor Smith.

GOVERNOR SMITH: Good morning. To begin with, my full name is George Thornewell Smith, and I was born October 15, 1916. Thornewell comes from a Presbyterian preacher in South Carolina. I was named after an uncle who died when he was only two years old. I was born and raised in southwest Georgia in a house that my grandfather built when he came home from the War Between the States. It was an old log house with lean-tos around it. He married a Joyner, and they moved in this log house. Granddaddy Smith was at the First Battle of Manassas and at Appomattox Courthouse. He went through four years of war without a single serious crippling injury, which is amazing. He got the knuckle on his left big toe knocked off but that's all that happened to him. It affected his walking, so he couldn't plow very well. Granddaddy Smith was pretty high strung and hot tempered. Going through the war and losing the war didn't help his mood because every time he felt that foot, he blamed it on the Yankees. We were indoctrinated very well in southern ways and southern beliefs to hate Yankees.

When my granddaddy went to war, he was a day laborer plowing for a fellow up near Montezuma in Macon County with a fellow named Stuckey. He was making a dollar a day. That was pretty good money in those days. But he just thought that going to war was the thing to do. As usual, the government put up all the hype like they do now, and he took off. He was twenty-one years old. He was at the battle of Manassas, Chancellorsville, the battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Antietam, and the surrender at Appomattox.

DAVID WALBERT: He is one of a few who made it through all of them.

JOHN BELL: My great-grandfather was at the surrender at Appomattox, and he had to walk back to Upson County.

GOVERNOR SMITH: Well, Granddaddy, believe it or not - I don't know whether he hoboed or what - but he caught a ride on a train from Appomattox to Macon, Georgia. He got off in Macon and wound up in Mitchell County. The reason why he wound up in Mitchell County was he met somebody in the war from Mitchell County. That's the only people he knew. He didn't know anyone. So he walked from Macon to Mitchell County.

DAVID WALBERT: That's probably close to a hundred miles, isn't it?

GOVERNOR SMITH: Yes, about a hundred miles. Granddaddy lived next door to Mr. Asa Joyner. Granddaddy married a Joyner and they had seven children. Four of granddaddy's seven children died with hemorrhagic fever. Hemorrhagic fever is an advanced form of malaria.

DAVID WALBERT: Really young?

GOVERNOR SMITH: The two-year-old boy died - the one I'm named after - and the oldest girl, Aunt Linda, died. She was eighteen. Granddaddy lost a pair of twins, and they were about seven years old. Aunt Eva and Aunt Priscilla both made it, but they both died before they were forty years old. Aunt Priscilla married James Richards, who was the next door neighbor, and they had one child. Aunt Priscilla died, and James married Aunt Eva, her sister, and they had one child, and then Aunt Eva died. Then there was daddy. Those were the three children who came through those times.

Daddy lived to be sixty-four and died with cancer of the gallbladder. …

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