“Bill Arp” (Charles Henry Smith) was the most famous columnist to come out of Cartersville. His weekly pieces in the Atlanta Constitution, syndicated to hundreds of newspapers, made him one of the South’s most popular writers a century ago.
Last year in this space, we wrote about Rebecca Felton, who, in addition to being the first woman in the U.S. Senate, had a long-running column (“The County Home”) in the Atlanta Journal.
Another Cartersville columnist with a regional following was Rev. Sam Jones, the South’s most famous evangelist of the late nineteenth century.
Jones understood the power of the press and realized that he could reach more people every week through the newspaper than he possibly could with his sermons and lectures. His weekly column appeared in the Saturday edition of the Atlanta Journal from the spring of 1892 to the late summer of 1895.
Jones kept up his column even when he was on the road, which was often. He wrote about the people he met on his trips, the services he conducted, and the interesting things he saw. He told about preaching in Nashville’s Union Tabernacle, built by “Captain Tom Ryman, one of the most energetic, consecrated laymen I know.” Ryman was one of Jones’s most famous converts; his tabernacle was better known for years as the home of the Grand Ol’ Opry.
In Pittsburgh, he described with obvious envy the factories he saw: “There is untold wealth on every side.” Jones often urged the South to industrialize and end its reliance on cotton.
In Philadelphia, just before Christmas in 1892, Jones spent most of the day shopping in Wanamaker’s; his column that week went on and on in awe over the huge store and all that it offered.
In Louisiana, he ran into his friend and fellow Cartersville resident Charles Henry Smith, whose “Bill Arp” columns ran in the competing Atlanta Constitution. Smith “is funny and fat, good and generous, loveable and loving,” Jones wrote, “enjoying the esteem and confidence of his neighbors.”
Jones told his readers of his many revival successes, such as in Texas in 1892, where thousands came, he said, “to listen to a plain, blunt man do some plain, blunt talking.” He shared his disappointments, his greatest being Bishop Atticus Haygood’s decision in 1893 to force him to take a regular pastoral appointment in the Methodist church or to give up his preaching credentials. Knowing he could never be happy with just one church, preaching to just one congregation, Jones “located” (gave up his position in the Methodist conference).
Sometimes Jones wrote about politics, both the national scene and the situations of the places he visited. Generally, though, he was quiet on the subject. “I don’t believe in mixing politics and religion,” he wrote in one column.
Many of Jones’s columns repeated his basic message of “Quit Your Meanness.” He was famous for his distaste of religious doctrine, preferring instead the simple but effective directive of living a good life. “I stand squarely on the two propositions that the best thing a man can do is to do right and the worst thing a man can do is to do wrong,” he wrote in one column. He wrote against bicycles, “Sabbath desecration,” the theater, cards, “dime” novels, and of course alcohol, his biggest campaign. He seldom criticized tobacco, however, perhaps because he could never kick the habit himself!
In the last half of 1894, he developed a theme that ran through a dozen columns. He began with “the model husband,” “the model wife,” “the model son,” and “the model girl,” and continued with the model governor, preacher, judge, farmer, voter, legislator, church officer, and bishop.
One of Jones’s best-known and most popular sermons, titled “Mother, Home, Heaven,” emphasized the important role of the home in the development of good character. He continued this theme in his column: “The moral uplift or the moral downfall of this country is largely with those who control our home life,” he wrote in one, and in another he described “a home where industry, common sense and virtue live and grow, a home free from intemperance and the many other vices which characterize city life.”
The weekly column undoubtedly took up a lot of Jones’s time, and he gave it up after just a couple years. But while it lasted, the column provided another way for Sam Jones to reach the people.