The State Convention of 1909
The Baptists were coming! The Baptists were coming! It was a grand week in Dublin. Some seven to eight hundred bible toting, hymn singing and money spending Baptist messengers and officials descended on the Emerald City for a week of worship, reaffirmation and business doings. Newspapers asserted that the congregation constituted the greatest gathering of so many distinguished laymen and ministers in the eighty-eight year history of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
In order to handle eight hundred visitors in a city of five thousand people, seemingly impossible arrangements needed to be made. Obviously there weren't enough hotel rooms to accommodate that many people, so the local Baptists enlisted the aid of their Methodist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Christian brethren. Their pleas were met although each host family was required to board and perhaps feed several guests in their homes for at least four nights. That's when an army of ladies sprang into action. They scrubbed their homes, the church, and most of the city clean of trash, dust and filth. Kitchens were busy non-stop for days leading up to the big event.
The owners of the Four Seasons Department Store, the city's largest establishment,
rearranged their furniture section and set up a writing room for those who wanted to open their mail and write letters.
The local church was ready. With a new edifice housing one of the finest new churches in the state, the sanctuary was crammed with people. Many of the three hundred and eighty-three voting members stood along the walls and in the rear of the sanctuary.
One of the convention's highlights came before the opening invocation. Special trains arrived during the day on Monday, but late in the afternoon, many had not yet arrived. A chartered train from Macon ran into trouble along the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad at the 18-mile post outside of Macon. When the train's tender car came off the track, the entire train skidded along cross ties for all too long a distance, coming to a halt just before it fell into a deep ravine. Despite the long delay, rail traffic in Dublin during the day was a spectacle within itself. Part of the fanfare was the large crowd of the curious and the criminal. Dr. C.H.S. Jackson had his cherished gold watch and fob, a gift of the faculty of Bessie Tift College, lifted from his pocket as he left his train car.
The convention came to order on the morning of November 16, 1919. Local attorney G.H. Williams issued a cordial welcome to the crowded worship house. Georgia governor Joseph M. Brown was expected to attend, but his name does not appear in the published accounts of the proceedings. Among the dignitaries were Railroad Commissioner George Hillyer, ex-congressman C.L. Moses, future governor Clifford Walker, and an unnamed justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Conspicuously absent were ministers of other local churches. Their absence was not a spurn to a courtesy invitation, but of the five major denominations, only the Methodist position was filled. Even the pulpit of the host church was empty. But, former and well beloved pastor Allen Fort returned to Dublin to host the event.
A second highlight came early in the convention when President William J. Northern asked the assembly to accept his resignation. The former governor of Georgia asked for "new blood" in the organization's leadership. His hearing was not as good as it used to be.
Governor Northern asked and was granted permission to address the Negroes of Dublin, who were engaged in their fall fair across town. It would be the first time in twenty-five years that Northern was absent, albeit temporarily, from the Baptist convention.
Northern may have had a hidden agenda in asking to be excused from the proceedings. The convention's most heated moment came during a discussion of the church's role in including Negroes in their mission work. When he returned, the Governor rose to speak and proposed increases in the spreading of the Gospel to a large proportion of the state's residents. "I would rather see a million Negroes in the South converted than to see the conversion of two million Japanese, Chinese, or savages on some remote island," Northern proclaimed. "It would mean more to God and more to the South," he added. Keeping his speech calm and dignified and fearing that his pleas would fall on deaf ears, Northern beseeched the assembly that "nothing is being done."
Dr. J.J. Bennett, Secretary of the State Board, rose to counter Northern's accusations that the mandates of the previous convention in Valdosta were in fact being carried out. Dr. Bennett responded with an equally dignified, but highly vigorous, rebuttal claiming that Negroes were not being neglected. He attempted to substantiate his claim by pointing out the fact that the highest percentage of Negroes were Baptists.
The temperance question arose as it always did in the convention. There wasn't a drop of controversy on the subject of beer and liquor. As the members had decided in all previous meetings, drinking was a sin. The delegates decided that the drive for near beer was not acceptable under any circumstances.
With the venerable Governor Northern out of contention for the election as the new President, former Georgia governor Joseph M. Terrell and T.J. Lawson were nominated. Rev. Turner Smith, of Dublin, then submitted the name of Dr. S.Y. Jameson of Macon. After Messers Terrell and Lawson withdrew their names, Jameson won the election. Dublin's F.H. Rowe was selected as one of four vice-presidents for the upcoming year.
Rev. O.A. Copeland gave the main sermon of the convention. His topic, "The Purpose of God in the Individual's Life," was well received. Dr. R.J. Willingham, Secretary of the Southern Baptist Conventions Foreign Board of Missions, issued a strong plea for more workers to spread the word of the Gospel. When the more business oriented proceedings were completed, the attendees adjourned for a fine meal before reassembling at the Chautaugua Auditorium at the corner of South Monroe and West Madison streets. The meeting hall, which would house more than a thousand people, afforded the opportunity for local Baptists and the families of the delegates to attend the services.
When new president Jameson's Friday afternoon address ended, the congregation paid their respects to their cordial hosts and made their way through the swarms to board homebound trains.
In hailing the event, a writer for The Christian Index, the official organ of the Southern Baptists, wrote "The beautiful and spacious house of worship and the cordial hospitality of the citizens made Dublin an ideal place for the holding of the convention. The great Chautaugua auditorium afforded the opportunity for the entertainment of large audiences that attended the night services. The hospitality was unbounded."