Joseph M. Brown (1851-1932)
Joseph M. Brown served as Georgia's governor for two terms, from 1909 to 1911 and from 1912 to 1913.
Brown wrote two books during his time with the railroad. The Mountain Campaigns in Georgia (1886) is a short illustrated Civil War military history of events along the Western and Atlantic tracks. His second book, Astyanax (1907), is an ambitious work of fiction set in pre-Columbian America.
Georgia governor Joseph M. Terrell gave Brown his first major political post when he appointed him to the Georgia State Railroad Commission in 1904. Brown lost his position on the commission in August 1907, however, after a sharp disagreement with Terrell's successor, Governor Hoke Smith. Smith sought to lower passenger fares to alleviate the economic pressure on his constituents, but Brown voted against the measure.
Brown entered the next gubernatorial election, in 1908, and won against Smith, despite having made no public speeches. Smith's unpopular economic policies and the loss of his political support from the Populist leader Thomas E. Watson helped Brown become Georgia's sixty-second governor. Brown's successful campaign slogan was "Hoke and Hunger, Brown and Bread."
Smith, however, did not relent in his criticism of Brown. In 1910 Smith narrowly defeated Brown in the Democratic primary election for governor. Brown refused to give up, however, and ran as an independent
During his two terms as governor, Brown advocated the prohibition of alcohol and a reduction in the state tax rate, and supported the formation of a state department of labor. He signed into law Georgia's first automobile registration, licensing, and regulation law, which included a prohibition on driving while intoxicated. He staunchly supported legislation that would have curtailed lobbying among government officials and signed into law a bill requiring the registration of all revolvers carried privately in the state.
During the period before and after the U.S. Senate race against Smith, Brown wrote several newspaper articles critical of the Leo Frank case and the judicial system in Georgia. Frank, a Jewish factory manager in Atlanta, was convicted of raping and murdering Mary Phagan, a young female employee. Brown, a lifelong Baptist, fanned the flames of anti-Semitism with his commentary. After Frank's death sentence was commuted by Governor John M. Slaton, Brown asked rhetorically in the December 27, 1914, issue of the Augusta Chronicle whether Georgians should accept that "anybody except a Jew can be punished for a crime." Less than a year later, Brown revisited the Frank case in the Macon Telegraph and encouraged "the people to form mobs" to ensure that justice was carried out in the case. On August 17, 1915, a mob of white men indeed seized Frank from his prison cell in Milledgeville and lynched him in Marietta.
After leaving politics, Brown spent his final years in Marietta. There he became a banker for a decade, holding the office of director and vice president of the First National Bank of Marietta. He also became the owner and operator of Cherokee Mills in Marietta. Brown died on March 3, 1932, and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
Joseph M. Brown, The Mountain Campaigns in Georgia: Or, War Scenes on the W. and A. ([Buffalo, N.Y.]: Art-printing Works of Matthews, Northrup & Co., 1886).
James F. Cook, The Governors of Georgia, 1754-2004, 3d. ed. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005).
William Montgomery Gabard, "Joseph Mackey Brown: A Study in Conservatism," (master's thesis, Tulane University, 1963).
Barton Myers, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.