Stanton, Frank Lebby 1857-1927
STANTON, Frank Lebby 1857-1927
PERSONAL: Born February 22, 1857, in Charleston, SC; died January 7, 1927 in Atlanta, GA; son of Valentine (a printer) and Catherine Parry Stanton; married Leona Jossey, January 15, 1887; children: three. Religion: Christian.
CAREER: Savannah Morning News, Savannah, GA, copyboy to reporter, 1869-87; Smithville News, Smithville, GA, editor and owner, 1887-88; Rome Daily Tribune, Rome, GA, night editor, 1888-89; Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA, reporter and columnist, 1889-1927.
AWARDS, HONORS: Declared Georgia's poet laureate, February 22, 1925.
Songs of a Day and Songs of the Soil, Alden (New York, NY), 1892.
Songs of the Soil, Appleton (New York, NY), 1894.
Comes One with a Song, Bowen-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1898.
Songs from Dixie Land, Bowen-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1900.
Up from Georgia, Appleton (New York, NY), 1902.
Little Folks down South, Appleton (New York, NY), 1904.
Just from Georgia, compiled by Marcelle Stanton Megahee, Byrd (Atlanta, GA), 1927.
Contributor to periodical publications, including New England Magazine, Outlook, Spectator, and Century.
SIDELIGHTS: Frank Lebby Stanton wrote popular poetry and songs for newspapers. His Atlantic Register column ran for thirty-six years, and his compositions affectionately recollected the traditional South. Stanton attributed his poetic style to his mother's hymn-reading while he grew up in South Carolina and Georgia. He also lived on a farm as a youth, and later would write about rural serenity. Stanton, studying at home during the U.S. Civil War, read the likes of Shakespeare. He impressed others by accurately reciting full plays and lengthy verse. Bruce M. Swain, in Dictionary of Literary Biography, wrote that one witness "reported having heard him recite Byron's entire Childe Harold without a mistake."
Stanton entered the newspaper business at age twelve, as a copy boy at the Savannah Morning News. When Stanton submitted some of his poems, editor William Tappan Thompson offered advice and encouragement. Stanton became a reporter there. Swain noted: "There was a period of nearly ten years during which he drifted from town to town as a traveling printer."
In 1887 the Smithville News, in the southeast corner of Georgia, lured Stanton onto its staff, and by year's end, he became its owner and editor. He also married Leona Jossey and the couple had three children. With Stanton in charge, the News became quite popular. Readers enjoyed the paper's humorous stories and local color. Some of Stanton's columns were reprinted in the Atlanta Constitution, and in 1888, Stanton agreed to become night editor at the Rome Daily Tribune. He moved to the Atlanta Constitution a year later. An old friend from the Savannah Morning News, Joel Chandler Harris, helped procure a position for Stanton, who started as a reporter and feature writer. Stanton soon was promoted to editorials, Harris's section. Harris advised Stanton to keep writing homey pieces that remind people of their roots. Stanton then began writing "Just from Georgia," a column that "featured Stanton's poems, prose, anecdotes, brief essays, humorous sayings, and items burrowed from other newspapers," according to Swain.
Stanton spoke to black men by accurately writing in their dialects, a technique he learned from Harris, the creator of the "Uncle Remus" stories. His sense of humor, Swain wrote, "was not the sort to produce guffaws; it was the tickling humor of the countryside philosopher beside the pot-bellied stove." His column included news reports from an idyllic, fictional town named Billville. Unlike the rest of the South, there was little change there. Stanton would not even talk about Billville; he feigned that someone might move there and change his fantasy. Stanton regularly received gifts from readers, including live possums, sea turtles, and wildcats.
Although Stanton assumed the Southern black dialect and sometimes used the word "nigger," readers apparently did not regard such language as bigoted. Swain contended, "Stanton could certainly never be said to be sympathetic to the lynch mob tactics by which blacks were being suppressed at the time by some whites resisting racial equality." His poems "Lynched" and "They've Hung Bill Jones," inspired by Stanton's witnessing a lynching site, apparently saved a condemned man's life. Ten years after their publication, a governor perused the poems and stayed an execution order. Stanton spread this story to other publications over the news wire, and several individuals claimed to be the saved convict.
Some of Stanton's most successful poems were written in honor of his ailing son. "Sweetes' Li'l Feller" or "Mighty Lak a Rose" is drafted in Stanton's customary colloquial voice. More than 10,000 readers, some from abroad, contacted Stanton personally over the poem. Stanton, however, was so reclusive he even missed the ceremony naming him poet laureate of Georgia.
Between 1892 and 1904 Stanton published six volumes of his verse. Harris, prefacing Stanton's first book, Songs of the Day, explained that the author produced his poetry while laboring in a newspaper office. A positive attitude permeated Stanton's rhymes, Swain said: "Hardly a review of Stanton's work failed to touch on his optimistic outlook." Stanton's sense of hope, Swain added, was visible in such aphorisms in his column as the "chap who can whistle trouble out of town is a world-benefactor to count on"; and "Old Trouble don't have a chance when Joy is the bandmaster and strikes up a lively tune."
Stanton's down-home style was unmatched. Swain recalled one columnist's reflection: "he continued singing 'Sweet Little Woman of Mine' right into the days of the 'Red Hot Momma.'" Regarding his popularity, Swain argued, "Stanton enjoyed a fame that rested more on visibility than on poetic ability." The year Stanton died a relative, Marcelle Stanton Megahee, compiled a collection of his Constitution submissions and published them as Just from Georgia.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alderman, Edwin, and Joel Chandler Harris, editors, The Library of Southern Literature, volume 11, Martin & Hoyt (Atlanta, GA), 1904.
Current Literature, volume 34, Current Literature Publishing Company (New York, NY), 1903.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 25: American Newspaper Journalists, 1901-1925, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Hart, Bertha Sheppard, Introduction to Georgia Writers, J. W. Burke (Macon, GA), 1929.
Holliday, Carl, History of Southern Literature, Neale (New York, NY), 1906.
Knight, Lucian, Reminiscences of Famous Georgians, volume 1, Franklin-Turner (Atlanta, GA), 1907.
Melton, Wightman, editor, Frank Lebby Stanton, Georgia Division of Information and Publications (Atlanta, GA), 1938.
Moses, Montrose, The Literature of the South, Crowell (New York, NY), 1910.
American, February 1925, pp. 118-126.
Atlanta Constitution, January 8, 1927, pp. 1, 10.
Christian Index, February 16, 1922, p. 3.
Christian Science Monitor, November 21, 1925, p. B3.
Magazine of Poetry, October 1892, pp. 369-372.
Nation, December 20, 1894, pp. 467-68; December 11, 1902, p. 466; January 18, 1927, pp. 55-56.
Outlook, January 19, 1927, p. 74; December, 1904, p. 759.*