Henry W. Grady – Encyclopedia of New Georgia
Henry W. Grady, the “spokesman for the New South”, served as editor of the Atlanta Constitution in the 1880s.
A member of Atlanta’s Democratic political leadership circle, Grady used his office and influence to promote a New Southern agenda of Northern investment, Southern industrial growth, diversified agriculture, and white supremacy.
Youth and career
Henry Woodfin Grady was born on May 24, 1850 in Athens. His father, William S. Grady, a prosperous merchant who served as a major in the Confederate army during the Civil War (1861-1865), died in the fall of 1864 from wounds received during the siege of Petersburg, in Virginia. Raised by his mother, Anne Gartrell Grady, young Grady showed talent as a writer and debater. After graduating from the University of Georgia, he briefly studied literature and history at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville before returning to Georgia in 1869 to pursue a career in journalism.
Grady first wrote for the Courier from Rome before his bankruptcy in 1871. After marrying Julia King of Athens, he shared ownership of the Atlanta Daily Herald with Robert Alston and Alexander St. Clair Adams. On March 14, 1874, Grady published an editorial in the Herald entitled “The New South”, in which he advocates industrial development as a solution to the economic problems of the post-war South. His aggressive, no-frills writing style and his advocacy of railroad development in Atlanta brought him to the attention of Evan P. Howell and W. A. Hemphill, major shareholders of the company. Atlanta Constitution. Howell offered Grady a quarter ownership of the newspaper for the price of $20,000, along with the position of editor. Grady accepted both offers enthusiastically.
Grady and the Atlanta Ring
As editor, Grady quickly transformed the Constitution into a platform to endorse one’s own political views. He wrote in support of anti-alcohol laws, building a new library, and caring for Confederate veterans. Grady also supported white supremacy and, under his leadership, the Constitution offhand copy sometimes printed that shed light on the lynching. Between 1880 and 1886, the Constitution became the main instrument of the Atlanta Ring, a loosely connected group of pro-industry urban Democrats that included Howell and Grady. Grady became the group’s leader and the dominant political force, helping to arrange for the Legislature’s election of another Ring member, Joseph E. Brown, to the U.S. Senate in 1880.
In 1883, Grady orchestrated the launch of party votes in favor of Henry McDaniel’s nomination for governor. When McDaniel declined to run again in 1886, challenges emerged from rival Democrats centered in Macon. Grady backed Ring member John B. Gordon for the party’s nomination, using the Constitution to coax voters with promotional items and speeches. Despite support from the Macon coalition of local newspapers, Grady’s political politics won Gordon’s election as governor.
Grady’s New South
With the Atlanta Ring’s influence on Georgian politics firmly established, Grady turned his attention to promoting the city’s economic development. After his coverage of the 1886 earthquake in Charleston, South Carolina, brought him national attention, he was invited to speak at the New England Society meeting in New York that year. . Grady preached promises of a New South, arguing that slavery and secession were dead in the region and that financial aid from the North would help reconciliation between old enemies while making profits. He also urged northerners to allow white southerners to manage the rights of black citizens. While these ideas were not original to Grady, his advocacy of unity and trust between North and South helped spur Northern investment in Atlanta industries.
Back in Atlanta, Grady published in the Constitution numerous articles proclaiming Atlanta’s superiority for its diverse small industry and “willing” labor force. Grady infuriated competitors from Augusta, Macon and Athens with these claims, but his promotional efforts paid off. In 1887, he successfully lobbied for the establishment in Atlanta of the Georgia Institute of Technology, a public school devoted to vocational and industrial education. In 1881, 1887, and 1895, Atlanta hosted cotton expositions, industrial fairs that attracted millions of dollars in investment and provided new jobs for the city’s growing population.
Despite these accomplishments, Grady’s New South has not been universally accepted. Agrarian expert Thomas E. Watson criticized Grady for allegedly subjugating Georgia to Northern interests and oppressing farmers. Similarly, farmers could not follow Grady’s advice to grow other crops alongside cotton for additional income and higher cotton prices due to strict lender requirements.
Grady also struggled to portray a benign racial climate for Northerners interested in Southern industrial investment but troubled by the region’s oppressive racial order. In many Constitution editorials Grady claimed that African Americans received “fair treatment” in Georgia and throughout the South, despite the fact that many black workers were trapped in the state’s brutal convict hire system or stuck in debt toll due to unequal sharecropping contracts. While such rhetoric appealed to white Southern readers, few Northern reformers looked beyond the region’s record of black disenfranchisement, exploitation, and violence.
In 1889, northern Republicans introduced a bill providing for federal intervention in southern elections where black citizens were denied the vote. In response, an increasingly ill Grady traveled north to plead against him. During a speech in Boston, Grady argued that whites in the North and South had previously united to evict Indigenous peoples and exclude Chinese workers. He then argued that white people in both regions should never allow equality for African Americans in society. The US House of Representatives narrowly passed the bill, but it failed in the US Senate after Southern senators filibustered it.
Grady’s trip exacerbated an earlier illness, and he died shortly after returning to Atlanta on December 23, 1889. His influence as a spokesperson for the New South was considerable, providing both the political framework and the motivation rhetoric of Atlanta as a rising symbol of the New South. A few years after his death, Atlanta erected a statue in his honor. While Grady’s bronze figure was cast in Massachusetts, the granite for the base was quarried in Georgia.
Grady County, established in 1905, is named in his honor, as are Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and the University of Georgia Grady School of Journalism. Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta was also named in his honor in 1947, but was renamed Midtown High School in 2021 after several students and residents protested the name in light of Grady’s support for white supremacy . He was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2004.