Benjamin W. Fortson Jr.

Last updated
Benjamin Wynn Fortson Jr.
21st Secretary of State of Georgia
In office
1946 May 19, 1979
Governor Ellis Arnall
Eugene Talmadge
Melvin E. Thompson
Herman Talmadge
Marvin Griffin
Ernest Vandiver
Carl Sanders
Lester Maddox
Jimmy Carter
George Busbee
Preceded by John Bryan Wilson
Succeeded by David Poythress
Personal details
Born(1904-12-19)December 19, 1904
Wilkes County, Georgia
DiedMay 19, 1979(1979-05-19) (aged 74)
Atlanta, Georgia
Resting placeResthaven Cemetery Washington, Georgia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)Mary Cade (d. 10/21/1966)
ChildrenAnn McNeill Fortson Mandus (d. 06/21/2013)
Alma mater Emory University

Benjamin Wynn Fortson Jr. (December 19, 1904 – May 19, 1979) was a Secretary of State of Georgia. After being selected by Ellis Arnall, the governor in 1946, Fortson kept his title as secretary until 1979, making him the longest-running secretary in Georgia history.



Benjamin Wynn Fortson Jr. was born in 1904 in Wilkes County, Georgia. [1] At 24, he was in a car accident that permanently paralyzed him from the waist down. Fortson served two terms in the Georgia House of Representatives. He was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1938 and served until he was appointed secretary of state by Governor Ellis Arnall in February 1946 to fill the unexpired term of John B. Wilson. Fortson was elected in the next election and every four years thereafter. [2]

He was serving his ninth term at the time of his death on May 19, 1979, in Atlanta, Georgia. After funeral services in the rotunda of the state Capitol, he was buried in Wilkes County in Resthaven Cemetery. [2]

Secretary of State

Georgia Flags by Fortson, 1963 Georgia Flags by Ben Fortson.jpg
Georgia Flags by Fortson, 1963

In 1946, Fortson was appointed secretary of state. While in office, he was assigned many different jobs that were not originally responsibilities of the office. Fortson was in charge of the preservation of the Capitol and looked after the Confederate cemeteries. [2] [3]

In 1965, Fortson had the Georgia Archives relocated to a building on Capitol Avenue because the archives were too big for its previous location. [2] "Fortson often said this was his proudest accomplishment". [2] The building was later renamed for him. Another accomplishment Fortson had while he was in office was the custom of giving information on Georgia history to teachers and allowing children to visit the Capitol. [2] At one point there was a report that he was going to move up in office until he said that "Secretary of state is a fascinating job, not like being governor," [2] revealing that he was running for another re-election. [2]

Three governors controversy

The three governors controversy took place from 1946 to 1947. Eugene Talmadge was elected to be the next governor of Georgia, but he fell ill and died before he was inaugurated. Because of this, the General Assembly decided to elect Herman Talmadge, the son of Eugene Talmadge, to be the new governor of Georgia. However, two other people claimed the position. Ellis Arnall, the governor who was about to leave office, decided to stay governor and refused to leave his office. The other man was Melvin Thompson, the just-elected lieutenant governor. [4] Fortson, who was secretary of state, was in charge of the state seal. Neither man could do official government actions without this seal, so Fortson hid the seal and refused to tell anyone where it was until the government issue was resolved. This caused the council to take action. [2] After the dispute ended, he revealed the location of the hidden seal. Fortson had put the seal under a cushion in his wheelchair and had been sitting on it during the dispute. Fortson later quoted that he was "sitting on it like a setting of duck eggs." [3] [5] The controversy ended with Melvin Thompson being declared the governor by the Georgia Supreme Court, which created a precedent in Georgia law.

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  1. Who was who in America with world notables. 1943. ISBN   9780837902104 . Retrieved 2013-03-12 via Google Books.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "New Georgia Encyclopedia: Ben Fortson (1904-1979)". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  3. 1 2 Ronald Sullivan (May 21, 1979). "Ben Fortson Jr. Is Dead at 74; Ex‐Secretary of State in Georgia". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  4. "New Georgia Encyclopedia: Three Governors Controversy". 2002-12-08. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  5. Ronda Rich (April 17, 2017). "RICH: 'Mr. Ben' Fortson had his way". Jackson Progress-Argus. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
Preceded by
John Bryan Wilson
Secretary of State of Georgia
Succeeded by
David Poythress