Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Joseph William Humphries


[Photo graciously provided Demaris H. Miller]

[October 14, 2005]

Joseph William Humphries was born on August 27, 1871 in Hapeville, Georgia. He is said to have had "unusual poetic gifts" and was a frequent contributor of poetry to the periodicals. [Source: Edwin Anderson Alderman & Joel Chandler Harris (eds.), Library of Southern Literature 214 (New Orleans: Martin & Hoyt Co., 1910)(1907)(Vol. 15, Biographical Dictionary of Southern Authors, 1929, Lucian Lamar Knight ed.)]

Note: Josesph William Humpries was the great uncle of Demaris H. Miller who, on September 12, 2005, provided us with the following information about her great uncle:

"Joseph William Humphries was born on a small farm in Clayton County, Georgia in 1871. He was the oldest of three children. His mother died when he was 12. As a boy, he helped work the farm and sold produce on the streets of Atlanta on Saturdays. He was blessed to have literate parents who valued education. He never married and died in 1930, at the age of 59, of pneumonia.

After leaving school in 1888 (he was in the 11th grade, the name of the school is unknown), he took an examination at the State Capitol that qualified him to be a school teacher. He taught at Howard Academy for several years, then used his savings to attend the University of Georgia Law School in 1892, accompanied by his brother, John D. Humphries.

Uncle Joe and his brother, John D., traveled by train from their home in Clayton County, to Atlanta where they took a trolley to reach another train that took them on to Athens, Georgia. The Humphries brothers took board and lodging at the home of A. W. Conway, a Methodist minister; where Uncle Joe mentions one of his first textbooks, Blackstone's Commentaries.

The brothers were active members of the Demosthenean Literary Society and there was apparently much discussion with other members of their law class as to who would later became judges and politicians in Georgia. The course of study was one intense year. They graduated in 1893, and both passed the bar that year.

The Humphries brothers opened a law office in Atlanta and became active in the Atlanta Bar Association. Uncle Joe practiced law off and on for the rest of his life, but he also taught school from time to time and eventually spent more time teaching than practicing law. He served at least one term as Mayor of Hapeville, Georgia (the site of what is now Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport). He served for many years as a member of the Board of Education of Fulton County, and today there is a school in Atlanta named for him.

From his diaries, I can tell that he was deeply religious and wrote poetry almost every day."

Addendum (October 14, 2005): "Regarding his practice of law, he apparently practiced general law-wills, abstracts, and trials, representing both plaintiffs and defendants.  In one case, he and his brother, John D., each represented brothers who had sued each other. I do not know who won the case, but since Uncle Joe didn't mention the outcome, I suspect John D.'s side won."


[Demaris H. Miller has provided us with the following poems written by Joseph William Humphries]

The People's Party

Success to the People's Party,
      May it flourish live and grow,
Carrying out the principles
      Which the people wish to show.

Bearing up those sacred colors,
      That have been trodden down,
By designing politicians,
      Ever hopeful of renown.

May this grand and noble movement,
      That has sprung up to defend,
The country's toiling citizens,
      Be successful in the end.

May it never cease to flourish,
      And may we live to see,
This great and noble people,
      From Tyranny set free.

Some may ask from whence it started,
      And wonder how it came,
Just listen to our version,
      And reflect upon the same.

The prophet trusted leaders,
      From the cities and the towns,
Have carried on the business,
      To wreathe their brows with crowns.

And now, alas! The truth must come,
      And we must understand,
Although vile leaders may contend,
      May threaten and command.

That we've been led in darkness,
      And things grow from bad to worse,
Until our land is stricken,
      By oppression and a curse.

Now repose the toiling classes,
      The cause they must inquire,
But, alas! In consternation,
      Found themselves left in the mire.

They at once began to study,
      To review the startling plan,
Perceiving as they looked around,
      The treachery of man.

When rolled the misty veil away,
      From o'er the people's eyes,
They saw upon the arena,
      Things of wonder and surprise.

The soldiers of both parties there,
      Two armies on the field,
Each contending with the other,
      Each too haughty e'er to yield.

One would rally and then triumph,
      The leaders about halloo,
As they rode up proudly to the front,
      Calling all to follow too,

As Fate would have it in return,
      The other side would subdue.
Caring nothing for the many,
      But the interested few.

Their flag bravely floated,
      Spread by the gentle wind.
They had long since left behind,
       The truths embodied therein.

They were long ago crushed down,
      By the politician's shoe,
But will be cherished again,
      When established once again.

May the party keep expanding -
      Growing greater as it grows -
Ever onward as the river,
      Ever onward as it flows.

May it secure a strong foothold,
      Yea, extend from sea to sea,
Obtaining for Americans,
      Our long oppressed liberty.

["The People's Party" was published in the
Southern Alliance Farmer
, April 19, 1892]

Clayton Alliancemen

The alliancemen of Clayton,
      Are as loyal, true and brave,
As any man that ever lived,
      Or will ever fill a grave.

When e’er it comes to principles;
      To distinguish right from wrong,
You may count the men of Clayton,
      As a band among the throng.

While in fighting dire oppression,
      Battling for the just and right,
Look for noble Clayton’s banner,
      In the thickest of the fight.

When you see her sacred colors,
      Floating bravely to the wind,
Beneath that noble banner,
      Clayton’s men you’ll ever find.

Clayton’s Alliance doesn’t exist
      Simply of men tried and true,
But includes, I’m glad to say,
      Many noble women too.

We all expect to persevere,
      Never falter or dispair,
But ever onward bravely press,
      Our liberties to declare.

We never intend to give it up,
      Yield our sacred rights and vows,
But e’er expect to advocate,
      Justice for the man that plows.

Moving along with even step,
      Heart in heart and hand in hand,
Firmly perched upon Ocala,
      Do the men of Clayton stand.

[The "Clayton Alliancemen" was published in
the Southern Alliance Farmer, March 15, 1892]


Thomas E. Watson

Praise be to the noble Watson,
      Whose heart is kind and true,
He’s working for the people,
      And not the favored few.

Well may Georgia boast of Watson,
      For he is true and tried,
Ever speaking for the rights
      Of a people, now denied.

He has felt the heavy burden –
      The same we feel today,
And is working like a hero,
      Our troubles to ally.

He has walked the rugged furrow,
      He has toiled in the field,
And now has, for the people,
      Placed himself as a shield.

Let the people stand by Watson,
      Stand by him ‘till the end,
He is a noble patriot,
      And will their rights defend.

Do not be afraid to trust him;
      He will most surely stand,
By the country’s wealth producers,
      And not the favored band.

In Congress all alone he stands
      Save others just a few,
That advocate the principles
      For those oppressed, but true.

He’ll bear the scorn of plutocrats,
      That censure him to shame,
Rather than with them go,
      And sully his fair name.

So praise the loyal statesman,
      Long may his memory live,
And may God to our country,
      More such men as Watson give.

["Thomas E. Watson" was published in
the Southern Alliance Farmer, June 4, 1892]

[Thomas Edward Watson was elected to the Congress as a Populist March 4, 1891-March 3, 1893. He was nominated for Vice President by the Populist National Convention in 1896 and for President by the Peoples Party in 1904. He was elected elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1921, until his death in Washington, D.C., September 26, 1922.] [Thomas E. Watson was reputed to have been a poet; we have not, to date actually seen any of his poety. See: Joint Resolution of the Georgia Georgia Assembly, March 27, 1941] [Thomas E. Watson]