A Champion of Journalism, A Leader of Men
Harris McCall Stanley was born on June 6, 1866. His father, Captain Rollin A. Stanley, served as a Captain of the local militia company during the Civil War. Stanley descended from Thomas McCall, Georgia's first surveyor general and a highly acclaimed master winemaker of his day. As a young boy, Stanley received the best possible education in a time when even the wealthiest of families in the area could scarcely afford for their children to attend higher educational institutions.
As a young man, Hal Stanley showed a keen interest in the newspaper business. As a printer's devil with the Dublin Gazette, Stanley started out as the lowest of the low, mixing inks and handing type to the printer. As a menial grunt, Hal Stanley was in good company with some of the most famous writers of his day, printer's devils like Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Joel Chandler Harris. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were printer's devils too.
In fact, being in the newspaper business ran in the Stanley family. The elder Stanley brother, Ira L. Stanley began his newspaper career with the Dublin Gazette. He was one of the founders of the Dallas Evening Herald and other newspapers in Texas. Vivian Stanley started out in the newspaper business before becoming the postmaster of Dublin and finally serving several terms on the Georgia Prison Commission. Frank R. Stanley, the fourth of the Stanley brothers to work in the newspaper business, was the printer of the Gainesville News.
In the winter of 1890, Hal Stanley assumed the role as editor of the Dublin Gazette, Laurens County's first weekly newspaper. Hal Stanley was then about to marry Ethel Stubbs, daughter of Col. John M. Stubbs, who originally founded the Gazette in 1876. Hal was only twenty-three years old. Seven years later, Hal Stanley and brother Vivian joined to establish the Dublin Courier. In 1899, the Courier merged with the Dublin Dispatch to form the Courier Dispatch. In 1913, the Dublin Courier Dispatch merged with the Laurens County Herald to become the Dublin Courier-Herald, the first daily newspaper in Laurens County.
Stanley involved himself in the workings of the Georgia Press Association. He served as President of the organization from 1907 to 1909, after which he began a thirty-year reign as the association's executive secretary. For the last five years of his life, Stanley was honored with the title of Secretary Emeritus.
But Hal Stanley wasn't just a newspaper man. He was a public servant, philanthropist and military leader. Upon the organization of the Dublin Light Infantry in the early 1890s, Stanley was elected to a leadership role as lieutenant along the side of his brother-in-law, the popular five-term mayor of Dublin, Captain Lucien Q. Stubbs. In 1894, Gov. W.Y. Atkinson appointed Stanley to his personal staff. When Stanley moved from Dublin to Eastman, he joined the Eastman Guards, serving as the unit's captain. Before returning to Dublin, Stanley moved once again, that time to Savannah, where he served in the military departments of the port city.
As was the usual course of the day for erudite gentlemen, Stanley was active in many fraternal organizations. His fraternity of choice was the Knights of Phythias, in which he served in nearly every capacity including Grand Prelate and Grand Chancellor of Georgia (1914-1915). Stanley also proudly proclaimed membership in the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the Improved Order of Red Men.
Perhaps Harris McCall Stanley's most important contribution of a lasting legacy to the State of Georgia was his election as Georgia's first Commissioner of Commerce and Labor. Stanley was elected in a special election on January 10, 1912 by a wide margin. It was the first time that a native of Laurens County was elected to serve in a state wide office. That honor has gone to two other men, Agricultural Commissioner Thomas Linder and Vivian L. Stanley, Hal Stanley's younger brother, who was appointed to fill out an unexpired term on the Prison Commission in 1928 and was reelected by a popular vote in 1934. From 1934 to 1937, when Hal Stanley completed his twenty four-year term in office, the Stanley brothers were the only brothers in the history of Georgia to serve in statewide elected offices at the same time. Mr. Stanley served in several positions in state and federal government, including the positions of fertilizer and oil inspector. In World War I, Stanley aided the war effort by serving as the head of the Georgia Division, United States Employment Service for the ceremonial salary of one dollar per year.
Hal Stanley took his role as the state's first Commissioner of Commerce and Labor seriously, very seriously. Stanley sought to rid the state of unconscionable child labor practices, except on the farms. Commissioner Stanley rationalized, "Labor on the farm, even by children of tender years, cannot be of harm. Work on the farm in general is not objectionable and is conducive to health and strength."
One of the biggest "hot button" issues of the year 1914 was the issue of censorship of movies. Stanley joined the movement to remove sex from the silent movies of his day. "Motion pictures have gone from bad to worse. They are becoming more coarse and more vulgar every year," Stanley proclaimed as he commented on the growing nausea among many movie goers.
Hal Stanley used his position as a platform to promote compulsory education laws and the establishment of vocational schools on the state level after Congressman Dudley Hughes, of Twiggs County, and Georgia's U.S. Senator Hoke Smith pushed a national bill through Congress in 1917.
After his retirement from public office, Hal Stanley served as Chairman as the Industrial Board of Georgia. In his lifetime, Harris McCall Stanley received many honors. In 1931, he joined Henry Grady, Clark Howell, and W.T. Anderson as inaugural members of the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame, preceding Ernest Camp, Ernest Rogers, and Madge Hilbun Methvin as Laurens County's members of the elite group of newspaper journalists.
Harris McCall Stanley died on April 25, 1944 in his last hometown of Decatur, Georgia. Stanley's contributions to his native Laurens County and to his native Georgia were beyond outstanding. Stanley seemed to keep politics out of his focus, and focused instead on what was best for the citizens of our state.