Some men are of an age and a place; others are timeless and of inestimable station. Such a man was Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, lowly in beginnings but propelled by his extraordinary vision and inordinate accomplishments.
Georgia knew his expertise and wisdom. His influence spread beyond the state to the nation. He served as Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools from 1933 through 1958, a quarter of a century, the longest tenure for that elected office yet on record in Georgia’s educational annals.
This noble mountain man had been a farmer, a merchant, a teacher, a banker, an evangelist, a pastor, a lecturer, a writer, an editor, and an administrator.
But what of his beginnings? From what roots did this mountain man spring?
Born in Union County, Blairsville, Georgia on July 5, 1885, M. D. Collins’ parents were Archibald Benjamin Collins and Mary Louise Jackson Collins. He was their second son and third child. His siblings were Nina Idaho, Francis Arthur, Norman Vester, Laura Lee, Callie Kate, Jean Benjamin and Dorothy Dora.
His paternal grandparents were Francis and Rutha Nix Collins and his maternal grandparents were Marion and Rebecca Goforth Jackson. His great-grandparents, Thompson and Celia Self Collins, were early settlers in Union County. They were listed in the first county census in 1834, two years after the county was founded in 1832. They were probably here before the county was formed from Old Cherokee. William and Nancy Stanley Jackson, parents of Marion, are on record as having moved to the area in 1827, five years before Union was formed. It was from these hardy pioneers that Mauney Douglas Collins descended.
Reared as a farm lad, Mauney Douglas Collins learned early to shoulder responsibilities. Choestoe District where his family lived had good farm land. Archibald Benjamin Collins, Mauney’s father, was a farmer of note and a tradesman, dealing in sheep, cattle and hogs. Ben and his brother, “Bud” Collins (Francis Jasper) had the first threshing machine in the district. They served Union County farmers by providing a mobile unit pulled by oxen to thresh barley, wheat and rye on “shares”.
Ben Collins was a country store merchant. Much of the trade at his store was in barter. He took in payment for store goods such farm and forest products as eggs, chickens, sorghum syrup, dried apples, chestnuts, chinquapins, herbs and tanned skins of animals.
These bartered goods he hauled over the mountainous Logan Turnpike to the market in Gainesville and there traded them for coffee, sugar, piece goods, nails and other hardware, and various ‘store-bought’ commodities.
Ben Collins drove livestock over this same route to market, and in Gainesville loaded cattle, sheep, hogs and turkeys on a train and shipped them to Augusta or Savannah.
When the gold mine opened in the Coosa District of Union County northwest of Choestoe, Ben Collins established his second store there.
Mauney Collins, as a very young lad, was involved in the entrepreneurships of his father and uncle, learning from them by going on trade excursions and by working in the stores.
When Mauney Collins was five years old, he started school at Old Liberty, a one-room building serving as both a school and church. His uncle, Tom Jackson, was the boy’s first teacher. The young child showed great promise as a student. He studied from well-worn textbooks passed down from his older sister Nina and cousins. The school term lasted at the most four months, conducted at periods when work on the farm was not as demanding.
In 1897 a tragedy struck the Collins family and the whole community. It was the year of the great typhoid epidemic. All in the family took the dreaded fever and struggled to survive. A hard-working housekeeper, Sallie Kimsey, helped the Collins family during that trying time. Dr. McCravey made his weary rounds by horseback from Blairsville, eight miles away, doing what he could to attend the family with the medicines available then.
On April 4, 1897 at age 34, Archibald Benjamin Collins died from typhoid fever. He was buried with Masonic Honors at Old Choestoe Cemetery. Hardly a one of his family was able to attend the funeral.
Bereft, his young widow, Mary Louise Jackson Collins, gradually regained her strength from the effects of the fever. She began evaluating ways to rear her family of seven. The second child, Francis Arthur, had died at age one in 1884. Mauney Douglas was eleven when his father died. The eldest, Nina Idaho, was fifteen, and the baby, Dorothy Dora, was only one month old, Norman was nine, Lee seven, Callie Kate five, Jean Benjamin three. The thirty-four year old widow faced the tasks of making a living and rearing and educating seven children.
It was to be a hard road in a good land.
[Next week: More on the life of Dr. M. D. Collins]
c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 25, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.