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This Day in Georgia History

December 31, 1832

Robert A. Alston Born

To view a newspaper report of Alston’s death, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

Politician and lawyer Robert A. Alston was born in Macon, Georgia. Alston moved his family to DeKalb County during the Civil War in which he fought with noted bravery and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war he resumed a law and farming career, though he remained interested in and involved in public affairs. In 1872, he purchased one-third of the Atlanta Herald, and convinced a young, but well-respected, Henry Grady to join in the venture with him. Alston was elected to the General Assembly in 1878. Here, he left his lasting mark by fighting the horrendous conditions in Georgia prisons, particularly the convict-lease system but alienating powerful members of his Democratic party in the process. Alston believed in justice over political expediency, and he was unwilling to change his stance against the convict system. Tragically, it was convict lease system that would indirectly cause Alston’s death. U.S. Senator John B. Gordon had a financial interest in Penitentiary Company No. 2. Wishing to sell this interest, he gave Alston (who was a close friend) power of attorney to sell the interest. The sale, however, would affect Edward Cox, who subleased 60 of Gordon’s convicts for use on his farm. Cox became outraged at Alston’s decision as to who would buy Gordon’s lease. On Mar. 11, 1879, Cox ran into Alston in a barber shop and began demanding that Alston cancel the sale of Gordon’s lease. When Alston told Cox that he couldn’t, Cox became enraged and told Alston to go arm himself. Alston did, and that afternoon they met at the state capitol in the office of the state treasurer, who unsuccessfully tried to moderate the dispute. The argument continued, and apparently both men drew their revolvers at the same time and opened fire. Alston received a fatal wound to his head. Following his death, Alston was buried in the Decatur City Cemetery in Decatur, Georgia. Cox was later tried and convicted for murder. He served some time, but was pardoned and became a dairy farmer.