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This Day in Georgia History

December 19, 1904

Ben Fortson Born

Future Georgia Secretary of State Benjamin Wynn Fortson, Jr. was born in Tignall, Georgia. After graduating from Georgia Tech and starting a career in banking, Fortson’s life was changed by a near-fatal automobile accident. After reading and reflecting while convalescing, Fortson decided to turn his life to public service, despite being confined to a wheelchair. He was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1939, then to the Georgia House in in 1943. When secretary of state John Wilson died in 1946, Governor Ellis Arnall appointed Fortson to fulfill the term. Fortson did much more, serving in the post until 1978, being elected to nine consecutive terms. “Mr. Ben” - as he was commonly called by friends - was an energetic and entertaining speaker, particularly in the area of American and Georgia history. He always kept his office door open to the public, while staying above petty (and not so petty) political squabbles. The best example of this occurred not long after Fortson took office - when he refused to surrender the official state seal to any of the combatants in the three governor’s controversy, hiding the seal under his wheelchair seat. Fortson was largely responsible for beautifying the state capitol grounds and for advocating for a new state archives building - which was eventually named in his honor. He was also concerned about the appearance and condition of Georgia’s state capitol and in January 1979 helped kick off the drive to regild the capitol dome. Unfortunately, before that project could be completed, Fortson died in Atlanta on May 19, 1979.