World War I began in 1914, and for most of the war the United States remained on the sidelines even with the sinking of the British ocean liner "Lusitania" in May 1915 resulting in the loss of 128 Americans. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 using the campaign slogan, "He kept us out of war."
But, by January 1917 it was revealed through an intercepted telegram Germany had been in talks with Mexico, and there was a possibility Mexico might enter the war as an ally of Germany. Add in seven additional U.S. merchant ships being sunk by Germans, and it is no surprise Congress declared war on April 6, 1917.
At that time the "Douglas County Sentinel" stated, "Now that we have taken the plunge there is but one thing for a loyal citizen of our country to do -- stand firmly by his country. The man who does otherwise is not true either to himself or the land that shelters, feeds, and clothes him."
One of the main concerns expressed in the paper during those early days of U.S. involvement in World War I had to do with food supplies. Citizens were advised they had "a solemn duty to plant their own vegetables" and a call went out that every unused acre in the county should be cultivated -- "not later, but now!" An article in May 1917 advised, "... let our part in the war be short, sharp, and decisive. We must prove ourselves AMERICANS and not slackers."
Another way for citizens to get involved with the war effort was to volunteer with the Red Cross, so efforts were begun to set up a Red Cross chapter in Douglas County. Organizers wanted citizens to know the American Red Cross was "not a woman's organization, nor a physician's nor a nurse's as it is believed in various places, but it represents all elements including men of affairs in all lines of business and professions ..." Initially, a Red Cross monetary drive took place at the end of May netting $2,700 which was $1,200 over the stated goal.
Saturday, July 14th was designated as Red Cross Day with a parade to begin at James Park, a grove of trees that once stood between Broad and Church Streets to the east of today's Hartley, Rowe, and Fowler law firm. The parade would include a patriotic float and a contingent of Boy Scouts, women, and children. They would head up Broad Street, cut through Pray Street, and head east on Church Street to the First United Methodist Church of Douglasville which was then located at the corner of Church Street and Price Avenue.
Willis J. Millner Jr., associate director of the southern division for the Red Cross, would be the speaker. He would be met at the Douglasville depot by the Geer Brass Band. During his address Millner "explained the purpose of the great organization with accurate carefulness. The chief purpose of which is to sustain the 27 base hospitals, situated in this country and Europe."
Later that afternoon a patriotic picture titled "A Daughter of War" would be featured at the Kozytorium, Douglasville's first movie theater located where Fabiano's Pizza is today.
More meetings were held the next week where T.H. Selman, Douglas County's first Sheriff (1870) and a Confederate veteran, addressed the crowd concerning the hardship of being a wounded soldier "and appealed to the people to help the boys."
Pastor John C. Atkinson who led the flock at the First United Methodist Church of Douglasville helped stir the people as well to the Red Cross rallying cry. Most of the fired up, patriotic language in the newspaper during those early weeks of the war was attributed to Pastor Atkinson.
In his plea for Douglas County citizens to join the work of the Red Cross, Pastor Atkinson said, "So, if there is to be a man in Douglas County, who not being providentially hindered does not rally in loving loyalty to the call for work ... let him know that his act is but to curse the petrifying bones of his own countrymen that lie at the bottom of the ocean, sent there by the order of the greatest menace to liberty in the world's history -- the autocrat, the murderer, the thrice damned Kaiser of Germany."
Pastor Atkinson could talk the talk regarding duty, honor, and country. He could also walk the walk. He became what the "Douglas County Sentinel" stated was the first preacher in Georgia to attempt to enlist in the service. Most certainly he was the first preacher in Douglas County to do so.
Pastor Atkinson's goal was to enlist, but his advanced age at 50 kept him from actual military service. He did, however, enter work with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) ministering to the Marines at Parris Island.
In a September 28th letter to the people of Douglasville Pastor Atkinson related, "... Extend my heartfelt thanks for every kindness for me and mine while a resident of your town ..... I shall miss the church services, the Sunday school, the prayer meetings, the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross and a thousand other memories more enduring than bronze or gold ... by the time your readers see this I will be engrossed in my duties at Parris Island, lost in the multitude of a great army whose colors for a 150 years have never been trailed in the dust, have never been hauled down by the strongest foe, nor neither will they now. They will be borne back home gloriously when the enemy's guns have been silenced forever ..."
Look for more World War I stories over the next few weeks!
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her book can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art and the Douglasville Welcome Center located at O'Neal Plaza in the former Douglasville Banking Company building.