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 Murray County Museum  

Ernest Neal
Georgia's Poet Laureate

Isn't it strange that Georgia's Second Poet Laureate taught at Chatsworth in the 1920s, yet virtually nothing is known of his life in Murray County?

Before he taught at Chatsworth he lived with his family in Calhoun. The federal Censuses for both 1920 and 1930 list the family living in Gordon County at Calhoun. When he left Murray to reside again in Calhoun is not known.

Murray County Heritage mentions Ernest Neal only in listing the teachers who taught at Chatsworth, with a notation that he later was Georgia's Poet Laureate.

Research turned up significant historical background for Ernest Neal. He was born September 6, 1858, the son of George V. Neal and Lavonia Blackburn, in Warren County, Georgia. Ernest had 8 siblings: Elizabeth, Charles, John, Laura, George, David, Edward, and Julian. The family lived at Warrenton, in Warren County, Georgia.

Ernest graduated from Warrenton Academy. He earned a degree from North Georgia Agricultural College at Dahlonega in 1881.

He returned to serve as principal of Warrenton Academy, where he met and married Mamie "Minnie" Gallaher.

He was identified in the 1900 Census as "Earnest" Neal, a school teacher, living at Jefferson, in Jackson County, Georgia. The family consisted of Earnest, age 40; Mamie, age 32; Gallaher, age 15; and Julius, age 8.

The Census of 1910 listed the family living in Calhoun, Gordon County, Georgia. That Census listed both Ernest and Mamie as school teachers. Son Gallaher, age 24, was still living at home and his occupation was listed as "druggist." Another son had been born, Varner was age 8.

In 1920 the Census listed a household of three: Ernest, age 62; Mamie, age 54; and Varner, age 18. Ernest's occupation was teacher; Mamie's was "none" and Varner's was "salesman in drugstore."

During the early 1920s Ernest taught school at Chatsworth. Whether his wife came to Murray to live or remained in Gordon County is unknown.

On August 20, 1927, the governor named Ernest Neal to be Georgia's Poet Laureate, a post he held until his death in 1943.

Several critics have described Neal's style as homespun poetry. He wrote scores of poems, most about his north Georgia environment–including its Indian heritage. He published two books of his poetry, the first in 1920 and the second in 1928.

At the 1931 dedication of the Cherokee memorial at New Echota, Neal read his poem The Land of the Cherokees.

The Census of 1930 showed Ernest and Mamie living in Calhoun, with two granddaughters, Mary G. Neal, age 16, and Helen N. Neal, age 12.

Governor Eugene Talmadge appointed Neal to serve as Curator of the Georgia Capitol Museum.

After several years of declining health, Ernest Neal died in Atlanta, January 23, 1943. His wife and two sons survived. He was buried in Fain Cemetery.

His obituary described Ernest Neal as having "possessed a brilliant mind," and reported that he had devoted 56 years to Georgia schools.


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