Who was Editor Frank Willis Barnett?

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Glennville, Alabama native Frank Willis Barnett was an attorney and pastor before purchasing the paper in 1902. His work with The Alabama Baptist and other newspapers earned him honorary degrees from Howard College and the University of Alabama.
Photo courtesy of Special Collection, Samford University Library, Birmingham, Alabama

Frank Willis Barnett 

Frank Willis Barnett was born in Barbour County, Alabama, on October 23, 1865, to Dr. Augustus William and Celeste (Truetlen) Barnett of Washington, Georgia. His father was a Methodist minister and physician, and he sent Barnett to school in St. Louis, Missouri, the city considered to have the best schools. In 1882, his brother took him to Paris, France, where he entered the Institution Winter, a private school that would prepare him for study at the Sorbonne and College of France. But he was homesick and returned to study at the University of Alabama as a sophomore in 1884 and 1885, then went on to Vanderbilt. He later returned to Europe, studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, the University of Vienna and the University of Berlin.

When he came back home, he read law with C.D. Clayton in Eufaula, Alabama, practiced law in Birmingham from 1888 to 1892, then moved to New York University to be in a post-graduate law program from 1892 to 1894. He moved to Atlanta in 1894, and while he was there he made a profession of faith and was baptized and ordained to the Baptist ministry in September 1895. To prepare himself for the ministry, he studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and took courses at Yale Divinity School.

On June 21, 1899, Barnett married Maud Proctor, daughter of David Jesse and Eileen Proctor of Forsyth, Georgia. Their two sons were Frank Willis and Proctor Hawthorne Barnett.

Barnett left the pastorate of Washington Baptist Church in Georgia in December 1901, desiring to purchase and edit a religious newspaper in Alabama. He purchased The Alabama Baptist of Montgomery from owner and editor Major John G. Harris for $7,500. He then bought The Baptist Evangel of Birmingham and The Baptist Herald of Florida. His church, in resolutions appearing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, praised their pastor and his wife for their faithful service of two years and commended him to the Baptist brethren of Alabama. In January 1902, the first issue of The Southern and Alabama Baptist appeared.

Throughout his editorship, Barnett sought ways to improve the physical appearance of the paper, using the newest printing technology and techniques. He was thirty-six when he started his journalism career, and his enthusiasm was reflected in the paper. He stayed busy in Alabama Baptist affairs but also in Birmingham and Alabama politics and business, serving as first vice president of Birmingham Press Association in 1904. He used information from state, local and national sources. He fought for Baptist ideals that he cherished — improved working conditions for children and lower-paid wage earners, religious freedom, freedom of speech and separation of church and state. He also helped with the constitution of First Baptist Church of West Blocton in 1912, serving as the first pastor.

During World War I, Barnett served as Birmingham’s coordinator of Societies of Alabama Council of Defense. Barnett was also working for the Birmingham Age Herald. After selling The Alabama Baptist to the Alabama Baptist State Convention, he wrote, “I sold it of my own free will and accord and that at no stage of transfer was there any other thought in my or Dr. Yarbrough’s mind but to do the thing that was best for the Baptists of the state.”

Howard College conferred on him the doctor of law degree in 1918. In 1919, Barnett became pastor of First Baptist Church of Trussville. The University of Alabama honored him with the doctor of letters in 1924.

Barnett died in Birmingham on June 29, 1941, and was buried in Forsyth City Cemetery in Forsyth, Georgia.

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About thealabamabaptist

State Baptist newspaper serving Baptists in Alabama, providing information, inspiration and interpretation as well as challenging readers to serve and find opportunities for ministry that further the kingdom of God.
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