Johnny Cash Rides the Rails Through Georgia

By Donnie Summerlin

In September 1974, country music legend Johnny Cash spent several days in west central Georgia to film scenes for an ABC television documentary titled Ridin’ the Rails: The Great American Train Story. Cash hosted and narrated the musical homage to the history of American railroads. It was a memorable occasion for the locals who participated in the production and got to meet with the Man in Black during his brief Georgia stopover. For Johnny Cash, it was a bit of a homecoming.

Johnny Cash shaking hands with Melville Brown, who owned the land in Pike County where they filmed portions of the television special. From the September 16, 1974 issue of the Griffin Daily News.

Cash and the television crew filmed historical reenactments in Pike and Spalding Counties and took a breathtaking train ride through the Georgia countryside. They also shot scenes in Rossville, the Big Shanty Station in Kennesaw, Stone Mountain, and Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell. Among the events highlighted in Georgia for the TV special were the Great Locomotive Chase that took place during the Civil War and a reinactment of the story of train engineer Casey Jones.

During a stop in Griffin, Cash (accompanied by his father Ray) visited the Spalding County jail. The country singer was a high-profile advocate for prisoners’ rights and famously recorded two live albums at the Folsom and San Quentin state prisons in the late 1960s. As Cash talked with local officials outside, the inmates called out to him from the top floor of the jail and asked him to come inside for a visit. Although Cash was asked not to go upstairs, he shouted to them from the parking lot. The Griffin Daily News was on hand to photograph the country legend with excited locals and those photos are available on the Georgia Historic Newspapers website. The issues were digitized with funding from the Spalding County SPLOST via the Flint River Regional Library System.

Johnny Cash with Spalding Sheriff’s Department secretaries Linda Fields and Rosa Howard. From the September 14, 1974 issue of the Griffin Daily News.
Johnny Cash talking with inmates at the Spalding County jail. From the September 14, 1974 issue of the Griffin Daily News.

During his conversation with the Griffin residents, Cash mentioned that he had a grandfather who lived in the area and still had cousins in the surrounding counties. In fact, his great-great-great-grandparents John and Lucy Campbell Cash moved to Georgia after the end of the Revolutionary War and eventually settled in nearby Henry County. Many of Johnny Cash’s descendants also lived in Elbert County before his grandfather William H. Cash moved his family to Arkansas, where Johnny Cash was born. Evidence of his genealogy can be found in the Georgia Historic Newspapers and Chronicling America websites.

Legal notice concerning the estate of Johnny Cash’s great-great-grandparents who resided in Elbert County, Georgia. From the January 17, 1854 issue of the Daily Chronicle & Sentinel (Augusta).
Obituary for Johnny Cash’s Georgia-born grandfather William Henry Cash from the Pine Bluff Daily Graphic (Arkansas). Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Ridin’ the Rails: The Great American Train Story premiered on ABC on November 22, 1974. The nostalgic television special featured Cash performing several train songs including “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The City of New Orleans,” and “Ridin’ the Rails.” Over the course of an hour, the film captures not just the history of railroads, but also a moment in time when Johnny Cash reconnected with his Georgia roots. The American Rail Club currently hosts the special on YouTube.

Newspaper ad for the Ridin’ the Rails television special on ABC. From the November 22, 1974 issue of the Griffin Daily News.

Georgia Historic Newspapers Update Fall 2022

This year, the Digital Library of Georgia released several new grant-funded newspaper titles to the Georgia Historic Newspapers website. Included below is a list of the newly available titles.

Titles digitized in partnership with the Atlanta History Center and Kennesaw State University

Southern Voice (Atlanta), 1988-1994

Titles funded by the Farris Cadle

Bethesda News (Savannah), 1947-1949

Jewish Alliance (Savannah), 1945-1949

Labor Herald (Savannah), 1909

Reason (Savannah), 1908

Savannah Times, 1881

Savannah Weekly News, 1912

Southern Agriculturist (Savannah), 1872

Weekly News (Savannah), 1881

Titles funded by the Forsyth County Government with an ARPA Digital Inclusion grant

The Forsyth County News (Cumming), 2004-2012

Titles made available as part of the Georgia Newspaper Project’s Born Digital Project

Advance (Vidalia), 2021

Banks County News (Homer), 2008-2020

Barrow Journal (Winder), 2008-2015

Barrow News-Journal (Winder), 2016-2021

Braselton News, 2007-2020

Commerce News, 2007-2016

Herald-Gazette (Barnesville), 2021-2022

Jackson Herald (Jefferson), 2008-2021

Lee County Ledger, (Leesburg) 2001-2022

Madison County Journal (Hull), 2009-2021

Millen News, 2009-2021

Pickens County Progress (Jasper), 2003-2021

Pike County Journal and Reporter (Zebulon), 2021

True Citizen (Waynesboro), 2009-2022

Titles funded by the Georgia Public Library Service with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

Advertiser (Cleveland), 1881

Brunswick News, 1924-1932

Camilla Enterprise, 1904-1926

Cleveland Advertiser, 1880-1881

Cleveland Courier, 1896-1967

Covington News, 1909-1936

Covington Star, 1885-1902

Courier-Sentinel (Ellijay) 1898-1899

Ellijay Courier, 1876-1892

Ellijay Courier, 1906-1915

Ellijay Times, 1906-1915

Enterprise (Covington), 1905-1909

Fort Valley Leader,  1908

Georgia Enterprise (Covington), 1889-1905

Pelham Journal, 1908-1924

Times-Courier (Ellijay) 1916-1924

Titles funded by the Georgia Public Library Service with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in partnership with the Roddenbery Memorial Library

Cairo Messenger, 1904-1950

Titles funded by the Georgia Public Library Service with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in partnership with Peach Public Libraries

Leader-Tribune (Fort Valley), 1925-2012

Leader-Tribune and Peachland Journal, 1920-1924

Fort Valley Leader, 1908

Titles digitized in partnership with Julia Grimes and the Library of Virginia

Hexagon (Elberton), 1974-1975

Titles digitized in partnership with the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Countryman (Turnwold), 1862-1865

Titles funded by Lucy Hilton Maddox Memorial Library Trust

Early County News, 1942-1953

Titles funded by the National Digital Newspaper Program with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Atlanta Age, 1900

Augusta Union, 1900

Colored American (Augusta), 1865-1866

Columbus Chronicle, 1900

Gazette and Land Bulletin (Waycross), 1900

Macon Sentinel, 1900

Savannah Weekly Echo, 1883-1884

Voice of Missions (Atlanta), 1900

Weekly Defiance (Atlanta), 1882-1883

Titles donated by Edward Smith

Star Daily News (Milledgeville), 1917

Titles funded by Spalding County SPLOST via the Flint River Regional Library System

Griffin Daily News, 1888-1889

Griffin Daily News and Sun, 1889-1924

Griffin Daily News, 1924-1930, 1944-1949. 1966-1977

Griffin Weekly News and Sun, 1896-1918

Titles funded by the R.J. Taylor, Jr. Foundation

Adel News, 1900-1904

American Union (West Bowersville), 1885-1896

Ashburn Advance, 1897-1900

Advocate-Democrat (Crawfordville), 1893-1906

Banner-Messenger (Buchanan), 1891-1900

Baptist Reporter (Guyton), 1888

Blackshear News, 1878-1882

Blackshear Times, 1889-1901

Blairsville Free Press, 1892

Blue Ridge Post,  1893, 1900, 1913

Bogart News, 1897

Bulloch County Banner (Statesboro), 1893

Bulloch Herald (Statesboro), 1899-1901

Bulloch Times (Statesboro), 1893-1898

Calhoun County Courier (Leary), 1882-1902

Carnesville Advance, 1899-1917

Carnesville Tribune, 1890-1894

Clay County Reformer (Fort Gaines), 1894

Columbia Sentinel (Harlem), 1885-1923

Conyers Examiner, 1878-1883

Conyers Weekly, 1895-1901

Conyers Weekly-Banner, 1901-1902

Correspondent (Roberta), 1892-1903

Crawfordville Advocate, 1895-1896

Crawford County Correspondent (Roberta), 1892

Crawford County Herald (Knoxville), 1890-1892

Crawfordville Democrat, 1881-1893

Daily Sun (Columbus), 1865-1873

Democrat (Crawfordville), 1877-1881

Demorest Times, 1891-1894

Dodge County Journal (Eastman), 1887

Dispatch (Ocilla), 1899

DuPont Okefenokean, 1880

Eastman Times, 1879-1887

Echols Echo, 1916

Enterprise-Record (Gibson), 1892

Excelsior News, 1879

Fannin County Gazette (Mineral Bluff), 1891

Fitzgerald Leader, 1897-1912

Fort Valley Mirror, 1880-1881

Franklin County Register (Carnesville), 1878-1888

Fort Gaines Sentinel, 1897-1898

Georgia Farmer (Statesboro), 1892

Hale’s Weekly (Conyers), 1892-1895

Hamilton Journal, 1881-1885

Hamilton Journal, 1887

Hamilton Journal, Published Semi-Weekly, 1885-1887

Hancock Weekly Journal (Sparta), 1869-1870

Hamilton Journal, 1906-1920

Headlight (Gray), 1889

High Shoals Messenger, 1897

Industrial Banner (DuPont), 1892

Irwin County News (Sycamore), 1893-1897

Jasper News, 1885

Jones County Headlight (Gray), 1888-1889

Journal (Hamilton), 1887-1889

Knoxville Journal, 1888-1889

Leader Fort Valley, 1891

Lincolnton News, 1882-1890

Lithonia New Era, 1890

Lumpkin Independent, 1883-1902

Monroe Advertiser (Forsyth), 1888-1910

Morgan Monitor, 1897-1899

Morganton News, 1891

Murray County Gazette (Spring Place), 1879

Murray News (Spring Place), 1897-1909

North Georgia Times (Spring Place), 1881-1891

Ocilla Dispatch, 1899-1901

Oconee Enterprise (Watkinsville), 1887-1916

Oglethorpe Echo (Crawford), 1878-1898

People’s Advocate (Crawfordville), 1893

Pickens County Herald (Jasper), 1888-1899

Record (Wrightsville), 1897-1900

Rockdale Banner (Conyers), 1888-1900

Savannah Daily Evening Recorder, 1878-1881

Solid South (Conyers), 1883-1892

South Georgian (Macville), 1879-1880

Southern Record, 1897-1898

Southern Times and Planter (Sparta), 1874

Sparta Times and Planter, 1874

Statesboro Eagle, 1889-1891

Statesboro Star, 1894, 1899

Stillmore Times, 1898

Times-Journal (Eastman), 1889-1899

Toccoa News, 1880-1889

Toccoa News, 1893-1896

Toccoa News and Piedmont Industrial Journal, 1889-1893

Toccoa Record, 1901-1902

Toccoa Times, 1894-1896

Toccoa Times-News, 1896-1897

Tribune (Buchanan), 1898-1901

Watkinsville Advance, 1880-1881

Wayne County News (Jesup), 1897-1910

Weekly Banner (Conyers), 1900-1901

Wiregrass Cracker, 1883

Wrightsville Recorder, 1880-1902

Young Harris News, 1900

Titles digitized in partnership with the Tifton-Tift County Public Library

Tifton Gazette, 1917-1918

–Donnie Summerlin and Mandy Mastrovita