Celestine Sibley (1914-1999)
Early Life and Career
Celestine Sibley was born in Holley, Florida, on May 23, 1914, to Evelyn Barber and Henry Colley. Sibley's mother, later known as "Muv" in Sibley's column, left her father (though she never officially divorced him) and married Wesley Reeder Sibley, a lumberman from Creola, Alabama. Adopted by her stepfather at the age of seven, the young Celestine was given his last name and spent her childhood in Creola, a small town on the outskirts of Mobile. At age fifteen, Sibley, an ambitious student reporter at Murphy High School's Hi Times, was hired as a weekend cub reporter at the Mobile Press Register. When she graduated in 1933, Sibley was offered her first full-time paid position at the Press. Covering everything from welfare to murder, the young journalist earned priceless experience at the Press, while her natural talent and attention to detail established her as a solid writer from the beginning of her career.
During this time, Sibley married Press colleague and journalist James W. Little; the couple had three children together before he died at the age of forty-five. Sibley later married John C. Strong, who died in 1988.
In 1936 Sibley and Little moved to Pensacola, Florida. Sibley began writing for the Pensacola News-Journal and continued to cover all aspects of local news. In the summer of 1941, her husband accepted a position with the Associated Press in Atlanta and moved the family there.
Sibley was given her first column in 1944, which allowed her more time to be with her children. Both full-time reporter and mother, Sibley was still able to become a front-page news and courtroom reporter, covering the "three governors controversy" in 1946 as well as many high-profile trials. In 1947 her investigative coverage of police and political corruption surrounding a murder case resulted in the acquittal of convicted murderer Floyd Woodward, and she later received the
In the early 1950s, Sibley worked for five years as the Hollywood correspondent for the Sunday Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine, traveling to Los Angeles, California, and interviewing movie stars and filmmakers. Her profiles, which she later called "fluff stories," included such celebrities as Clark Gable, Walt Disney, and Jane Russell. "Pulp stories" also became an infamous part of Sibley's versatile writing career during this time. As another creative way to support her family, Sibley moonlighted as a True Confession and True Detective reporter, selling stories with such shocking headlines as "I Wanted to Die" and "I Was a Junkie."
Her short-lived pulp career was eventually replaced by a long-term book career, beginning with the publication of The Malignant Heart (1958), the first book in the Kate Mulcay mystery series. For nearly forty years, Sibley continued to publish books in a variety of genres, including Peachtree Street, U.S.A. (1963) ,
From 1958 to 1978 Sibley covered politics, courts, and the Georgia legislature, including the annual forty-day Georgia General Assembly, which became one of her favorite assignments. Sibley's legislative reporting was considered fair, unbiased, and accessible to the general public. During these years she also reported on the trial of James Earl Ray, who was convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and on the 1976 presidential election, in which Jimmy Carter became the first Georgian elected president of the United States. As a gesture of appreciation for her years of excellent political reporting, the House of Representatives voted in 2000 to name its press gallery at the state capitol in Sibley's honor.
Although Sibley spent the bulk of her career as a reporter, she is perhaps best remembered as a syndicated columnist for the Atlanta Constitution. Even after she retired from reporting in the late 1990s,
Sibley died of cancer at the age of eighty-five on August 15, 1999. She continued working until the final weeks before her death, with her last regular Constitution column appearing on July 25, 1999. She was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2007 and into Georgia Women of Achievement in 2010.
Richard L. Eldredge, ed., Celestine Sibley, Reporter (Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2001).
Sibley Fleming, Celestine: A Granddaughter's Reminiscence (Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2002).
Celestine Sibley, The Celestine Sibley Sampler: Writings and Photographs with Tributes to the Beloved Author and Journalist, ed. Sibley Fleming (Atlanta: Peachtree, 1997).
Kim Purcell, Georgia Center for the Book
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.