The Reconstruction era in Georgia

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Summary

This research work scrutinizes the issues relating to the Reconstruction era (1865-1871) in the Southern states of the United States of America, with a special focus on Georgia (middle). In this regard, various academic books, journals and primary sources have been examined. This work has adopted qualitative research methods to achieve the objectives of this research. The main thesis of this research is: Reconstruction was not successful in alleviating the social, economic and political issues in (Middle) Georgia. To establish this thesis, various aspects such as economic, political, social and educational problems that were faced by the people during the Reconstruction era have been discussed. In this regard, US federalism, in the 19th century, has been discussed in brief. In addition, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and their effects on the southern states have been examined. Thereafter, issues relating to Georgia during Reconstruction have been analyzed. Subsequently, the drawbacks of Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and its effect on Georgia’s black people’s voting rights have been scrutinized. Thereafter, Fort Valley and Savannah have been taken up for discussion. After this, Reconstruction Legislatures in formulating laws for the black schools, as well as the Freedmen’s Bureau and its function in the emancipation processes, in Georgia, have been analyzed. This work establishes that Reconstruction procedures were ineffective in alleviating discrimination and differences among races in Georgia. This work substantiates its claim that the Reconstruction era failed to resolve social, economic, and political problems in (middle) Georgia during the Reconstruction.

Introduction

This research work examines the issues related to Georgia(Middle) in the Reconstruction era (1865-1871) after the civil war in the United States of America. In this regard, various social, political and economic problems have been scrutinized in Georgia with a special focus on Fort Valley, Savannah, Atlanta and other prominent places in Middle Georgia. This research work claims that Reconstruction was not successful in resolving social, economic and political problems in Georgia, after the civil war.

Reconstruction was not successful in alleviating the social, economic and political issues in (Middle) Georgia.

US federalism of the 19th century had been peripheralized to a greater extent than at present. The state governments had substantial discretion in the regulation of political and social life, design of political institutions, and the granting of political rights to their citizens. As a matter of fact, state governments, until the 1860s, had total discretion in determining which categories of individuals could be regarded as citizens. Moreover, the enslavement of African origin people constituted a legal and economically crucial institution. Although, an amendment to the US Constitution had made slavery illegal, the rights guaranteed by state governments and the national government were few. This state of affairs had major implications for the voting and civil rights of blacks, especially in the southern states, in addition to the states in the North and West.

The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were added to the US Constitution, during the Reconstruction. The background of these developments and the circumstances under which they took place were extraordinary. At that juncture, serious objections had been raised over the legality of these interventions. From the practical perspective, no controversy could be said to exist. However, lawfulness of these amendments had persisted as a chronic issue. The primary objection to the adoption of these amendments was that every state government of the South that had ratified these amendments had not been legally competent to do so, due to the haphazard manner of their creation. In addition, the majority of the southern ratifications had been obtained via unlawful federal threats.

Georgia

During the Civil War, Georgia was a Confederate state that had been defeated. It was subjected to Reconstruction after the Civil War, from 1865 to 1871. At that juncture, the Republican government and military operation in Georgia had come to an end. Although, this period was for a short time, the Reconstruction changed the state economically, politically and socially. During June 1865, the Military Department of Georgia had been formed. Some stability was provided to the blacks and whites of Georgia by the US Army. This was in addition to food rations, which had become scarce in some regions of Georgia. In June 1865, there were 9,000 soldiers, and this increased to 15,000 by September 1865.  The Georgia General Assembly ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, in December 1865. This brought the practice of slavery to an end. On 20 December 1865, Johnson, the then US President, reviewed the situation. He was convinced that the war objectives of the Union regarding emancipation and unification had been realized. Therefore, he returned the governance of Georgia to its elected officials. In 1866, two US senators were selected by the legislature. This marked the participation of Georgia in national deliberations.

With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, Georgia became the 27th state to approve it. On 15 January 1866, Iowa voted for ratification, making it the 31st state to do so. The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution brought freedom from slavery for four million African Americans. This was around a third of the South’s population. Essentially, it had been legislated that slavery or involuntary servitude, save as punishment for crime, would not be permitted in the US or any other place that was under the jurisdiction of the US. It was also decided that Congress would be empowered to enforce this by enacting suitable legislation.

As such, the Reconstruction of Georgia began with the surrender of its governor, Joseph E Brown. Agricultural activities had stopped, there was lack of social order, and a political upheaval had taken place, due to the Civil War. This resulted in the destruction of a major part of the South. The Reconstruction of Georgia consisted of: first, restoring it to the Union. Second, recognizing its social structure. Third, enacting laws to promote the rights of the former slaves.

The then US President, Abraham Lincoln, issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in the year 1863. This enabled the southern states to be reincluded in the Union. Lincoln was assassinated for having ended slavery. However, his successor, Andrew Johnson, continued with his plans and implemented several of his strategies for ensuring that the Souther states were reincluded in the Union. With respect to Georgia, its Reconstruction began when President Johnson appointed a provisional governor. The latter was tasked with the difficult job of bettering Georgia socially, economically and politically. To this end, James Johnson had been appointed as the provisional governor of Georgia, on 17 June 1865, by the then US President Andrew Johnson.

In the year 1869, the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was passed by Congress. This prohibited voting discrimination on the basis of race. It was ratified in 1870. However, it had several loopholes, such as the poll tax. The conservatives of Georgia, in December 1870, won a large number of seats in the General Assembly election. Afterwards, the poll tax was reintroduced and the Ku Klux Klan began to intimidate the blacks. These developments reduced the black vote to a major extent.

Discrimination, per se, tends to continue in Georgia. For instance, McLeod had noted that a city’s population was sharply divided along gender, race and skill. The employers exploited a racially divided labor force. Frequently, the white workers with higher skills would refuse to ally with the less skilled blacks. The white workers would use their unions to safeguard their workplace rights and customs.

Fort Valley

The sole land-grant institution of Georgia is Fort Valley State. All the same, it has not been provided with the same amount of funds as the white land-grant institution of the state, as designated under the Morrill Act. In the year 1996, this school became the Fort Valley State University. This happened when the University System Board of Regents granted it the status of a university.

The industrial activity of Fort Valley started during the 1880s, and this was in tandem with its agricultural boom. Such activity was around and alongside the railroad. The initial products were those required for agricultural production, including ice, crates, animal food, baskets and pesticides. Over time, industry shifted from agriculture-related manufacture to other sectors, including machine production and lumber. With the introduction of the automobile, industrial production entered the areas of parts production and vehicle bodies. There was strong economic growth in Fort Valley, from the end of the 19th century to the 20th century. This was mirrored in the increase in the population of this place. With the passage of time, Fort Valley remained a transportation hub. This continued its importance, in this context, from the railroad age to the introduction of the automobile in the 20th century.

One of the earliest railroad buildings constructed was the freight depot. With the switching tower, freight depot and passenger depot, Fort Valley was one of the few Georgian communities that had all these buildings in place. In the year 1852, the first train entered Fort Valley. By the year 1860, Fort Valley was the most important cotton production region of Georgia. Its economic future improved with the Reconstruction, expansion of its peach industry, and transfer of agricultural produce to northern markets.

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Moreover, Fort Valley, like several other American agricultural communities, experienced economic retrenchment. This town has survived upon private funding, and its dependence upon government resources has been less than 15%. The Fort Valley State University is an important entity with regard to the resurgence of Fort Valley. It has traditionally been a black college and is a major employer of Fort Valley.

Thus, from the beginning of the Reconstruction era, legislation in Georgia, had faced considerable difficulty in implementing public schools for blacks. The blacks had to contend with a wide range of issues in their endeavors to develop educational opportunities. During the dark days of Jim Crow legislation, racial violence, sharecropping and political disenfranchisement, the blacks of Georgia had to engage in several battles to create educational institutions. Between 1877 and 1901, legislators of the South, lynch mobs, Ku Klux Klan, and the US Supreme Court destroyed years of progressive change. The nadir of this situation was reached with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes to the US Presidency in 1876.

However, the Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School, which had been founded in 1895, became a better educational institution than the Georgia State Industrial College. One of the black founders and the first Principal of Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School, was John W. Davison. His attempts to model this institute along the lines of Atlanta University, from which he had obtained his educational qualifications, was condemned by the white trustees. They humiliated Davison and ensured his ouster, within a year. This demonstrated the extent of the discrimination prevailing in Georgia, during that era.

Savannah

Savannah politics was affected to a major extent due to the disastrous presidential elections of 1868. This city was under the domination of the white elite, and they were in control of local political offices, courts, and the media. These entities realized that they could employ the government and the media to intimidate, manipulate and deceive the blacks, in addition to rigging elections. The police were utilized for shaping politics with violence.

During the elections of 1869, the election victory of the Democrats had been critically affected by the poll tax. This prompted the city council to introduce a local voter registration tax. In this manner, voters of Savannah had to pay a state, as well as local poll tax. The local Democratic Party, which now called itself the Conservative Party, proposed a system of committees. These would nominate candidates for local elections. This system was ratified by the city council, via a closed system of nomination by party-chosen delegates. This brought in a version of local white-only primary.

On 11 October 1869, a municipal election was conducted. This had only one polling center, namely the courthouse. The voters had to face a hundred, armed white special deputies in the courthouse square. Inside the courthouse, there were 75 members of a Conservative Party Challenging Committee, who were ready to mount wholesale challenges against black voters. Many black voters were prevented from voting, while several other black voters avoided the entire exercise. The result was that the Conservative Party won over the Republican Party by a margin of three to one.

The African American politicians of Savannah obtained a bitter lesson from this episode. They realized that the whites would not hesitate to kill blacks, if their control over local politics was threatened. This state of affairs was a terrifying challenge to sustaining black political activity. Such acts of violence and manipulation, during polls, had become common in Georgia during 1868 and 1869. The black minority in the legislature of Georgia moved several bills to end chain gangs, convict leasing, poll tax and segregation in public accommodations.

Reconstruction Legislatures

The Reconstruction legislatures, which were supported by the blacks, had been successful in formulating laws to establish public schools that admitted black students. Moreover, the law enforcement and judicial authorities were, in general, safeguarding the blacks from violence and fraud. All the same, it was very difficult to transform political power into direct economic benefit for the blacks. The whites, including former slave owners and those with the resources to purchase property, held secure titles to the land. This rendered the freedmen impotent to contest the biased employment relations. The gravity of this situation had been understood by the blacks all along. As such, there was hardly any possibility of blacks acquiring adequate land.

The end of the Civil War and emancipation of slaves compelled the US to address the issue of integrating and accommodating the new black citizens into the social framework. The blacks strived to achieve racial equality, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution granted them citizen status. Moreover, the Reconstruction period made them eligible to participate in elections. As a result, blacks obtained considerable political power in some of the states, and they endeavored to institutionalize their constitutional privileges and rights.

Blacks had several pressing priorities, and one of them was the formation of a public schools’ system that would promote their economic, political and social interests. Several black legislators succeeded in creating a robust common school system for whites and blacks. This was a novel development in the southern US where public schooling had been absent. Thus, Emancipation enabled the blacks to usher in an educational revolution in the South. The freed slaves worked hard and persistently to establish and operate schools. Several whites from the North provided the necessary funds for some of these schools. However, the blacks were chiefly responsible for establishing and running community schools.

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However, white legislators diverted the funds allocated for black schools to further aid the white schools. In fact, the 1900 census had disclosed that just 22% of black children, between the ages of 5 and 9 years, had attended school in that year. Among the black children who attended school, the majority had attended for less than six months in a year, followed a school calendar that was based upon on the cotton-picking schedule, and traveled long distances, as most of the schools were in the urban areas. On the other hand, most of the blacks resided in rural areas.

Congress developed a program for reconstructing the South that promoted racial harmony and economic advancement. However, this proved to be a major failure. Despite the various criticisms levelled against Congress, the fact remained that Reconstruction failed due to the unbridled racism of the Southern whites. In fact, every program had to promote the welfare of the whites; otherwise, it was bound to fail. The whites, with their majority in all the Southern states, save two states, were in control of politics. They utilized state laws, county regulations and local judicial rulings, to frustrate land redistribution schemes, free labor programs, and white political disenfranchisement. The sole hope for the success of the Reconstruction was the bureaucracy.

The Reconstruction of Georgia commenced under the provisional governor James Johnson, in 1865. This was initiated via a convention held at Milledgeville, Georgia, in October 1865. This convention was attended by 300 delegates, and Johnson presided over it. Charles Jones Jenkins, the chairman of the committee, worked very hard to make the convention a success. His proactive efforts at this convention, made him the unanimous choice, and subsequently, this earned him the governorship of Georgia. Jenkins replaced Johnson as the governor of Georgia.

Within a short period of his appointment, Jenkins, undertook steps to resolve Georgia’s budget crisis and other issues related to the Restoration, such as the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. During his three-year tenure, Jenkins settled the budget crisis, restored the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and persuaded the Georgia legislature to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment was required by the Republicans for readmission of Georgia into the Union. In 1867, the US Congress revoked the legitimacy of the governments of most of the southern states under the Military Reconstruction Acts. The southern states were segregated into military districts. At that juncture, Alabama, Florida and Georgia were included in the Third Military District. The southern states were instructed to pay various debts of the war, and this led to pandemonium in most of the legislatures of these states.

The Freedmen’s Bureau

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, undertook several measures to help the newly freed slaves. This entity endeavored to smoothen the transition of four million slaves to citizenship, as well as to help in reuniting slave families. On 1 January 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect. This brought about the liberation of blacks. At that juncture, Martin Robinson Delany, a famous abolitionist and first black field commander, approached President Lincoln and apprised the latter about the requirements of the former slaves. His suggestions helped to save several blacks from deprivation and death. During that period, a field order granted the islands south of Charleston, South Carolina, to the blacks. These people began to live on the deserted rice plantations on these islands and alongside the St. Johns River of Florida.

The US Congress, a month prior to the end of the Civil War, had constituted a federal agency. This was made a part of the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill and empowered its officers to seize Confederate estates in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee. These appropriated lands were given to 30,000 black farmers for their own use. The War Department exercised total control over every feature of the resettlement.

The Freedmen’s Bureau, in 1865, administered the land program vigorously in Georgia. As a consequence, a large proportion of the black labor returned to agricultural activity. Furthermore, it mediated a contract-labor mechanism between black workers and white landowners. Several among these black workers had been the slaves of these white landowners. However, labor changed drastically. For instance, field work, which had previously been undertaken by all the members of black families, underwent change. As a result, freedwomen and their children limited their work to the household. Moreover, adults and children availed themselves of educational opportunities, which were generally provided by teachers from the North. As such, education was usually related to the ever-increasing number of all-black churches of that era. These developments were viewed with suspicion by the whites of Georgia. Emancipation was regarded by many whites as providing limited freedom to the freed slaves. White supremacy was a daily reality in Georgia, and the notions of freed people being fellow citizens and voters were regarded with skepticism and subjected to ridicule. All the same, the Georgia General Assembly regarded the blacks as something more than a mere labor force.

Thus, among the ex-Confederate states, Georgia proved to be an exception. It did not from a harsh Black Code. The freed slaves were provided with practical civil equality. This enabled them to approach the courts, form and enforce contracts, and sue and be sued. Moreover, they were granted property rights, including the right to inherit, sell, buy and lease land and personal property. Furthermore, they were provided with immunity from being subjected to penalties and punishments that were not applicable to the whites. In addition, the marriages and children of black were provided with legitimacy. However, several significant rights were denied to the blacks, including the right to vote, right to serve as jurors, and the right to testify against whites in court.

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The black voters of Georgia were initially manipulated and then disenfranchised. This development occurred in the 1890s. W.H. Rogers, the last black member of the General Assembly of Georgia resigned in the year 1907. The next black politician to become a member of Georgia’s General Assembly was Leroy Johnson, who achieved this distinction in the year 1963. Thereafter, in the year 2005, Willie Talton became a member of the General Assembly of Georgia. The main legacy of the Reconstruction, in Georgia, was a life of sharecropping. In the past, property taxes had been imposed on slave owners. This changed and such tax burden was imposed upon landowners. Moreover, the tax rates were enhanced during the Reconstruction era. This brought about significant change. The whites, who had been land owners, now found themselves to be sharecroppers. Although, 13% of the black farmers owned land, by the 1900s, the majority were nothing more than sharecroppers. Thus, Reconstruction was viewed with suspicion and fury by the whites of the South, as it posed a danger to the color line. The South of the 19th century operated upon the notion that all whites were members of a master race. Whites, due to their skin color, were deemed superior to blacks and Indians.

Conclusion

The Civil War was, in effect, a conflict over slavery. Nevertheless, this proved to be an inept and exorbitant way to resolve the issue. Despite eradicating slavery, the Civil War generated several major hurdles towards the construction of a post-emancipation society. Georgia demonstrates failure of theoretically derived expectations to become the reality. In the aftermath of the Reconstruction, Georgia provided a glaring example of the various repressive measures of social control adopted in the South to subjugate the blacks. Middle Georgia had its share of consistently high volumes of executions and lynchings. This terrible state of affairs continued for many years. The whites believed that they were the natural and legitimate rulers of the region. The freed blacks were regarded as sub-humans by the whites, and the Reconstruction was held to be a device for promoting the personal gain of the degenerates of society, namely the blacks. The reality was the benefits had been derived by the whites, and the blacks continued to be exploited ruthlessly. Thus, this research substantiates the contention that Reconstruction era was ineffective in resolving social, economic and political problems in (middle) Georgia.

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