Georgia in the Civil Rights Movement Contemporary History Research Paper The civil rights movement was a time of great upheaval and change for the entire United States, but it was especially so in the South. The civil rights movement in the American South was one of the most triumphant and noteworthy social movements in the modern world. The civil rights movement was an enduring effort by Black Americans to obtain basic human and civil rights in the United States. Black Georgians formed part of this Southern movement for civil rights and the wider national struggle for racial equality.
From Atlanta to Albany to the most rural counties in Georgia, black activists, and their white allies, protested white supremacy in a myriad of ways from legal challenges and mass demonstrations to strikes and self-defense. The end results proved to be a significant victory in Georgia and in the national fight for civil rights. Atlanta’s Washerwomen’s Strike remains as one of the most successful protest carried out by African Americans in the late 19th century. In 1881, washerwomen formed a Washing Society and then they went on strike, demanding higher wages for all members and greater autonomy.
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Household workers started to walk off their jobs and black male waiters began refusing to serve until their pay was increased. This strike set the precedent for other labor protests in Georgia and in the South (Tuck, 2003). In the late nineteenth century, segregation was formally established in Georgia with the passing of a wide variety of Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation or separation in public facilities (Schulz, 2005). These laws effectively preserved the region’s tradition of white supremacy by institutionalizing it.
The segregation of public transportation was protested by community leaders and acts of resistance to white domination increased across Georgia even when lynching was at its pinnacle and almost a common occurrence. The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 delivered a big blow to the bustling Georgian city. Atlanta had become the economic hub of the region and its population was soaring. The black population grew four times over and because of this, the city’s white leadership expanded Jim Crow legislation particularly in neighborhoods and on public transportation.
Race relations were incredibly rocky but not as horrific when compared to the rest of the South. Racial tension began to rise, however, at the emergence of the city’s black elite. These black elite were well-educated, running businesses and accumulating wealth (Grant, 2001). This did not sit well with the white people in Atlanta. The racial tension was even more inflamed when gubernatorial candidate Hoke Smith played to the fears of the white population by saying that the disenfranchisement of black people was necessary to keep them “in their place. The other candidate, Clark Howell, argued that Smith was not as dedicated as he was to advancing the cause of white supremacy. Additionally, the city’s newspapers began running stories on the alleged attacks on white women by black men. The media provoked so much anger and hatred among its white readership that, by September, mob violence erupted. White men surged the streets of downtown Atlanta and assaulted black men and women. Many black people were killed and their businesses destroyed. Black people began arming themselves in a show of self-defense.
The riot lasted for four days and its effect would be felt for decades to come. In the immediate aftermath of the riot, the city’s image was tarnished. Atlanta had prided itself on representing the New South, but this city was not the New South that progressive white Southerners wanted to promote. The riot had solved nothing. White people didn’t feel any more secure and black people became even more cynical and distrusting of the white populace. The only thing it accomplished was deeper divide between blacks and whites and the tainted reputation of the city.
At the turn of the century, the “back-to-Africa” movement began. This was a movement that was started in the 1920’s by Marcus Garvey. The movement gained a great deal of support among black people in Georgia because Henry McNeal Turner, an African Methodist Episcopal bishop and political leader, became an avid supporter (Tuck, 2003). Also, during this time, black Georgians began establishing churches and schools within their own separate communities as a safeguard from the discrimination and racism they faced on a regular basis. World War II and its aftermath effected great changes in Georgia’s civil rights struggle.
Large numbers of blacks moved to the west and the north to share in the wartime prosperity, giving the minority problem a national rather than a regional character. In Georgia, and elsewhere, urbanization was also rapidly accelerated and large numbers of blacks who fought in the armed services against tyranny and injustice abroad began to more keenly feel the injustice at home. The fight for democracy in Europe offered the perfect opportunity for black leaders to press for racial change in the South. In 1944, Primus King, a black man registered to vote in Georgia, attempted to cast a ballot in the Democratic primary.
He was turned away by a police officer who escorted him off the premises of the Muscogee County Courthouse. This was a time in Georgia where the Democratic Party controlled all of the politics in Georgia and in the South. Primus King’s challenge to the white primary was planned by a group of black civil rights activists. After King was turned away, he went to an attorney who proceeded to draw up papers for a lawsuit against the Democratic Party Executive Committee for denying King his right, as a United States citizen, to vote.
The courts ruled in favor of King and the Georgia Democratic Party fought the ruling at every step, but the ruling was upheld. Black voter registration rose significantly after this ruling and Georgia had the most registered black voters of all the southern states (Bayor, 2007). The next tough challenge to the Georgia civil rights movement was Governor Eugene Talmadge. Talmadge was up for reelection for the third time. He was a notorious white supremacist and black leaders sought to thwart his fourth election.
Talmadge won the election in 1946 through violence, fraud, and the corruption of the Georgia political system. However, before Talmadge could take office, he died. This led to his son, Herman Talmadge, who had not even run for office, being selected to be the governor by Georgia’s state legislature. The gubernatorial election proved to be a massive blow to civil rights in Georgia as resurrection of white supremacy was brought in. Segregation was even more reinforced and state officials were seeking to outlaw the NAACP.
Threats from the Ku Klux Klan to leaders of the black community increased exponentially. Thomas Brewer, the man who organized the Primus King challenge to the Democratic Party, was assassinated during this time. The black protests that took place all over Georgia ceased everywhere but Atlanta, Savannah, and Macon. Even though the race relations in these three cities were better than elsewhere in Georgia, segregation was still firm and the violent attacks on black citizens were recurrent (Tuck, 2003). The complexion of the civil rights movement changed during the 1950s and 60s.
By the 1950s, whites in the South had instituted a comprehensive system of supremacy over blacks. Their system kept up the numerous privileges of its white populace while engendering the anguish of the South’s black population. This systematic power of whites over blacks was economical, political and personal. It was an all-encompassing method of control and it wreaked havoc on every black person in Georgia and elsewhere in the American South. The U. S. Supreme Court had begun chipping away at the “separate but equal” doctrine established in public schools and institutions of higher education.
In May 1954, they tore the wall down. In Brown v. Board of Education, the court cited the psychological and sociological impact of segregated education and declared separate schools inherently unequal. In 1955, the Court ruled that black be admitted to the public schools “on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed. ” Some Southern states began moving toward desegregation, but the Deep South, including Georgia, was reticent and came up with numerous delay tactics. Most Southern congressmen denounced the Court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court’s decisions of 1954 and 1955 had a profound effect. Segregation, which had been legal for more than fifty years, was suddenly illegal, and the existing power structure would now be used to carry out the new legality. The 1950s also saw the emergence of the face of the civil rights movement: Martin Luther King, Jr. King was born and raised in Atlanta. He attended Morehouse College before getting his Ph. D. from Boston University. King developed a fascination for Mahatma Gandhi, whose life and teaching eventually influence his destiny in leading a passive resistance.
In 1955, while he was a pastor at a church in Alabama, a racial crisis drove him into the leadership of a citywide boycott of the local transit company. The Montgomery Improvement Association was organized to coordinate policy and strategy and King was elected president of the organization. The Montgomery bus boycott lasted for over a year. After mass arrests, attacks, threats and other forms of intimidation, the boycott was successfully concluded after the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation of the public transportation was unconstitutional (Bayor, 2007). The Montgomery bus boycott made Martin Luther King, Jr. national symbol. He became convinced of the need for a new civil rights effort based on the nonviolent philosophy and, in 1957, organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC began in Montgomery, but later moved to Atlanta where Dr. King became the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The SCLC focused on organizing nonviolent protests and registering black voters. For the next several years Dr. King helped lead many protest demonstrations throughout the South including the Albany Movement, but this movement was unable to spark any change due to numerous factors.
A new organization ‘ the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) ‘ helped to infuse a more enthusiastic tone into the movement. Beginning in February of 1960 with four students sitting at a lunch counter in North Carolina, the SNCC was officially organized at Shaw University in Raleigh a couple of months later. This new form of protest spread throughout the South and the SNCC moved its headquarters to Atlanta. Students at Atlanta’s six Historically Black Colleges and Universities ‘ Atlanta University, Spelman, Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Clark College ‘ began organizing in
Georgia. They coordinated sit-ins at lunch counters all over Atlanta. The people used in these protests were selected with care and trained to endure verbal and physical abuse without retaliating. The sit-ins in Georgia were peaceful on both sides as opposed to the violent protests that took place in some other Southern cities. The students won a great deal of sympathy and admiration, and their actions were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1961. The civil rights movement took a big hit when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. His assassination spurred riots across the nation.
In, the subsequent years after his death, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter gained statewide and national interest after his 1971 inaugural address. In this address he called for an end to racial discrimination. The national press viewed him as someone who could bring about change in the New South. During his term as governor more black people that ever before were appointed to higher government positions. In 1972, Andrew Young became the first black man in Georgia since Reconstruction to be elected to the U. S. Congress. A year later, Maynard Jackson became the first black mayor of Atlanta (Tuck, 2003).
The number of elected black officials has increased at a staggering rate since the 1970s, as well as the overall black population. Blacks make up more than thirty percent of Georgia and well over sixty percent of Atlanta. Atlanta has become a beacon to black people who have been moving to the city in droves because of the city’s successful and ambitious black population. The effect of the civil rights movement in Georgia will always be felt and recognized. It took an inordinate amount of time to get to the point that Georgia is now, but for the citizens of the majority of Georgia ‘ white and black, alike ‘ it was worth the wait.
Works Cited: Bayor, Ronald H. (2007) Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Goff, Richard. (2008) The Twentieth Century and Beyond: A Global History. McGraw-Hill. Grant, Donald L. (2001) The Way it was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Schulz, Mark. (2005) The Rural Face of White Supremacy: Beyond Jim Crow. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Tuck, Stephen G. N. (2003) Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle for Racial Equality in Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press.