Georgia in the Civil Rights Movement

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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. 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...
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