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Important Events in Georgia History Since 1970

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Georgia has played a major role in US history, and that influence isn't limited to events like the Civil War. In this lesson, we'll talk about modern Georgian history and see what events shaped the state as we know it today.

Modern Georgia History

In March of 1970, the state of Georgia ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, recognizing the right of women to vote. This sounds pretty great, until you realize that the rest of the country ratified the amendment back in 1920. Despite the fact that the amendment received the majority needed to pass and was being enforced, Georgia politicians silently protested it for 50 years. So, the question becomes: why ratify in 1970?

The 1970s saw the dawning of a new era in Georgia history. Dramatic social, political, and economic changes transformed the state. Traditions were challenged, new ideas embraced, and overdue changes adopted. Georgia as we know it today was being formed.

The New, New South

Georgia's transformations in the mid-late 20th century really began with the gubernatorial election of 1970. The incumbent governor, Carl Sanders, was challenged by a newcomer to the political scene named Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primary. Carter won the nomination, and later, the election.

Jimmy Carter
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As governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter sponsored widespread reforms of the state government. Government agencies and departments were dissolved and reorganized, the political process was streamlined, and state budget systems were redrawn. Carter's reforms expanded into other areas as well, including public education, public health, and criminal justice. He made equal employment opportunities a priority, bringing more African Americans and women into state government than all previous governors combined. Carter's reforms, and those of the many politicians who helped implement them, set the stage for a more progressive Georgia.

Race

While Carter's reforms were broad, there is one topic that merits special attention. In the 1950s, Georgia was among the Southern states to firmly fight for racial segregation. In 1964, segregation was abolished at the national level, but many Southern states found ways to fight it. Georgia's governor Carl Sanders encouraged Georgians to comply with the national integration policies, but for many black communities, real change was slow in arriving.

When Carter was sworn into office in 1971, his inaugural address stated clearly and simply that the debate on segregation was over. Georgia would henceforth embrace racial integration. Carter's promise was heard across the state, but it would still take time to implement. Black communities, especially in rural areas where segregation was worst, began protesting en masse in support of civil rights. In 1972, Andrew Young became the first black politician elected to represent Georgia in the United States Congress in a century. A year later, Maynard Jackson became the first black mayor of Atlanta.

Andrew Young
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Despite these successes, challenges still existed. Many black communities lived in poverty, with little access to political or economic opportunities. Georgians fought to change this throughout the 1980s and 90s, with some success. However, tensions still remain. In the 21st century, Georgians have become major participants in the Black Lives Movement that seeks to reveal institutionalized racism embedded within many traditional structures of American society.

Economic Changes

Hand-in-hand with the social and political reforms of Georgia were several reforms focused on the economy. After World War II, many Southern states gradually entered into a period of sustained economic and demographic growth. We call the states participating in these changes the Sunbelt. Georgia really entered into the Sunbelt in the 1970s, seeing sustained growth and expansion for the next 30 years.

While agricultural sectors like peanuts, onions, and (of course) peaches boomed, the epicenter of this growth was in the city of Atlanta. The city exploded in size, population, and reputation as a major industrial center. Major companies from across the USA relocated to Atlanta, and local companies like Coca-Cola thrived. In 1977, mayor Maynard Jackson broke ground on an expanded airport, completed in 1980 and quickly becoming amongst the busiest international airports in the world. At the height of its growth, Atlanta was even selected to host the Summer Olympic Games in 1996.

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