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Key Changes in Georgia from 1877-1970

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, former middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the key changes that took place in Georgia between 1877 to 1970. We will highlight important political, economic, and social developments, and learn why they are important to Georgia's history.

Georgia History after the Civil War

Imagine what it was like for ordinary Georgians to experience the devastation of the Civil War. Georgia was laid to ruin more so than other states. Union General William T. Sherman burned down the city of Atlanta, and during his infamous ''March to the Sea,'' cut a path of destruction 60 miles wide from west to east across the state. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Georgia was hurting big time. But it recovered. Atlanta was rebuilt, and it emerged a major industrial and cultural center of the South. Georgia struggled with racial tension in the decades following the Civil War. Racial conflict is an important aspect of Georgia's history. Georgia gave the world Coca-Cola, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Jimmy Carter. Let's dig deeper and learn about Georgia's history between 1877 and 1970.

Racial Strife in Post-War Georgia

Georgia was among the group of states that left the Union in 1860, leading to America's bloodiest conflict, the Civil War. With defeat came humiliation and bitterness. Many Georgians were particularly angry over Northern efforts to grant equality to African-Americans.

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution promoted racial equality, but many Georgians (and Southerners in general) found ways to get around this through ''Jim Crow'' laws. ''Jim Crow'' laws were local laws that denied African-Americans their constitutional rights through segregation and other means. Many ''Jim Crow'' laws prohibited African-Americans from voting, owning land, or using the same public facilities as whites. ''Jim Crow'' laws were widespread in Georgia well into the 20th century. It was not until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that they finally disappeared.

Lynchings were also common throughout Georgia into the 20th century. In many cases, African-Americans suspected of committing crimes (even with insufficient evidence) were dragged out to a tree and publicly hanged on the spot, without even a trial. Local law enforcement did little to discourage these types of mob lynchings. The Klu Klux Klan, or KKK, a white supremacist terrorist organization, had an active presence in Georgia, and was often instrumental in lynchings.

The KKK had a strong presence in Georgia in the decades after the Civil War, and even well into the 20th century.
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Economic Growth in the Late 19th/Early 20th Century

The railroad played an important role in Georgia's economic growth in the late 19th and early 20th century. Atlanta had been a major railroad hub even before the war, but after the war, it continued to grow. Head of Western & Atlantic Railroad, John B. Gordon played an important role in Georgia's railroad expansion. He, along with Joseph E. Brown and Alfred H. Colquitt, were movers and shakers of Georgia's late 19th century economic renewal.

In 1886, former Confederate colonel John Pemberton developed an alternative to alcoholic beverages. He named his product Coca-Cola. Based out of Atlanta, Coca-Cola went on to be wildly successful. Cotton production thrived in Georgia before the Civil War, but afterwards farmers began searching for alternatives. Enter the peach. Peaches became an important Georgia crop during the late 19th century. Refrigerated railroad boxcars meant peaches could be exported all over the South. By the 1920s, peach harvesting peaked. Today Georgia is known as the ''Peach State'' because of its most famous fruit.

John Pemberton, inventor of Coca-Cola.
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