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Georgia's State History, Historical Figures & Symbols

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 history of Georgia, its important historical figures, and its symbols. We will highlight the key themes surrounding Georgia's history and learn why they are important.

Each State is Special

You may know the state song or the state bird of the state you live in. Every state has its own special story. For example, Massachusetts is home to the birth of the American Revolution. It is there the opening battles of the Revolutionary War were fought. California, on the other hand, had a major gold rush beginning in 1849. The NFL football team the San Francisco ''49ers'' is derived from prospectors who came to California in that year. It is interesting to learn the ways each state is different, and explore some of the special symbols which help make each state unique. In this lesson let's look at the state of Georgia and identify some of its unique characteristics. Let's begin with a brief big-picture history of the state.

History of Georgia

James Oglethorpe, the ''founding father'' of Georgia, began the British colony in 1733, naming it after the British King, George II. He hoped it would serve as a safe haven for debtors, but this plan never fully succeeded.

James Oglethorpe, the founding father of Georgia.
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Georgia had strong ties with Great Britain, and it was a fairly reluctant participant in the American Revolution (1776-1783). For this reason, the state was home to many Loyalists, American colonists who remained ''loyal'' to the king and opposed American independence.

As a southern state, Georgia's economy was based around agriculture. Large plantations worked by slaves could be found throughout the state. Even in these early days slavery was a well-established social and economic institution. In 1794 Savannah resident Eli Whitney patented a revolutionary device called the cotton gin. This invention could separate the cotton seed from the cotton fiber quickly and efficiently. Separating these by hand was very time consuming, and so Whitney's invention completely revolutionized the cotton industry. Cotton became a major cash crop in Georgia, and the term ''King Cotton'' was commonly used to refer to the importance of the crop.

In 1829 the Georgia Gold Rush broke out in the North Georgia Mountains, drawing tens of thousands of prospectors hoping to strike it rich. The massive influx of white settlers into the area increased tensions with the Cherokee, who lived in the region. Throughout the beginning of the 1800s conflict with the Native American Cherokee tribes was common, until President Andrew Jackson had them forcibly removed to Oklahoma under the Indian Removal Act.

During the 1800s the city of Atlanta began playing a major role in the history of Georgia. Originally called Thrasherville, they city of Atlanta started as a railway hub in the 1830s. Over the next few decades Atlanta exploded into a major city. Its growth slowed during the Civil War (1861-1865) because the Union General William T. Sherman burned the city down. It was rebuilt, of course, and went on to become one of the largest cities in the South. In 1886 former Confederate colonel John Pemberton developed a ''soft'' drink called Coca-Cola and began selling it in Atlanta.

Coca-Cola was founded in Atlanta by John Pemberton in 1886.
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Georgia also experienced a great deal of racism, with ''Jim Crow'' Laws prevalent throughout the state well into the 20th century. These laws were enacted following the Civil War, and served to keep African-Americans from having the same rights and privileges as white citizens. For example, some common ''Jim Crow'' Laws forbid African-Americans from using the same restrooms or drinking fountains as white people; others put restrictions on voting or owning property. Along with other southern states like Alabama and North Carolina, Georgia was a major battleground of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement was a nationwide struggle aimed at securing equal rights for African-Americans.

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