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History of Georgia (U.S. state) facts for kids

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The history of Georgia in the United States of America spans pre-Columbian time to the present day. The area was inhabited by Native American tribes for thousands of years. A modest Spanish presence was established in the late 1500s, mostly centered on Catholic mission work. The Spanish were largely gone by the early 1700s, though they remained in nearby Florida, and their presence ultimately left little impact on what would become Georgia. (Most Spanish place names in Georgia date from the 19th century, not from the age of colonization.)

English settlers arrived in the 1730s, led by James Oglethorpe. The name "Georgia", after Britain's King George II, dates from the creation of this colony. Slavery was forbidden in the colony, but the ban was overturned in 1749 due to the pressure of George Whitfield and others. Slaves numbered 18,000 by the American Revolution.

The citizens of Georgia agreed with the other 12 colonies concerning trade rights and issues of taxation. On April 8, 1776, royal officials had been expelled and Georgia's Provincial Congress issued a constitutional document that served as an interim constitution until adoption of the state Constitution of 1777. The British occupied much of Georgia from 1780 until shortly before the official end of the American Revolution in 1783.

The post-revolutionary years were a time of growth after Indian Removal, and economic prosperity for white planters. The new cotton gin, enabled the cultivation and processing of short-staple cotton in the inland and upcountry. This stimulated the cotton boom in Georgia and much of the Deep South, promoting a cotton-based economy dependent on slave labor. Most of the whites, however, owned no slaves and tended their own small farms. Full suffrage for white men led to a highly competitive political system.

In February 1861, Georgia seceded from the Union and joined other Southern states to form the Confederate States of America. Georgia contributed nearly one hundred thousand soldiers to the war effort. The first major battle in the state was the Battle of Chickamauga, a Confederate victory, and the last major Confederate victory in the west. In 1864, William T. Sherman's armies invaded Georgia as part of the Atlanta Campaign. The burning of Atlanta (which was a commercially vital railroad hub but not yet the state capital) was followed by Sherman's March to the Sea, which devastated a wide swath from Atlanta to Savannah in late 1864. These events became iconic images in the state's memory and dealt a devastating economic blow to the entire Confederacy.

After the war, Georgians endured a period of economic hardship. Reconstruction was a period of military occupation and biracial Radical Republican rule that established public education and welfare institutions, and instituted economic initiatives. Reconstruction ended in 1875 with the return of white Democratic rule. Black citizens lost most of their political power and became second class citizens in the Jim Crow era from the 1880s to 1964. The state was heavily rural with an economy still based on cotton and residents suffered in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The many training bases and munitions plants in World War II stimulated the economy. During the broad-based activism of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, Georgia was the base for African-American leader Martin Luther King, Jr.. After 1950 the economy grew, with cotton becoming far less important. Atlanta became a major regional city and transportation hub, expanding into neighboring communities by the fast-growing suburbs. Georgia was part of the Solid South until 1964, when it voted for a Republican president. Democratic candidates continued to receive majority-white support in state and local elections until the 1990s, when the realignment of whites shifted to Republicans. Since 2000 the white majority has supported the Republican Party, which generally dominates politics in the 21st century.


Before European contact, Native American cultures are divided into four lengthy archaeological time periods: Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian.

The Mississippian culture, the last of many mound building Native American cultures, lasted from 800 to 1500 AD. This culture developed urban societies distinguished by their construction of truncated earthworks pyramids, or platform mounds; as well as their hierarchical chiefdoms; intensive village-based maize horticulture, which enabled the development of more dense populations; and creation of ornate copper, shell and mica paraphernalia adorned with a series of motifs known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC). The largest sites surviving in present-day Georgia are Kolomoki in Early County, Etowah in Bartow County, and Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon.

European exploration

DeSoto Map HRoe 2008
A proposed route for the de Soto Expedition, based on Charles M. Hudson map of 1997.

At the time of European colonization of the Americas, the historic Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee and Muskogean-speaking Muscogee (Creek) and Yamasee peoples occupied present-day Georgia. The Cherokee had spread southward along the Ridge and Valley Appalachians, occupying lands reaching to the upper Chattahoochee, which formed the southern boundary of their lands, stretching all the way to Tennessee and the Ohio River.

The Muscogee were a loose confederation of tribes descended from the Mississippian culture people. They were divided between the Lower Creeks along the Ocmulgee, Flint and the lower Chattahoochee rivers, and the more remote Upper Creeks along the Coosa and Alabama rivers. The Yamasee occupied the coastal areas along the Savannah River.

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León may have sailed along the coast during his exploration of Florida. In 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón attempted to establish a colony on an island, possibly near St. Catherines Island. It was during this colonial attempt, known as San Miguel de Guadalupe, that the first Catholic Mass took place in the present-day United States.

From 1539 to 1542 Hernando de Soto, a Spanish conquistador led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day southern United States searching for gold, and a passage to China. A vast undertaking, de Soto's North American expedition ranged across parts of the modern states of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas and included traversing much of the state of Georgia from south to north encountering many native groups along the way.

The French founded the colonial settlement of Charlesfort in 1562 on Parris Island, when Jean Ribault and his party of French Huguenots settled an area in the Port Royal Sound area of present-day South Carolina. Within a year the colony failed. Most of the colonists followed René Goulaine de Laudonnière south and founded a new outpost called Fort Caroline in present-day Florida.

Over the next few decades, a number of Spanish explorers from Florida visited the inland region of present-day Georgia. The local Mississippian culture peoples, described by de Soto in 1540, had completely disappeared by 1560. The people may have succumbed to new infectious diseases introduced by the Europeans.

English fur traders from the Province of Carolina first encountered the Lower Creeks in 1690. The English established a fort at Ocmulgee. There they traded iron tools, guns, cloth, and rum for deerskins and Indian slaves captured by warring tribes in regular raids.

British colony

A map of the Province of Georgia.

The conflict between Spain and Great Britain over control of Georgia began in earnest in about 1670, when the British colony of South Carolina was founded just north of the missionary provinces of Guale and Mocama, part of Spanish Florida. Guale and Mocama, today part of Georgia, lay between Carolina's capital, Charles Town, and Spanish Florida's capital, St. Augustine. They were subjected to repeated military invasions by English and Spanish colonists.

The English destroyed the Spanish mission system in Georgia by 1704. The coast of future Georgia was occupied by British-allied Yamasee American Indians until they were decimated in the Yamasee War of 1715–1717, by South Carolina colonists and Indian allies. The surviving Yamasee fled to Spanish Florida, leaving the coast of Georgia depopulated, making formation of a new British colony possible. A few defeated Yamasee remained and later became known as the Yamacraw.

English settlement began in the early 1730s after James Oglethorpe, a Member of Parliament, proposed that the area be colonized with the "worthy poor" of England, to provide an alternative to the overcrowded debtors' prisons. Oglethorpe and other English philanthropists secured a royal charter as the Trustees of the colony of Georgia on June 9, 1732. The misconception of Georgia's having been founded as a debtor or penal colony persists due to the numerous English convicts who were later sentenced to transportation to Georgia. With the motto, "Not for ourselves, but for others," the Trustees selected colonists for Georgia.

Oglethorpe and the Trustees formulated a contract, multi-tiered plan for the settlement of Georgia (see the Oglethorpe Plan). The plan framed a system of "agrarian equality" designed to support and perpetuate an economy based on family farming and prevent the social disintegration they associated with unregulated urbanization. Land ownership was limited to 50 acres (20 ha), a grant that included a town lot, a garden plot near town, and a 45 acres (18 ha) farm. Self-supporting colonists were able to obtain larger grants, but such grants were structured in 50 acres (20 ha) increments tied to the number of indentured servants whom the grantee imported. Upon completing their term of service, servants would receive a land grant of their own. No person was permitted to acquire additional land through purchase or inheritance.

On February 12, 1733, the first settlers arrived in the ship Anne, at what was to become the city of Savannah.

In 1742, the colony was invaded by Spanish forces during the War of Jenkins' Ear. Oglethorpe mobilized local forces and defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Bloody Marsh. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war, confirmed the English position in Georgia.

From 1735 to 1750, the trustees of Georgia, unique among Britain's American colonies, prohibited African slavery as a matter of public policy. However, as the growing wealth of the slave-based plantation economy in neighboring South Carolina demonstrated, slaves were more profitable than other forms of labor available to colonists. In addition, improving economic conditions in Europe meant that fewer whites were willing to immigrate as indentured servants. In addition, many of the whites suffered high mortality rates from the climate and tropical diseases of the Lowcountry.

In 1749, the state overturned its ban on slavery. From 1750 to 1775, planters so rapidly imported slaves that the enslaved population grew from less than 500 to approximately 18,000, and they constituted a majority of the colony. Some historians have surmised that the Africans had the knowledge and material techniques to build the elaborate earthworks of dams, banks, and irrigation systems throughout the Lowcountry that supported rice and indigo cultivation; Georgia planters imported slaves chiefly from rice-growing regions of present-day Sierra Leone, the Gambia and Angola. Recent scholarship argues that the Europeans could have developed the rice culture on their own and that African knowledge played a minor role in the success of its cultivation as a commodity crop. Later planters added sugar cane as a crop. A scarcity of horses proved to be a constant problem for the industry of range cattle. Occasional roundups were made of wild horses which had escaped either from Indian traders or from Spanish Florida.

In 1752, Georgia became a royal colony. Planters from South Carolina, wealthier than the original settlers of Georgia, migrated south and soon dominated the colony. They replicated the customs and institutions of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Planters had higher rates of absenteeism from their large plantations in the Lowcountry and the Sea Islands. They often took their families to the hills during the summer, the "sick season", when the Lowcountry had high rates of disease, such as malaria and yellow fever. The decade after the end of Trustee rule was a decade of significant growth. Georgia began to slowly but solidly grow after the treaty of 1748 ended fear of further attacks from Spain.

By the 1750s, British settlers lived as far south as Cumberland Island, which was in violation of the rules of their own government as well as that of Spain, who claimed the territory. British settlers living south of the Altamaha River frequently engaged in trade with Spanish Florida which was also illegal according to both governments, but the ban on such trade was essentially unenforceable.

The pacing and development of large plantations made the Georgia coast society more like that of the West Indies than of Virginia. The large plantations were worked by numerous African-born slaves, and many Africans, although of different languages and tribes, came from closely related geographic areas of West Africa. The slaves of the 'Rice Coast' of South Carolina and Georgia developed the unique Gullah or Geechee culture (the latter term more common in Georgia), in which important parts of West African linguistic, religious and cultural heritage were preserved and creolized. This multi-ethnic culture developed throughout the Lowcountry and Sea Islands, where enslaved African Americans later worked at cotton plantations. African-American influence, which absorbed elements of Native American and European-American culture, was strong on the cuisine and music that became integral parts of southern culture.

Georgia was largely untouched by war during much of Britain's involvement in the Seven Years War as the colony was located a long distance from Canada and the French-allied Indians. In 1762 Georgia feared a potential Spanish invasion from Florida, although this did not occur by the time peace was signed at the 1763 Treaty of Paris. During this period the Cherokee Rebellion began.

Governor James Wright wrote in 1766, thirty-two years after its founding, that Georgia had

No manufactures of the least consequence: a trifling quantity of coarse homespun cloth, wool [sic] and cotton mixed; amongst the poorer sort of people, for their own use, a few cotton and yarn stockings; shoes for our Negroes; and some occasional blacksmith's work. But all our supplies of silk, linens, wool, shoes, stockings, nails, locks, hinges, and tools of every sort... are all imported from and through Great Britain.


Georgia has had five different capitals in its history. The first was Savannah, the seat of government during British colonial rule, followed by Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville, and Atlanta, the capital city from 1868 to the present day. The state legislature has gathered for official meetings in other places, most often in Macon and especially during the American Civil War.

American Revolution

Royal governor James Wright was popular. But all of the 13 colonies developed the same strong position defending the traditional rights of Englishmen which they feared London was violating. Georgia and the others moved rapidly toward republicanism which rejected monarchy, aristocracy and corruption, and demanded government based on the will of the people. In particular, they demanded "No taxation without representation" and rejected the Stamp Act in 1765 and all subsequent royal taxes. More fearsome was the British punishment of Boston after the Boston Tea Party. Georgians knew their remote coastal location made them vulnerable.

In August 1774 at a general meeting in Savannah, the people proclaimed, "Protection and allegiance are reciprocal, and under the British Constitution correlative terms; ... the Constitution admits of no taxation without representation." Georgia had few grievances of its own but ideologically supported the patriot cause and expelled the British.

Angered by the news of the battle of Concord, on the eleventh of May 1775, the patriots stormed the royal magazine at Savannah and carried off its ammunition. The customary celebration of the King's birthday on June 4 was turned into a wild demonstration against the King; a liberty pole was erected. Within a month the patriots completely defied royal authority and set up their own government. In June and July, assemblies at Savannah chose a Council of Safety and a Provincial Congress to take control of the government and cooperate with the other colonies. They started raising troops and prepared for war. "In short my lord," wrote Wright to Lord Dartmouth on September 16, 1775, "the whole Executive Power is Assumed by them, and the King's Governor remains little Else than Nominally so."

In February 1776, Wright fled to a British warship and the patriots controlled all of Georgia. The new Congress adopted "Rules and Regulations" on April 15, 1776, which can be considered the Constitution of 1776. (Along with the other 12 colonies, Georgia declared independence in 1776 when its delegates approved and signed the joint Declaration of Independence.) With that declaration, Georgia ceased to be a colony. It was a state with a weak chief executive, the "President and Commander-in-Chief," who was elected by the state Congress for a term of only six months. Archibald Bulloch, President of the two previous Congresses, was elected first President. He bent his efforts to mobilizing and training the militia. The Constitution of 1777 put power in the hands of the elected House of Assembly, which chose the governor; there was no senate and the franchise was open to nearly all white men.

The new state's exposed seaboard position made it a tempting target for the British Navy. Savannah was captured by British and Loyalist forces in 1778, along with some of its hinterland. Enslaved Africans and African Americans chose their independence by escaping to British lines, where they were promised freedom. About one-third of Georgia's 15,000 slaves escaped during the Revolution.

The patriots moved to Augusta. At the Siege of Savannah in 1779, American and French troops (the latter including a company of free men of color from Saint-Domingue, who were mixed race) fought unsuccessfully to retake the city. During the final years of the American Revolution, Georgia had a functioning Loyalist colonial government along the coast. Together with New York City, it was the last Loyalist bastion.

An early historian reported:

For forty-two long months had she been a prey to rapine, oppression, fratricidal strife, and poverty. Fear, unrest, the brand, the sword, the tomahawk, had been her portion. In the abstraction [removal] of negro slaves, by the burning of dwellings, in the obliteration of plantations, by the destruction of agricultural implements, and by theft of domestic animals and personal effects, it is estimated that at least one half of the available property of the inhabitants had, during this period, been completely swept away. Real estate had depreciated in value. Agriculture was at a stand-still, and there was no money with which to repair these losses and inaugurate a new era of prosperity. The lamentation of widows and orphans, too, were heard in the land. These not only bemoaned their dead, but cried aloud for food. Amid the general depression there was, nevertheless, a deal of gladness in the hearts of the people, a radiant joy, an inspiring hope. Independence had been won.

Georgia ratified the U.S. Constitution on January 2, 1788.

The original eight counties of Georgia were Burke, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Richmond and Wilkes. Before these counties were created in 1777, Georgia had been divided into local government units called parishes.

Antebellum period

Cotton gin EWM 2007
A 19th-century cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Connecticut.

In 1787, the Treaty of Beaufort established the eastern boundary of Georgia as the Savannah River, to Tugalo Lake. Twelve to fourteen miles of land (inhabited at the time by the Cherokee Nation) separate the lake from the southern boundary of North Carolina. South Carolina ceded its claim to this land (extending all the way to the Pacific Ocean) to the federal government.

Georgia maintained a claim on western land from 31° N to 35° N, the southern part of which overlapped with the Mississippi Territory created from part of Spanish Florida in 1798. Following a series of land scandals, Georgia ceded its claims in 1802, fixing its present western boundary. In 1804, the federal government added the cession to the Mississippi Territory.

The Treaty of 1816 fixed the present-day northern boundary between Georgia and South Carolina at the Chattooga River, proceeding northwest from the lake.

In 1829, gold was discovered in the north Georgia mountains, resulting in the Georgia Gold Rush, the second gold rush in U.S. history. A federal mint was established in Dahlonega, Georgia, and continued to operate until 1861. During this time, Cherokee Indians owned their ancestral land, operated their own government with a written constitution, and did not recognize the authority of the state of Georgia. An influx of white settlers pressured the U.S. government to expel them. The dispute culminated in the Indian Removal Act of 1830, under which all eastern tribes were sent west to Indian reservations in present-day Oklahoma. In Worcester v. Georgia, the Supreme Court in 1832 ruled that states were not permitted to redraw the boundaries of Indian lands, but President Andrew Jackson and the state of Georgia ignored the ruling. In 1838, his successor, Martin van Buren dispatched federal troops to round up the Cherokee and deport them west of the Mississippi. This forced relocation, beginning in White County, became known as the Trail of Tears and led to the death of over 4,000 Cherokees.

In 1794, Eli Whitney, a Massachusetts-born artisan residing in Savannah, patented a cotton gin, mechanizing the separation of cotton fibres from their seeds. The Industrial Revolution had resulted in the mechanized spinning and weaving of cloth in the world's first factories in the north of England. Fueled by the soaring demands of British textile manufacturers, King Cotton quickly came to dominate Georgia and the other southern states. Although Congress banned the slave trade in 1808, Georgia's slave population continued to grow with the importation of slaves from the plantations of the South Carolina Lowcountry and Chesapeake Tidewater, increasing from 149,656 in 1820 to 280,944 in 1840. A small population of free blacks developed, mostly working as artisans. The Georgia legislature unanimously passed a resolution in 1842 declaring that free blacks were not U.S. citizens. However, national citizenship is defined by federal statute. While an indication of sentiment, this state resolution did not have the power of law.

Slaves worked the fields in large cotton plantations, and the economy of the state became dependent on the institution of slavery. Requiring little cultivation, most efficiently grown on large plantations by large (slave) workforces, and easy to transport, cotton proved ideally suited to the inland frontier. The lower Piedmont or 'Black Belt' counties – comprising the middle third of the state and initially named for the region's distinctively dark and fertile soil – became the site of the largest and most productive cotton plantations. By 1860, the slave population in the Black Belt was three times greater than that of the coastal counties, where rice remained the principal crop. The upper Piedmont was settled mainly by white yeoman farmers of English descent. While there were also many smaller cotton plantations, the proportion of slaves was lower in north Georgia than in the coastal and Black Belt counties, but it still ranged up to 25% of the population. In 1860 in the state as a whole, enslaved African Americans comprised 44% of the population of slightly more than one million.


Until the 20th century there were no public secondary schools, although there were numerous private and religious schools.

Post secondary education was formalized, in 1785, with the establishment of The University of Georgia (first named Franklin College, after Benjamin Franklin), the oldest land grant college in the U.S. Rural families often pooled their resources to hire itinerant teachers for a month or two at a time. Ten grammar schools were in operation by 1770, many taught by ministers. Most had some government funding, and many were free to both male and female white students. A study of women's signatures indicates a high degree of literacy in areas with schools.

Georgia's early promise in education faded after 1800. Public education was established by the Reconstruction era legislatures in the South, but after Democrats regained power, they hardly funded them. The entire rural South had limited public schooling until after 1900, and black schools were underfunded in the segregated society.

Wealthy Georgians took care of their own, sending their children to private academies. The Presbyterians were especially active in creating academies, including numerous schools for women. They included Georgia Female College, Rome Female College, Greensboro Female College, Griffin Synodical Female College, Thomasville/Young's Female College, and the most enduring of all, Decatur Female Seminary, now Agnes Scott College.

Civil War

On January 18, 1861, Georgia seceded from the Union, keeping the name "State of Georgia" and joining the newly formed Confederacy in February. White solidarity was strong in 1861-63, as the planters in the Black Belt formed a common cause with upcountry yeomen farmers in defense of the Confederacy against the Yankees. However disillusionment set in by 1863, with class tensions becoming more serious, with food riots, desertions, and growing Unionist activity in the northern mountain region. Approximately 5,000 Georgians served in the union army in units including the 1st Georgia Infantry Battalion, the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, and a number of East Tennessean regiments. Governor Joseph E. Brown tried to divert attention by blaming the Confederate officials in Richmond, especially President Jefferson Davis, and insisting that many Georgia troops be kept at home. Brown was by the Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel, an influential weekly newspaper that repeatedly attacked the Davis administration, especially after the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus on 15 February 1864.

Military history

Georgia sent one hundred thousand soldiers to the Confederacy, mostly to the armies in Virginia.

Savannah Campaign
Sherman's March to the Sea, Nov.-Dec. 1864.

The first major battle in Georgia was a Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. It was the last major Confederate victory in the west. Following President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, slaves began to leave plantations to join Union lines and gain freedom. In 1864, William T. Sherman's armies invaded Georgia as part of the Atlanta Campaign. Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston fought a series of delaying battles, the largest being the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, as he tried to delay as long as possible retreating toward Atlanta. Johnston's replacement, Gen. John Bell Hood attempted several unsuccessful counterattacks at the Battle of Peachtree Creek and the Battle of Atlanta, but Sherman captured the city on September 2, 1864.

In November Sherman stripped his army of non-essentials and began his famous Sherman's March to the Sea, living off the land and burning plantations, wrecking railroads, and killing the livestock. Thousands of escaped slaves followed his troops across the region as he entered Savannah on December 22. After the loss of Atlanta, the governor withdrew the state's militia from the Confederate forces to harvest crops for the state and the army. They did not try to stop Sherman.

Sherman's March was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy in terms of economics and psychology. Sherman estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million (about $1.4 billion in 2010 dollars) in destruction, about one fifth of which "inured to our advantage" while the "remainder is simple waste and destruction." His army wrecked 300 miles (480 km) of railroad and numerous bridges and miles of telegraph lines. It seized 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, and 13,000 head of cattle. It confiscated 9.5 million pounds of corn and 10.5 million pounds of fodder, and destroyed uncounted cotton gins and mills.

Sherman's campaign of total war extended to Georgia civilians. In July 1864, during the Atlanta campaign, General Sherman ordered approximately 400 Roswell mill workers, mostly women, arrested as traitors and shipped as prisoners to the North with their children. This was a common tactic of Sherman to economically disrupt the South. There is little evidence that more than a few of the women ever returned home.

The memory of Sherman's March became iconic and central to the "Myth of the Lost Cause." The crisis was the setting for Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and the subsequent 1939 film. Most important were many "salvation stories" that tell not what Yankee soldiers destroyed, but what was saved by the quick thinking and crafty women on the home front, loyal slaves, or was preserved due to a Northerner's appreciation of the beauty of homes and the charm of Southern women.

Food shortages

By summer 1861, the Union naval blockade virtually shut down the export of cotton and the import of manufactured goods. Food that formerly came overland was cut off. In response, the governor and legislature pleaded with planters to grow less cotton and more food. Most refused, some believing that the Yankees would not or could not fight. When cotton prices soared in Europe, expectations were that Europe would soon intervene to break the blockade. Neither proved true and the myth of omnipotent "King Cotton" died hard. The legislature imposed cotton quotas, making it a crime to grow an excess. But food shortages only worsened, especially in the towns. Poor white women took matters in their own hands in more than two dozen riots when they raided stores and captured supply wagons to get such necessities as bacon, corn, flour, and cotton yarn. As the South lost control of more and more of its major ocean and river ports, it had to rely on a rickety railroad system and unimproved roads to move soldiers and supplies. Atlanta became the Confederacy's chief rail center, thus making it a prime target for Sherman. Thinking the state was safe from invasion, the Confederates built small munitions factories throughout the state as well as soldier hospitals and prison camps.

Andersonville Prison

In 1864, the government relocated Union prisoners of war from Richmond, Virginia, to the town of Andersonville, in remote southwest Georgia. It proved a death camp because of overcrowding and a severe lack of supplies, food, water, and medicine. During its 15 months of operation, the Andersonville prison camp held 45,000 Union soldiers; at least 13,000 died from disease, malnutrition, starvation, or exposure. At its peak, the death rate was more than 100 persons per day. After the war, the camp's commanding officer, Captain Henry Wirz, was the only Confederate to be tried and executed as a war criminal.


At war's end the devastation and disruption in every part of the state was dramatic. Wartime damage, disruption to plantations, and miserable weather had a disastrous effect on agricultural production before the end of the war. Production of the state's chief money crop, cotton, fell from a high of more than 700,000 bales in 1860 to less than 50,000 in 1865, while harvests of corn and wheat were also meager. After the war, the state subsidized construction of numerous new railroad lines to improve infrastructure and connections to markets. Use of commercial fertilizers increased cotton production in Georgia's upcountry, but the coastal rice plantations never recovered from the war.

In January 1865, William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15 authorizing federal authorities to confiscate abandoned plantations in the Sea Islands and redistribute land in smaller plots to former slaves. Later that year, after succeeding Lincoln in the presidency after he was assassinated, Andrew Johnson revoked the order and returned the plantations to their former owners.

At the beginning of the period of Reconstruction, Georgia had more than 460,000 freedmen. Slaves made up 44% of the state's population in 1860. After the Civil War, many former slaves moved from rural areas to Atlanta, where economic opportunities were better. Free from white supervision, they established their own communities. Other migrations involved blacks moving from plantations to adjacent small towns and communities. A new federal agency the Freedmen's Bureau helped blacks negotiate labor contracts, and set up schools and churches. The region's planters struggled with the transition to free labor and tried to control the movement of blacks through Black Codes.

Andrew Johnson's decision to restore the former Confederate states to the Union, without requirements for political change, was criticized by Radical Republicans in Congress. In March 1867, Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act to place the South under military occupation and rule. Along with Alabama and Florida, Georgia was included in the Third Military District, under the command of General John Pope. Military rule lasted less than a year. It supervised the first elections in which black men could vote. The electoral roll in 1867 included 102,000 eligible white men, and 99,000 eligible blacks. Radical Republicans in Congress required ex-Confederates to take an ironclad oath of loyalty or be prevented from holding office. The legislature was controlled by a biracial coalition of newly enfranchised freedmen, Northerners (carpetbaggers), and white Southerners(disparagingly called scalawags). The latter were mostly former Whigs who had opposed secession.

The voters elected delegates to write a new constitution in 1868; 20% of the delegates were black. In July 1868, the newly elected General Assembly ratified the Fourteenth Amendment; a Republican governor, Rufus Bullock, was inaugurated, and Georgia was readmitted to the Union. The state's Democrats, including former Confederate leaders Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb, convened in Atlanta to denounce Reconstruction. Theirs was described as the largest mass rally held in Georgia. In September, white Republicans joined with the Democrats in expelling all thirty-two black legislators from the General Assembly. Refusing to give up social domination, some ex-Confederates organized insurgent paramilitary groups, especially chapters of the newly formed Ku Klux Klan.

In 1868, under Reconstruction, Georgia became the first state in the South to implement the convict lease system. It generated revenue for the state by leasing out the prison population, many of whom were black, to work for private businesses and citizens. Prisoners did not receive income for their labor. In this manner, railroad companies, mines, turpentine distilleries and other manufacturers supplemented their workforce with unpaid convict labor. This helped to hasten Georgia's transition to industrialization. Under the convict release system, employers were legally obliged to provide humane treatment to the laborers. But the system was easily abused and akin to slavery. One prominent beneficiary of this system was the Republican jurist and politician Joseph E. Brown, whose railroads, coal mines and iron works supplemented their workforce with convict labor.

The activity of political groups opposed to Reconstruction prompted Republicans and others to call for the return of Georgia to military rule. Georgia was one of only two ex-Confederate states to vote against Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election of 1868. In March 1869, the state legislature defeated ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment.

That same month, the U.S. Congress, citing election fraud, barred Georgia's representatives from taking their seats. This culminated in military rule being re-imposed in December 1869. In January 1870, Gen. Alfred H. Terry, the final commanding general of the Third District, purged the General Assembly of ex-Confederates. He replaced them with Republican runners-up and reinstated expelled black legislators. This militarily imposed General Assembly had a large Republican majority.

In February 1870, the newly constituted legislature ratified the Fifteenth Amendment and chose new Senators to send to Washington. On July 15, Georgia became the last former Confederate state readmitted into the Union. After military rule ended, Democrats won commanding majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, aided by election violence and fraud. Some Reconstruction-era black legislators held on to their seats through the legislature's passage of laws disfranchising blacks, starting with a poll tax in 1877; the last black legislator served until 1907. In 1908 provisions of a new constitution completed black disfranchisement. Under threat of impeachment, Republican governor Rufus Bullock fled the state.

Postbellum economic growth

In 1907, Peachtree Street, the main street of Atlanta, was busy with streetcars and automobiles.

Under the Reconstruction government, the former state capital of Milledgeville was replaced by the inland rail terminus of Atlanta. Construction began on a new capitol building, which was completed by 1889. The population of Atlanta increased rapidly.

Post-Reconstruction Georgia was dominated by the 'Bourbon Triumvirate' of Joseph E. Brown, Major General John B. Gordon and Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt. Between 1872 and 1890, either Brown or Gordon held one of Georgia's Senate seats, Colquitt held the other, and, in the major part of that period, either Colquitt or Gordon occupied the Governor's office. Democrats effectively monopolized state politics. Colquitt represented the old planter class; Brown, head of Western & Atlantic Railroad and one of the states first millionaires, represented the New South businessmen. Gordon was neither a planter nor a successful businessman, but the former Confederate General proved a most skilled politician.

Gordon was thought by some to be the titular leader of the 1st Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. He was the first former Confederate to serve in the U.S. Senate. He helped negotiate the Compromise of 1877 that ended Reconstruction and led to the end of federal enforcement of laws protecting blacks. A native of northwest Georgia, his popularity impeded the growth of the 'mountain Republicanism,' which was prevalent elsewhere in Appalachian areas where slavery had been minor and resentment against the planter class widespread.

During the Gilded Age, Georgia slowly recovered from the devastation of the Civil War. One of the most enduring products came about in reaction to the age's excesses. In 1885, when Atlanta and Fulton County enacted prohibition legislation, a local pharmacist, John Pemberton invented a new drink. Two years later, after he sold the drink to Asa Candler who promoted it, Coca-Cola became the state's most famous product.

Henry W. Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, emerged as the leading spokesman of the 'New South'. He promoted sectional reconciliation and the region's place in a rapidly industrializing nation. The International Cotton Exposition of 1881 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895 were staged to promote Georgia and the South as textile centers. They attracted mills from New England to build a new economic base in the post-war South by diversifying the region's agrarian economies. Attracted by low labor costs and the proximity to raw materials, new textile businesses transformed Columbus and Atlanta, as well as Graniteville, on the Georgia-South Carolina border, into textile manufacturing centers.

Due to Georgia's relatively untapped virgin forests, particularly in the thinly populated pine savanna of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, logging became a major industry. It supported other new industries, most notably paper mills and turpentine distilling, which, by 1900, made Georgia the leading producer of naval stores. Also important were coal, granite and kaolin mining, the latter used in the manufacture of paper, bricks and ceramic piping.

In the volatile 1880s and 1890s, political violence suppressed black voting as white Democrats imposed laws for Jim Crow and white supremacy. This period corresponded to Georgia's disfranchisement of blacks and many poor whites through changes to its constitution and addition of such requirements as poll taxes (1877), literacy and comprehension tests, and residency requirements. In 1900 blacks comprised 46.7% of the population, but hardly any could register and vote. The state instituted a white primary in 1908; as it was a one-party state by that time, this further excluded the chance of black political participation. This situation prevailed into the mid-20th century.

The Cotton States and International Exposition was the venue of Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Compromise. He urged blacks to focus their efforts, not on demands for social equality, but to improve their own conditions by becoming proficient in agriculture, mechanics, and domestic service. He proposed building a broad base within existing conditions. He urged whites to take responsibility to improve social and economic relations between the races.

Black leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois, who supported classical academic standards for education, disagreed with Washington and said he was acquiescing to oppression. Du Bois, who had earned his doctorate in Germany and was one of the most highly educated black men in America, in 1897 joined the faculty of Atlanta University and taught there for several years.

Agrarian unrest and Disfranchisement

While Grady and other proponents of the New South insisted on Georgia's urban future, the state's economy remained overwhelmingly dependent on cotton. Much of the industrialization that did occur was as a subsidiary of cotton agriculture; many of the state's new textile factories were devoted to the manufacture of simple cotton bags. The price per pound of cotton plummeted from $1 at the end of the Civil War to an average of 20 cents in the 1870s, nine cents in the 1880s, and seven cents in the 1890s. By 1898, it had fallen to five cents a pound -while costing seven cents to produce. Once-prosperous planters suffered significant hardship.

Thousands of freedmen became tenant farmers or sharecroppers rather than hire out to labor gangs. Through the lien system, small-county merchants assumed a central role in cotton production, monopolizing the supply of equipment, fertilizers, seeds and foodstuffs needed to make sharecropping possible. By the 1890s, as cotton prices plummeted below production costs, 80–90% of cotton growers, whether owner or tenant, were in debt to lien merchants.

Indebted Georgia cotton growers responded by embracing the "agrarian radicalism" manifested, successively, in the 1870s with the Granger movement, in the 1880s with the Farmers' Alliance, and in the 1890s with the Populist Party. In 1892, Congressman Tom Watson joined the Populists, becoming the most visible spokesman for their predominately Western Congressional delegation. Southern Populists denounced the convict lease system, while urging white and black small farmers to unite on the basis of shared economic self-interest. They generally refrained from advocating social equality.

In his essay 'The Negro Question in the South,' Watson framed his appeal for a united front between black and white farmers declaring:

"You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both."

Southern Populists did not share their Western counterparts' emphasis on Free Silver and bitterly opposed their desire for fusion with the Democratic Party. They had faced death threats, mob violence and ballot-box stuffing to challenge the monopoly of their states' Bourbon Democrat political machines. The merger with the Democratic Party in the 1896 Presidential election dealt a fatal blow to Southern Populism. The Populists nominated Watson as William Jennings Bryan's vice-president, but Bryan selected New England industrialist Arthur Sewall as a concession to Democratic leaders.

Watson was not reelected. As the Populist Party disintegrated, through his periodical The Jeffersonian, Watson crusaded as a vigorous anti-Semite, anti-Catholic and white supremacist. He attacked the socialism, which had attracted many former Populists. He campaigned with little success for the party's candidate for President in 1904 and 1908. Watson continued to exert influence in Georgia politics, and provided a key endorsement in the gubernatorial campaign of M. Hoke Smith.

Disfranchisement and court challenges

A former cabinet member in Grover Cleveland's administration, M. Hoke Smith broke with Cleveland because of his support for Bryan. Hoke Smith's tenure as governor was noted for the passage of Jim Crow laws and the 1908 constitutional amendment that required a person to satisfy qualifications for literacy tests and property ownership for voting. Because a grandfather clause was used to waive those requirements for most whites, the legislation effectively secured the disfranchisement of African Americans. Georgia's amendment was made following 1898 and 1903 Supreme Court decisions that had upheld similar provisions in the constitutions of Mississippi and Alabama.

The new provisions were devastating for the African-American community and poor whites, as losing the ability to register to vote meant they were excluded from serving on juries or in local office, as well as losing all representation at local, state and Federal levels. In 1900 African Americans numbered 1,035,037 in Georgia, nearly 47% of the state's population.

Litigation in Georgia and elsewhere brought some relief, as in the overturning of the grandfather clause in the US Supreme Court ruling, Guinn v. United States (1915). White-dominated state legislatures and the state Democratic parties quickly responded by creating new barriers to an expanded franchise, such as white-only primaries.

The last black member of the General Assembly, W. H. Rogers, resigned in 1907 as the final representative of the Reconstruction-era coastal Georgia political machine.

Progressive era

The rapidly growing middle class of professionals, businessmen and educated worked to bring the Progressive Era to Georgia in the early 20th century. The goal was to modernize the state, increase efficiency, apply scientific methods, promote education and eliminate waste and corruption. Key leaders were governors Joseph M. Terrell (1902–07) and Hoke Smith. Terrell pushed through important legislation covering judicial affairs, schools, food and drug regulation, taxation and labor measures. He failed to obtain necessary penal and railroad reforms.

A representative local leader was newspaper editor Thomas Lee Bailey (1865–1945), who used his Cochran Journal to reach out to Bleckley County, from 1910 to 1925. The paper mirrored Bailey's personality and philosophy for it was folksy, outspoken, and upbeat and covered a variety of local topics. Bailey was a strong advocate for diversified farming, quality education, civic and political reform, and controls on alcohol and gambling.


In the early 1900s, Georgia experienced economic expansion in both the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. The cotton industry benefited from the depredations of the boll weevil further west. In 1911, Georgia produced a record 2.8 million bales of cotton. However, the boll weevil arrived in Georgia four years later. By 1921, infestation had reached such epidemic proportions that 45% of the states' cotton crop was destroyed. Demand during World War I drove cotton prices to a high of $1 a pound. After 1919, however, cotton quickly fell to 10 cents per pound. Landowners ruined by the boll weevil and declining prices expelled their sharecroppers.

African Americans

Although blacks also participated in the Progressive movement, the state remained in the grip of Jim Crow. In 1934, Georgia's poll tax, which also had excluded poor whites from voter rolls to reduce the Populist threat, was upheld in the Supreme Court case of Breedlove v. Suttles (1937). That challenge was brought by a poor white man seeking the ability to vote without paying a fee. By 1940 only 20,000 blacks in Georgia managed to register. In 1944 the Supreme Court's decision in Smith v. Allwright banned white primaries, and in 1945 Georgia repealed its poll tax. NAACP and other activists rapidly registered African Americans in cities such as Atlanta, but in rural areas they remained outside politics.

Starting around 1910, and increasing as jobs began to open up during World War I, tens of thousands of African Americans in the Great Migration moved to northern industrial cities out of the rural South for work, better education for their children, the right to vote and for escape from the violence of lynchings. From 1910 to 1940 and in a second wave from the 1940s to 1970, a total of more than 6.5 million African Americans left the South for northern and western industrial cities. They rapidly became urbanized, and many built successful middle-class lives as industrial workers. The demographics of the regions changed.

Prohibition and Coca-Cola

Prohibition was a central issue in local and state politics from the 1880s into the 1920s. Before World War I, it was widely believed that the solution to drunkenness was the religious revival, which would turn the sinner into a teetolaling Christian. The Drys were led by ministers and middle class women of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, who succeeded in securing a local option law that dried up most of the rural counties. Atlanta and the other cities were wet strongholds.

By 1907 the much more effective Anti-Saloon League took over from the preachers and women and cut deals with the politicians, such as Hoke Smith. The League pushed through a prohibition law in 1907. However, the law had loopholes that allowed Georgians to import whiskey from other states through the mail, and provided for "saloons" that supposedly sold only non-alcoholic drinks. In 1915, the drys passed a state law that effectively closed nearly all the liquor traffic. Illegal distilling and bootlegging continued.

During this time, a non-alcoholic beverage, first introduced in 1886, gained in popularity. In 1886, when Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, pharmacist John Pemberton responded by developing Coca-Cola. It was essentially a non-alcoholic version of the popular French wine coca. The first sales were at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, on May 8, 1886. It was initially sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at soda fountains, which were popular in the United States at the time due to the belief that carbonated water was good for the health. In 1887, Asa Griggs Candler bought the cola company from Pemberton, and with aggressive regional, national and international marketing turned it into one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the New South. Candler was later elected Mayor of Atlanta, taking office immediately after the passage of Georgia's state-wide prohibition law of 1915. He served from 1916-1919. Atlanta's first airport, Candler Field was named in his honor. Candler Field was subsequently renamed Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Women's suffrage

Rebecca L. Felton
U.S. Senator Rebecca Latimer Felton

Rebecca Latimer Felton (1835–1930) was the most prominent woman leader in Georgia. Born into a wealthy plantation family, she married an active politician, managed his career, and became a political expert. An outspoken feminist, she became a leader of the prohibition and woman's suffrage movements, endorsed lynching, fought for reform of prisons, and filled leadership roles in many reform organizations. In 1922, she was appointed to the U.S. Senate. She was sworn in on November 21, 1922, and served one day. She was the first woman to serve in the Senate.

Although middle-class urban women were well-organized supporters of suffrage, the rural areas were hostile. The state legislature ignored efforts to let women vote in local elections, and not only refused to ratify the Federal 19th Amendment, but took pride in being the first state to reject it. The Amendment passed nationally and Georgia women gained the right to vote in 1920. However, black women were largely excluded from voting by the state's discriminatory devices until after the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 enforced their constitutional rights.

Great Depression and Second World War

The state was relatively prosperous in the 1910s. The price of cotton remained high, until the end of World War I. Lower commodity prices in the 1920s had a negative impact on the rural economy, which, in turn, effected the entire state. By 1932, economic recession had deteriorated into a severe depression. Cotton prices decreased from a high of $1.00 a pound during World War I, to $.20 in the late 1920s, to lows of 6 cents in 1931 and 1932. The Great Depression proved to be difficult, economically, for both rural and urban Georgia. Farmers and blue-collar workers were impacted the most. Georgia benefited from several New Deal programs, which raised cotton prices to $.11 or $.12 a pound, promoted rural electrification, and set up rural and urban work relief programs. Enacted during Roosevelt's first 100 days in office, the Agricultural Adjustment Act paid farmers to plant less cotton, to reduce oversupply. Between 1933 and 1940, the New Deal injected $250 million into the Georgia economy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Georgia on numerous occasions. He established his 'Little White House' in Warm Springs, where the therapeutic waters offered treatment and relief for the President's paralytic illness.

Roosevelt's proposals were popular with many members of Georgia's congressional delegation. The Civilian Conservation Corps put young men, formerly on relief, back to work. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration supported the price of cotton and peanuts. Work relief programs spread federal money across the state. However, the most powerful member of the Georgia delegation, Congressman Eugene Cox, often opposed legislation which favored labor and urban interests, particularly the National Industrial Recovery Act.

Georgia's powerful governor Eugene Talmadge (1933–37) disliked Roosevelt and the New Deal. He was a former Agriculture Commissioner who promoted himself as a 'real dirt farmer', winning the support of his rural constituencies. Talmadge opposed many New Deal programs. Appealing to his white conservative base, Talmadge denounced New Deal programs that paid black workers wages equal to whites, and attacked what he described as the communist tendencies of the New Deal. The Roosevelt administration was often able to circumvent Talmadge's opposition by working with pro-New Deal politicians, most notably Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield. In the 1936 election, Talmadge unsuccessfully attempted to run for the Senate, but lost to pro-New Deal incumbent Richard Russell, Jr.. The candidate he endorsed for Governor was also defeated. Under the pro-New Deal administration of State House speaker E.D. Rivers, by 1940 Georgia led the nation in the number of Rural Electrification Cooperatives and rural public housing projects. Between 1933 and the early 1940s the administration of Franklin D Roosevelt spent slightly over $250 million on projects in Georgia for projects such as malaria control, rural sanitation, hot lunches for school children, nursing services and art projects.

Re-elected Governor in 1940, Talmadge suffered a political setback when he fired a dean at the University of Georgia, on the grounds that the dean had advocated integration. When this action was opposed by the Georgia Board of Regents, Governor Talmadge reconfigured the board, appointing members more favorable to his views. This, in turn, led the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to withdraw accreditation from ten of the state's colleges and universities. In 1942, Talmadge was defeated in his bid for reelection. However, he was reelected in 1946, but died before taking office. The death of the Governor-elect precipitated a political crisis known as the Three Governors Controversy, which was only resolved after a legal ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Factory production during World War II lifted Georgia's economy out of recession. Marietta's Bell Aircraft plant, the principal assembly site for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, employed nearly 28,000 people at its peak, Robins Air Field near Macon employed nearly 13,000 civilians; Fort Benning became the world's largest infantry training school; and newly opened Fort Gordon became a major deployment center. Shipyards in Savannah and Brunswick built many of the Liberty Ships used to transport materiel to the European and Pacific Theaters. Following the cessation of hostilities, the state's urban centers continued to thrive.

In 1946, Georgia became the first state to allow 18-year-olds to vote, and remained the only one to do so before passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971. (Three other states set the voting age at 19 or 20.) That same year, the Communicable Disease Center, later called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was founded in Atlanta from staff of the former Malaria Control in War Areas offices.

From 1946 to 1955, some 500 new factories were constructed in the state. By 1950, more Georgians were employed in manufacturing than farming. At the same time, the mechanization of agriculture dramatically reduced the need for farm laborers. This precipitated another wave of urban migration, as former sharecroppers and tenant farmers moved chiefly to the urban Midwest, West and Northeast, as well as to Georgia's own burgeoning urban centers.

During the war, Atlanta's Candler Field was the nation's busiest airport in terms of flight operations. Afterwards Mayor Hartsfield lobbied successfully to make the city Delta Air Lines' hub for commercial air travel, based on Atlanta's strategic location in relation to the nation's major population centers. The airport was subsequently renamed, in his honor.

Civil Rights Movement

MLK tomb
Martin Luther King's tomb, located on the grounds of the King Center

African Americans who served in the segregated military during World War II returned to a still segregated nation and a South which still enforced Jim Crow laws. Many were motivated to participate in the NAACP and other groups to enforce their constitutional rights, especially the right to vote, and the right of their children to an equal education. Following the 1946 US Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Allwright, which overturned white primaries, NAACP activists worked to register voters. Statewide, 135,000 blacks registered to vote in 1946, and 85,000 did vote.

Atlanta, home to a number of traditional black colleges, sustained a large, educated, middle-class black community which produced leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. In the postwar period, the new movement for change was carried forward by several groups, with somewhat different agendas, but united in the goal of civil rights for African Americans. The voting rights campaign in Atlanta was spearheaded by the All Citizen's Registration Committee.

The idea of change was not universally embraced. The Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was denounced by Governor Marvin Griffin, who pledged to keep Georgia's schools segregated, "come hell or high water".

In 1958 the state passed legislation to restrict voter registration by requiring illiterate candidates to answer 20 of 30 questions of comprehension posed by white registrars. In practice, it was used subjectively to disqualify blacks. In rural counties such as Terrell, black voting registration was repressed. After the legislation, although the county was 64% black in population, only 48 blacks managed to register to vote.

Atlanta-born minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged as a national leader in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 in Alabama. The son of a Baptist minister, King earned a doctorate from Boston University and was part of the educated middle class that had developed in Atlanta's African-American community. The success of the Montgomery boycott led to King's joining with others to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta in 1957, to provide political leadership for the Civil Rights Movement across the South. Black churches had long been important centers of their communities. Ministers and their thousands of congregations throughout the South were at the forefront of the civil rights struggle.

The SCLC led a desegregation campaign in Albany, Georgia in 1961. This campaign, however, failed to rally significant support or to achieve any dramatic victories. Nonetheless the Albany campaign provided important lessons, which were put to use in the more successful Birmingham campaign of 1963–64 in Alabama. National opinion eventually turned in favor of the moral position of civil rights for all citizens. Before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy prepared and submitted a Civil Rights bill to Congress. Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, made the legislation a priority in his administration. In 1964, President Johnson secured passage of the Civil Rights Act. The following year he secured passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

African Americans throughout the South registered to vote and began to re-enter the political process. By the 1960s, the proportion of African Americans in Georgia had declined to 28% of the state's population, after waves of migration to the North and some in-migration by whites. With their voting power diminished, it took some years for African Americans to win a state-wide office. Julian Bond, a noted civil rights leader, was elected to the state House in 1965, and served multiple terms there and in the state senate.

Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. testified before Congress in support of the Civil Rights Act, and Governor Carl Sanders worked with the Kennedy administration to ensure the state's compliance. Ralph McGill, editor and syndicated columnist at the Atlanta Constitution, earned both admiration and enmity by writing in support of the Civil Rights Movement. However, the majority of white Georgians continued to oppose integration.

In 1966, Lester Maddox was elected Governor of Georgia. Maddox, who opposed forced integration, had gained fame by threatening African-American civil rights demonstrators who tried to enter his restaurant. After taking office, Maddox appointed more African Americans to positions of responsibility than any governor since Reconstruction.

In 1969, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a successful lawsuit against Georgia, requiring the state to integrate public schools. In 1970, newly elected Governor Jimmy Carter declared in his inaugural address that the era of racial segregation had ended. In 1972 Georgians elected Andrew Young to Congress as the first African American since Reconstruction.

Sun Belt growth and the New Right

Bright Atlanta
The Atlanta Downtown Connector, seen at night in Midtown.

In 1980, construction was completed on an expansion of William B. Hartsfield International Airport. The busiest in the world, it was designed to accommodate up to 55 million passengers a year. The airport became a major engine for economic growth. With the advantages of cheap real estate, low taxes, Right-to-work laws and a regulatory environment limiting government interference, the Atlanta metropolitan area became a national center of finance, insurance, and real estate companies, as well as the convention and trade show business. As a testament to the city's growing international profile, in 1990 the International Olympic Committee selected Atlanta as the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics. Taking advantage of Atlanta's status as a transportation hub, in 1991 UPS established its headquarters in a suburb. In 1992, construction finished on Bank of America Plaza, the tallest building in the U.S. outside New York or Chicago.

Following national Democratic support for civil rights legislation, Georgia, along with the rest of the formerly Democratic Solid South, gradually shifted to support Republicans, first in presidential elections. Realignment was hastened by the turbulent one-term Presidency of native-son Jimmy Carter, the popularity of Ronald Reagan, organizational efforts of the Republican Party, and the perception of a growing liberalism within the national Democratic Party.

As the era of old south Democratic control, symbolized by iconic personalities Herman Talmadge and Georgia Speaker of the House Tom Murphy drew to an end, new Republican leaders took their place. Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich, the acknowledged leader of the Republican Revolution, was elected Speaker of the House. His seat represented the northern suburbs of Atlanta. Bob Barr, another Georgia Republican Congressman, led the campaign to impeach President Bill Clinton. Barr later switched his party affiliation to Libertarian and announced his intention to run for the U.S. presidency on May 12, 2008. On May 25, he was nominated at the Libertarian convention.

During this time, Georgia was affected by extremists.

In a shifting political climate, leading Georgia Democrats, most notably Governor Zell Miller (1990–99), drifted to the right. After being appointed to the Senate, following the death of Paul Coverdell in 2000, Miller emerged as a prominent ally of George W. Bush on the war in Iraq, Social Security privatization, tax cuts, and other conservative-backed issues. He delivered a controversial keynote speech at the 2004 Republican convention where he endorsed Bush for reelection and denounced the liberalism of his Democratic Party colleagues.

In 2002, Georgia elected Sonny Perdue, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Shortly after that, Republicans gained control of both chambers of the State Legislature and all state-wide elected offices. CNN reported that in 2008 presidential election exit polls, 39% of the voters identified as conservatives; 48% moderates and 13% liberals. 37% identified as "White Evangelical/Born-Again," and they voted 89% for Republican John McCain. The other 63% voted two-to-one for Democrat Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected as President. He was re-elected in 2012.

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