The Hope and Failure of Reconstruction

The war's end afforded new opportunities to African Americans in Georgia. General William T. Sherman had promised “forty acres and a mule” to former bondsmen in the conflict’s final days, and the Freedmen’s Bureau established local offices around the state to help secure food, shelter, and education for Black Georgians. Thirty-three Black men even joined the state legislature thanks to the votes of freedmen, but full citizenship remained an illusory promise. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) launched a massive campaign of violence to keep Black men from exercising their right to vote, which helped the ex-Confederate “Redeemers” expel the Black legislators in 1868 and then take control of the state government shortly after it reentered the Union in 1870.

After Reconstruction, conditions only worsened for African Americans. The new convict lease system allowed the state to lease prisoners to private businesses, and racial inequalities in the justice system meant that Black convicts performed much of the work to rebuild the region and its economy. By the 1890s, Black Georgians had little political representation and no voting rights.