Friday, July 4, 2014

Georgia in Mind

By Jeff Burns

I’m a proud native Georgian, but like every state, Georgia has many dark episodes in its past.   These blights cannot be ignored or glossed over.  As Maya Angelou wrote, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” 

These three books highlight three different aspects of racial injustice in Georgia and the South during the 20th century, and I highly recommend them.
Like other southern states, Georgia actively practiced Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (by Douglas Blackmon).  Most people know about the perpetual cycle of sharecropping that kept blacks and poor whites (Many of my white ancestors were sharecroppers.) in bondage to landowners who needed cheap farm labor.  This book investigates the state and corporate sponsored enslavement whereby black men and women, arrested and/or convicted of crimes, petty or major, guilty or not, were forced to do hard labor as their sentence.  This labor force not only did work for county and state governments, but were also “rented” out to landowners and business owners for back-breaking free labor in the private sector.
Without Mercy: The Stunning True Story of Race, Crime, and Corruption in the Deep South by David Beasley is the account of the two- term (1936-1940) Georgia Governor E.D. Rivers, the leader of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, and the pardon racket that he actively ran that allowed white murderers to escape the death penalty and even earn pardons, while the justice system was totally stacked against black defendants.  Beasley tells the stories of a handful of white and black men convicted of murder and their fates.  In the process, he details the massive corruption of Governor Rivers, who made life and death decisions based on race and literally and openly sold pardons to white defendants.
University of Georgia history professor Robert Pratt wrote We Shall Not Be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia, a thoroughly researched history relying on both archived materials and extensive oral histories that begins with the unsuccessful 1950 law school application of Horace Ward and moves on to the integration of Hamilton Earl Holmes and Charlayne Alberta Hunter in 1961.  Even in Georgia, history classes learn about the integration efforts at the Universities of Alabama and Mississippi, but often learn little about the integration of the University of Georgia, perhaps leading people to believe that it was relatively peaceful.  Pratt reveals the fallacy of that inference and exposes the deliberate and organized opposition to their integration.  It’s a fascinating read about a topic that is too often forgotten.

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