The history of African Americans in Georgia dates back to the earliest days of slavery in the colony. From the Antebellum era to the end of the Civil War, slaves toiled on farms and plantations across Georgia. After emancipation, African Americans waited nearly 100years for the promises of the 14th and 15th Amendments to be kept. Along the way, their cultural and economic challenges and triumphs became an integral part of Georgia’s history.
Just a short ferry boat ride away from the Georgia coast lies Hog Hammock, an African-American community on Sapelo Island with cultural traditions that tie it to Africa. Cornelia Bailey, a descendant of slaves who worked the plantations on Sapelo, imagines the terrible sadness her ancestors felt knowing they were so far away from home with no way to return. Today the residents of Hog Hammock are recognized for the African cultural traditions they pass on, such as making baskets, cast nets, and the unique music of the Sea Island Singers.
Savannah tour guide Ogbanna explains the Underground Railroad and the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, established in 1773. Murry Dorty of the Coastal Heritage Society explains how songs had hidden meanings to help and inspire runaways along the way.
Storyteller Akbar Imhotep entertains visitors to Joel Chandler Harris’s Atlanta home, Wren’s Nest, explaining how African slaves brought with them a strong oral tradition of storytelling, especially trickster tales, and told them in the evenings when the work was done. These folktales were recorded by Joel Chandler Harris and known as the Uncle Remus stories when published.
K Company, 54th Massachusetts Infantry reenactors Ray Wozniack, James Hayes, and Bob English describe the difficulties faced by black soldiers and their white officers. First they fought for the right to fight when many whites did not want them to take up arms, and then they fought and died for a cause bigger than themselves.
Historians Cliff Kuhn, Marcellus Barksdale and Gene Hatfield describe the chaos and uncertainty resulting from the devastation wrought upon the South during the Civil War. Cities were destroyed, houses and slave quarters were burned, farmland was ruined and one out of every five men who went to war never returned. For former slaves, the situation was especially dire. Economic plans and the battle over ownership of land is discussed as well.
Alonzo Herndon, a former slave born in 1858 in Social Circle, sought to better himself and ultimately became Atlanta's first African-American millionaire. An entrepreneur at heart, he learned barbering and eventually opened his own shop in Atlanta called the Crystal Palace and later founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Historian Marcellus Barksdale describes the Crystal Palace as fitting its name. Carole Merritt, director of Herndon Home, takes students on a tour of the house where Alonzo Herndon lived with his wife Adrienne and their son Norris.
A racist governor, sensationalized headlines, and Jim Crow laws sparked rage in a mob of White men who randomly beat and killed Black men in Atlanta. Historian Cliff Kuhn and Carole Merritt, director of Herndon Home, examine the causes and consequences of the Atlanta Race Massacre of 1906.
Georgia inventor and engineer Malcolm Johnson works at Kimberly-Clark and holds nine patents for inventions. He knows inventors have a lot of confidence and curiosity. Wanting to know what, where, and why things happen keeps them focused and committed as they create new things. Chris Mitchell teaches Georgia students about African-American inventors using original patents, documents, and photographs.
Herschelle Challenor, a graduate of Spelman College, describes the challenges of segregation in Atlanta during the 1950s. Claude Sitton, a reporter for the New York Times, states that Atlanta lacked the drama witnessed elsewhere because black and white leaders did not want violence. Mayor William B. Hartsfield, Coca-Cola president Robert Woodruff, Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill, and Chamber of Commerce president Ivan Allen Jr. (later mayor), believed Atlanta’s progress could be destroyed by civil disruption. They worked with black leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to end the boycott, open the restaurants, and integrate schools. Rick Allen, an author, comments that Atlanta was fortunate to have such a leading citizen as Robert Woodruff who brought a world view to the situation.
Albany native Rutha Mae Harris recalls life in the segregated town of Albany. In 1961 activists like African-American activists like Harris and Charles Sherood organized marches in the streets and were arrested for it. They protested those arrests and when they were not protesting, they were in churches organizing and planning. Harris explains how Albany churches were filled with people singing about freedom and how singing empowered her.
Marie Cochran, an art instructor at Georgia Southern University, was one of the first children to integrate the schools in her hometown of Toccoa. Her art installation, "Freedom School," first shown at Atlanta's High Museum, includes two school desks, one bearing the names of students. It personally relates to the Civil Rights Movement and shows how far we have come, provoking the viewer with its images and symbols to ask questions about that time in history.
Robert Herman, Executive Director of the Morton Theatre, comments on the life and legacy of Monroe Bowers "Pink" Morton, who built the Morton Theater in 1910, served as a postmaster, published two newspapers and owned 30 buildings in the Athens area. The center of Morton's empire was the Morton Building, which became the center of African-American business and entertainment in Athens at the turn of the century.
Tony Grooms, an author and poet living in Atlanta, describes how events he saw on television as a young boy became topics in his stories, like police using powerful fire hoses to stop the protesters or seeing James Brown was on the Ed Sullivan Show. We are reminded that while many things on television may be forgettable, every now and again, there is something that stays with us that we never forget.
Farmer Felder Daniels, Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia, Lillie Rosser, a former housecleaner and now an assistant pastor at an Atlanta church, and Tena Butler, who attended segregated schools in Savannah, discuss the economic impact of the Civil Rights Movement and the challenges African Americans in Georgia faced.
Mary Francis Hill Coley was the midwife to thousands of babies and helped Albany's families, both black and white, with her progressive views towards childcare at the time. Not only did Coley deliver babies, she supported new families by organizing necessary forms and lending a hand with chores around the house. Her efforts were nationally recognized in 1952 when the documentary All My Babies was filmed about her role in the Albany community and used by the Georgia Health Department as an instructional training film.
Explained by Dr. John Inscoe of the New Georgia Encyclopedia and Dr. Barbara McCaskill, William and Ellen Craft's daring escape from slavery involved Ellen Craft posing as a white slaveholder with her light skin and William posing as her body servant. Their perilous journey took them through major east coast cities north to Philadelphia then Boston. After escaping to freedom, they traveled widely in the United States as abolitionists.