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Black Politicians and Reconstruction in Georgia

Black Politicians and Reconstruction in Georgia: A Splendid Failure by Edmund L. Drago

3522949This widely hailed study examines the reasons behind the quick demise of Radical Reconstruction in Georgia. Edmund L. Drago shows that a primary factor was, ironically, the extraordinary fairness on the part of the state’s black leaders in dealing with their former masters. Lacking the sizable and experienced antebellum free-black class that existed in such states as South Carolina and Louisiana, Georgia’s former slaves turned to their ministers for political leadership. Otherworldly and fatalistic, the ministers preached a message in which all people, even slaveholders, were deserving of God’s mercy. Translated into politics, this message quickly and predictably brought disaster. Shortly after the black delegation to the state constitutional convention of 1867-1868 refused to support a provision guaranteeing blacks the right to hold office, blacks were expelled from the state legislature. Only then did the minister-politicians realize that they would have to become more militant and black-oriented if they were to challenge white supremacy. Propelled by this newfound toughness, they were soon able to achieve a limited success by bringing about the Second Reconstruction of Georgia.

In the preface to this new edition, Drago surveys recent writing on Reconstruction and, drawing upon his own research on black leadership in South Carolina, compares experiences in that state to those in Georgia. It is time, he says, to give greater consideration to the role black women played in shaping politics and to the emergence of a black conservative political tradition. He also suggests that revisionists, in reacting to the racism in traditional histories, have sometimes glossed over issues ofcorruption and the black politician.

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