Atlanta and Albany are often the focus of the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia, but the movement took root in towns and communities throughout the state. In Savannah, Georgia, the civil rights movement was relatively peaceful compared to that of other Southern cities, primarily due to the cooperation of local businessmen and politicians with African-American leadership. One such business leader was Pratt Adams, Jr. Adams. (1915-1981) was a third-generation Savannah lawyer in his family’s law firm of Adams, Adams, Brennan, and Gardner. After serving in World War II, he settled back into his law career in Savannah. Adams was very active in many civic organizations, including Civic Progress, Inc. Business leaders such as Adams who founded this group realized that the future of the city’s and their own prosperity depended upon minimizing protests and violence. The Bi-Racial Committee, composed of members of the Civic Progress group and several prominent Civil Rights leaders, met several times in 1963 to discuss how to bring about an end of segregation in local hotels, theaters, and restaurants. This primary source set offers a digitized selection of papers from the A. Pratt Adams, Jr. papers housed at the Georgia Historical Society.
The documents in the PDF are in reverse chronological order. The first document in the set is a letter written by A. Pratt Adams, Jr. to Mr. Bennett A. Brown, executive vice president of The Citizens and Southern National Bank. Adams was responding to Brown’s letter concerning the May 11, 1970, race riot in Augusta that resulted in six deaths. The second document is a letter from the Vice President of the Central of Georgia Railway law department. The third document contains the minutes from a meeting held between white businessmen and black leaders in Savannah on February 16, 1965. The final document comes from the August 1, 1963, meeting of the Bi-Racial Committee.
Selection from the A. Pratt Adams, Jr. (1915-1981) collection, 1959-1971. From the Georgia Historical Society Manuscript Collection. MS 2165.
The United Service Organization was created in 1941 to bring together organizations like the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board. This image is from a dance at St. Mary’s Catholic School put on by a USO club in Savannah, Georgia. What is the importance of a group like USO or a dance during wartime?
This is a photograph of African-American cotton pickers in Georgia’s New South economy. Many of these workers lived on the property of white landowners and in many ways acted and lived in the same way as they had in Antebellum Georgia–often in the same slave shacks as their enslaved ancestors.
Sam Hose went to jail for killing a white man and attacking his wife in front of her children in 1899 when a white mob took him from his sell to a new location to torture him to death. This mob mutilated Hose’s body while he was tied up, eventually burning him alive while over 2,000 people watched, according to the Atlanta Constitution. Much of this crowd came a long way to see Hose murdered and tortured after hearing that he had attacked a white family. At this point in Georgia, lynching was at an all time high, with its toll at 458 lynchings and only beat by Mississippi’s toll of 538. In 1899, Georgia hit its peak, with 27 lynchings in a year.
Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise Speech” is considered one of the most important speeches in American history. The speech was given at the opening of the Cotton Sates and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia on September 18, 1895. Throughout his life, Washington promoted vocational education and labor instead of agitation for social equality.
“Lynch Law in Georgia” was published by the Colored Citizens of Chicago in 1882. Ida B. Wells was part of the Great Migration movement, in which African-Americans moved North in large numbers, looking for equality and opportunity outside of the South. Yet Wells did not cut ties with the South and continued to work toward justice for black Southerners even after she left.
“Lynch law in Georgia: a six-weeks’ record in the center of southern civilization, as faithfully chronicled by the “Atlanta journal” and the “Atlanta constitution”: also the full report of Louis P. Le Vin, the Chicago detective sent to investigate the burning of Samuel Hose, the torture and hanging of Elijah Strickland, the colored preacher, and the lynching of nine men for alleged arson” By Ida B. Wells. [Chicago: This pamphlet is circulated by Chicago colored citizens, 1899]. From the Library of Congress.
This source is particularly interesting, because it demonstrates the complications of archival research. This image, originally believed to be a portrait of Matilda Beasley, manager of the Sacred Heart Orphanage. Beasley was born enslaved, became free, and moved to Savannah, where she became a teacher to enslaved children, got married to a free black man, and led a devoutly Catholic life. Beasley is extremely famous in Savannah history, yet the woman in the picture is most likely of Josephine Beasley, wife of Abram Beasley who was a child of Mathilda’s husband. Based on the style of clothing and hair the image is thought to be circa 1890, when Matilda would have been 71 years old.
Between 1883 and 1892, photographer William E. Wilson documented the lives of sharecroppers and day-to-day life in Georgia through his photography. Wilson made his living doing portraits but he had a passion for documentary photography. This type of photography focuses on capturing the everyday. Unlike a posed portrait, these photographs show a more unstaged view of life in the Savannah area during the late 1880s and early 1890s.
This group portrait shows the first African-American congressmen to serve in the United States Congress. During Reconstruction, Republicans gained the upper hand in Georgia politics, and African Americans served in Congress at both the state and national level. Thirty-two African Americans were elected to the Georgia Assembly in 1868. Standing in the back on the right side is Jefferson Long, Georgia’s first African-American senator. At Reconstruction’s end, Democrats gained control of political power and an African American would not represent Georgia in Congress again until Andrew Young in 1972.