previous next

Chapter 12: Georgia.

Atlanta, capital of Georgia, is rising from the dust in which Sherman's too famous march from Chattanooga left her — a sacrifice of war-when the fair young city, not yet seventeen years old, perished in her youth; wasted so fiercely that her waters seemed to be on fire; so thoroughly that a rosebush here and there was all that told of former opulence and present wreck. Atlanta, rising from her ashes, is a type of Georgia.

Standing on a hill, the domes and turrets of Atlanta, shining over belts of ash and pine, endow her with a regal air. A natural crown of the adjacent flats, she looks the capital which a proud and grateful people have made her since the great calamity she suffered in the civil war. Her soil is rich and ruddy, with the wealth and colour of a Devonshire ridge. Wide fields and pastures lie [124] around; these under grass, those under cotton, these again under rice. Maize and tobacco grow on every side, and overhead hangs a sky like that of Cyprus. Here cattle browse; there herdsmen trot. Negroes with creels of cotton on their heads slouch and dawdle into the town. The scene is pastoral and poetic; English in the main features, yet with forms of life and dots of colour to remind you of the Niger rather than the Trent.

Frame houses, painted white, with colonnades and gardens, nestle in shady nooks and cluster round hill-sides. About these villas romp and shout such boys and girls as New England poets find under apple-trees in Kent. What roses on their cheeks; what bravery in their eyes! Here glows the fine old English blood, as bright and red in Georgia as in York and Somerset. But for her Negro population, Georgia would have an English look.

The Negro is a fact-though not the fact of facts — in Georgia. Unlike Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina-States in which the Black element is stronger in number than the White-Georgia has a White majority of votes; yet her [125] majority on the whole is slight, and her Negro population is so massed as to command the ballot-boxes in many counties. For example — in Baldwin County, Early County, and Sumter County there are nearly two Negroes to each White; in Baker County, Camden County, Columbia County, Effingham County, and Troup County there are more than two Negroes to each White; in Liberty County there are nearly three Negroes to each White; in Bullock County and Hurston County there are more than three Negroes to each White; and in Lee County there are four Negroes to every White. If all the Negroes in these counties held together, under the advice of carpet-baggers and with the help of Federal bayonets, they might set up Negro judges, sheriffs, and assessors, as in Louisiana and Mississippi, and might send up Negro senators to Atlanta, if not to Washington. Lee County might have her Antonie, even though Georgia failed to achieve her Pinchback. At present most of them are busy on their farms and homesteads, leaving politics alone, though every word from Vicksburg and Jackson, Shreveport and New Orleans, is apt to rouse them like a cry of fire. [126]

The session for 1875 is opening under great excitement. Unlike her neighbours, Florida and South Carolina, Georgia has recovered her independence. She has now a native Governor in James M. Smith. The Legislature and the Government are Conservative; and being Conservative, are bitterly opposed to President Grant.

Though suffering less than the Virginians and South Carolinians by the war, the Georgians are more exasperated than their neighbours in either of their sister States ; the burning of Atlanta, the destruction of property at Milledgeville, and the injuries done to rails and roads, canals and bridges everywhere, appearing in their eyes as acts of savage vengeance rather than of lawful war. Such deeds are not forgotten in a day, and till they are forgotten they are never likely to be forgiven.

Ten years ago the greatest civil warfare ever waged by man against his brother was burning in these Southern cities. Armies to be counted by hundreds of thousands trampled on these vineyards and tobacco-fields. Fierce sieges were being carried on, murderous battles were being fought, in every Southern State. Dense woods were fired, [127] broad rivers turned, fair villages destroyed. Ruin reigned everywhere. Need one wonder that scars are left? The rent and blackened walls of Atlanta have not disappeared. It is in vain to dream that the moral sores are healed. Wounds inflicted in a civil strife last long. Israel was divided for ever by her war of tribes. For ages the contest of patricians and plebeians stopped the growth of Rome. Internal feuds gave Seville to the Moor and Dublin to the Saxon. Street conflicts opened Constantinople to the Turk. Religious conflicts weakened Germany and France. The raid on Freiburg by the Swiss volunteers is still resented by the Catholic Cantons. But the direst form of civil war is that which has a social or a servile cause. Long years elapsed ere Rome recovered from her tug with Spartacus. English society was shaken by Cade. Munzer's rising is still recalled with horror by the people of Wurtzburg and Rothenburg. The French wars of the communists, the Spanish wars of the comunidades, are not ended yet. Last year, at Cartagena, we heard the names and passwords used by Padilla in the reign of Charles the Fifth. [128]

“Have you many White leaguers in Georgia?” we ask a senator in Atlanta.

“ Yes,” he answers frankly; “ you will find either Black leaguers and White leaguers in every district where you see Black and White men. A league is but the sentiment of a class trying to become the sentiment of all. We have White leaguers in Atlanta, but I must warn you against the idea, that in Georgia we have any of the rascals of whom Sheridan speaks and Republican journals write. There is a true White League, and a false White League. The true White League consists of a band of Conservatives, who wish to maintain order and preserve property; the false White League consists of a band of destructives, who desire to break the peace and ruin house and land. Which of these two sorts of league are we likely to belong to-we, who own and cultivate nearly all the land in Georgia? Leagues are a necessity of our life, and will be while a Federal army occupies our towns. Unless we are prepared to see this city and this country perish, we must unite our strength and close our ranks. The false White League is a creation of the President's private cabinet.” [129]

“You think that much of this trouble is excited by the Government in order to favour General Grant's campaign for a third term?”

“For nothing else. These hubbubs in Vicksburg and New Orleans suit his game. If Billy Ross were President, and Bear's Paw his Secretary of War, you would hear of no Pin Leagues, Light Horse and Mourning Bands; but you would have daily articles and monthly messages on Negro misdeeds in Caddo and White encroachments on Red River. When we have a Democratic President in office, you will hear more of the Black League than of the White.”

“ The Black League is an actual fact?”

“ There is a Black League in every Negro village and every Negro barrack. You can hardly doubt that there is a Black League in Mississippi after the murder of Jemmy Gray?”

The murder of Gray, and the murderer's confession, are the talk of every city in the South. Gray was a Negro lad, who came from his plantation into Vicksburg, and was killed by order of a brother Negro, named Jeff Tucker. Oliver, a third Negro, was employed to do the deed. Since his arrest, [130] Oliver has turned on his employers and made a clean breast of the dirty business. Gray, a member of the Black League, heard in his lodge the purposes of his chiefs. He learned that Vicksburg was to be attacked by Negro troops, assisted by a Negro mob, and that all the White citizens were to be killed. Gray set out to warn some people who had been kind to him of the impending massacre. Jeff Tucker, an officer in the League, suspected Gray, and ordered him to be slain. Oliver expresses deep regret, for Gray had never injured him; but Tucker was his officer, and he was bound by oath to do whatever he was told, even to the shedding of a brother's blood. When Tucker bade him go and kill Gray he went and killed him, never asking why, because he dared not ask. He says he acted out of fear. If he had not killed Gray, he would have been killed himself.

In Georgia the coloured people seem content, but who can say how long this calm may last? The Negro is a child of mystery. No man can guess what he will do or will not do. Voices move him, fetishes inspire him. Traces of his African superstitions cling to him, even in a Georgian school and [131] chapel. He is open to such hints as “forty acres and a good mule,” and plenty of carpet-baggers are at hand, ready, at auspicious moments, with such hints. He has enjoyed one spell of power, and the intoxication of that period hangs about his hut and dug-out. What a day of glory for the son of Ham! A Negro loves to sit in a chair of state, to hear men say “his honour,” and to fine White rowdies for getting drunk: “Hi, hi! You bad fellow. You drunk-Ten dollar! Hi, hi!”

Like other savages the Georgian Negroes want to rule. It is no use to tell them they are fewer than the Whites, and that the greater number rules the less. They think it should be turn and turn about. The Whites have had their day, and now the Blacks should have their day.

Thousands of these Negroes have been drilled and armed by the State authorities. Most of the militia regiments are Black, and these Black regiments are officered by scalawags and carpet-baggers, who have swarmed into the cotton-fields and rice-grounds from distant towns. These regiments of coloured troops, commanded by strangers and adventurers, are the cause of much distrust. [132]

Some scalawag whispers that General Grant desires to see the Negro uppermost in the State, his hands in White men's pockets, and his heels on White men's necks. The Negroes and Mulattoes think these scalawags speak the truth. Poor things! they cannot read and write. As children they were slaves. Of politics and history they know less than the most stupid Suabian boor or Wiltshire clown. Of moral codes and social sciences they have hardly an idea; but the poorest African in Georgia can see the difference between a cabin and a house, a full table and an empty one, a warm coat and a cotton rag, a place in the gutter and a seat in the legislative hall. “Look,” cry the scalawags, “ at Louisiana and Mississippi! There you have Negro sheriffs and assessors, judges and legislators. In New Orleans and Jackson you have Negro Senators, Negro Lieutenant-governors, and Federal armies keeping down the Whites. Louisiana sends Pinchback, Mississippi sends Rush, to represent the coloured people in the national Capitol! Why not unite and carry your own candidates?”

Fired by such visions Sam begins to dream of running for the State legislature. If not so lucky as [133] Pinchback he may be as fortunate as Antoine. If he cannot reach Antoine, he may hope to rival Demas. If Pete can sit in Jackson or New Orleans, why should not Sam aspire to sit in Atlanta? The lowest senator, he hears, gets three dollars a day for doing nothing but loll in an easy chair, chew tobacco, answer when his name is called, and now and then get up to have a drink. A Negro toiling on a plantation has to pick and carry cotton for three dollars a week. Why not attempt in Georgia what the coloured people do so easily in Mississippi and Louisiana?

“You would be much amused by some of our dark politicians,” says to me a well known personage. “This morning, as my coloured servant was cleaning my boots, he looked up into my eyes, and, with a broad grin across his face, asked me how he could get to run for the State Legislature. The fellow can hardly read, and cannot write; he cleans my knives and holds my horse; and he wants to make laws for me!”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
White (12)
Gray (9)
Jeff Tucker (4)
Oliver (3)
Grant (3)
Pinchback (2)
Caesar C. Antoine (2)
Spartacus (1)
James M. Smith (1)
Sherman (1)
Philip Sheridan (1)
Seville (1)
Billy Ross (1)
Ham (1)
Cade (1)
Bear (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1875 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: