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State History

June 2024
1min read

The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia

by Donald L. Grant, edited with an introduction by Jonathan Grant, Birch Lane Press, Carol Publishing Group, 624 pages, $27.50. CODE: CPG-1

The author of this rewarding book, a professor of African-American history named Donald L. Grant, worked on it for nearly fifteen years. After his death his son took over and finished what clearly had become the project of a lifetime. Together the Grants have produced a unique work, the only history of a state from founding to modern times as seen from the vantage of its black citizens. Georgia was an apt choice for such a groundbreaking volume. After 1865 it claimed the most blacks of any state, later gave birth to the modern KKK, saw the rise of the great black colleges and universities that nurtured generations of post-Civil War leaders, and in its native son Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the world a man for all seasons.

Drawing on the widest range of archival evidence, the Grants provide enough fascinating firsthand testimony and anecdote to fill a dozen novels. There is this stirring tale of Richard Robert Wright, for instance, born a slave: “When Gen. O. O. Howard, head of the Freedmen’s Bureau, visited [his] school and asked what he should tell the children of the North, young Wright, then twelve, responded, ‘Tell them, General, we’re rising.” And to read this snippet about Hosea Williams, a tough veteran of the struggles of the 1960s, is to want to know more: “His home was on the plantation next to archsegregationist Marvin Griffin’s spread. Griffin’s brother, Cheney, became Williams’ friend and early partner in hustling and financed his way through Morris Brown College.” Down through the centuries stories of pride and shame mingle in this unusual history, contradictions, the authors point out, that still prevail.

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