Voice of the New South



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Political, Social, & Economic Changes During Reconstruction:

Henry Grady

Known as the “voice of the New South,” Henry W. Grady was born in 1850, the son of a prominent Athens family. He graduated from the University of Georgia and attended two years of law school at the University of Virginia. Returning to Georgia, he married and settled in Rome, where Henry began working for the Rome Courier. His writing skills caught the attention of editors at The New York Herald, and he was hired as their southern correspondent headquartered in Atlanta.

In 1880, Grady became managing editor of the Atlanta Constitution. He quickly became known for his insightful, timely, and sometimes controversial editorials. Grady visited northern cities and spoke frequently about the New South. In one of his most famous speeches, he spoke about the need for industry in GA. In the speech, Grady also said that the southern economy was growing as agriculture was replaced by industry, particularly textile mills, coal and iron ore mining, and tobacco factories. He praised the new practices that made farming more productive. He also pointed out that race relations in the South were changing and that African Americans had become partners in developing this New South.

Grady’s ability to sell the concept of a New South helped bring jobs, recognition, and investments to the recovering Georgia economy. He consistently backed up his words with actions. He was one of the principal planners for Atlanta’s 1881 International Cotton Exposition, which was designed to show off the South’s new industries. As a creative journalist and part owner of the newspaper, he introduced new technology, used the “interview process” in new stories, and increased circulation from 10,000 to over 140,000, making the Atlanta Constitution one of the most widely read newspapers in the nation.

During a Boston speaking engagement in 1889, the 39 year-old Grady caught pneumonia and later died. Even with his numerous accomplishments, we can only wonder what else this man of journalistic influence might have done.

International Cotton States Exposition/Cotton States and International Exposition

In 1895, Atlanta was host to 800,000 visitors during the 3-month-long Cotton States and International Exposition. This exhibition was a way to showcase the economic recovery of the South (in which cotton played a large role), to highlight the regions natural resources, and to lure northern investors. At the 6,000 exhibits of the Exposition, visitors saw new machinery and learned how cotton was made into marketable products.

John Philip Sousa wrote the “King Cotton March” in 1895 for the Cotton States and International Exposition. Sousa’s band played at the exposition for 3 weeks. The march was one of Sousa’s personal favorites, and it has become one of his most popular.

Tom Watson and The Populists

Thomson native Tom Watson was a controversial national leader of the Populist Party. In 1882, he was elected to the General Assembly. Even though he became wealthy, Watson was concerned about Georgia’s poor and struggling farmers. Early in his career, he was the first native southern politician to be concerned about African American farmers, many of who were tenant farmers or sharecroppers. He realized that agrarian reform was possible if the two races came together politically. With the backing of the Farmer’s Alliance, Watson was elected to Congress in 1890 as a Democrat. A year later, Watson switched political sides and poke for the causes of the Populist Party. Watson represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives for only 2 years.

He did gain a place in congressional history by introducing the Rural Free Delivery (RDF) bill, which required the U.S. postmaster general to find a way to deliver mail to rural homes free of charge. Because of Watson’s bill, farm families no longer had to travel to the nearest post office for their mail. The first official RFD route in Georgia was in Warren County. One byproduct of rural free delivery was the boom in the building of roads, bridges, and other improvements needed to deliver the mail to rural areas.

In 1892, the Democrat-turned-Populist became a candidate for re-election. However, the state’s Democratic party wanted Watson out of Georgia politics. Because he had no organized support, Watson lost.

Watson ran for Congress again in 1894 and was again defeated. He returned to his home to influence politics through the power of the press. He began two magazines—The Weekly Jeffersonian and the monthly Watson’s Jeffersonian.

In 1896, Watson was the Populist Party’s nominee for vice president; in 1904, he was the party’s nominee for president. He lost both elections. In 1905, Watson returned to the Democratic party, but his stand on civil rights had changed significantly. Fifteen years earlier, Watson had asked for African American votes. Now, he opposed all minority rights, including those for African Americans, Catholics, and Jews. In 1920, Watson ran against Hoke Smith for the U.S. Senate and won. Two years later, he died in Washington, D.C.



Rebecca Latimer Felton

By the end of Reconstruction, a new group calling itself Independent Democrats was slowly gaining recognition. One of the group’s leaders was William Felton, a doctor, farmer, Methodist preacher and public speaker. His wife Rebecca worked with him to support political causes. The two used their family-owned newspaper, The Cartersville Courant, to attack the Bourbons. They traveled the state arguing that the leaders of the Democratic party in Georgia were ignoring the poor and the lower middle class.

Just like her husband, Rebecca Latimer Felton was a tireless worker for fairness and justice and was deeply involved with many causes. She was a leader in the suffrage and temperance (anti-alcohol) movements. She also worked hard to bring about reform in the state’s prison system. Long before the early 1900s, when women began to push for equal rights, Rebecca Latimer Felton was publicly active. In 1889, Hoke Smith, publisher of the Atlanta Journal, asked her to be a columnist. She was a popular writer, and she continued to share her ideals and influence through the newspaper for the next forty-one years.

Felton is perhaps best remembered today as the first woman in the U.S. Senate. When Senator Thomas E. Watson died on September 26, 1922, Governor Thomas Hardwick appointed her as his replacement to serve until a special election could be held. Felton’s appointment was an acknowledgment of her outstanding reform work and efforts supporting the suffrage movement. Since the Senate was not in session at the time of her appointment, Felton was not officially sworn in to her new office. Nor did she really serve time in Congress; Walter F. George was elected to the Senate seat in a special election. But when the Senate reconvened, the 87-year-old Felton was sworn in for a day, making her the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.



1906 Atlanta Riot

The year 1906 was a memorable year in Atlanta’s history. While Georgia’s politicians worked for political control, Atlanta experienced one of the worst race riots in the nation’s history. Some thought the riot came about because men like Tom Watson spread racial fears. Others believed that Hoke Smith had used racial fears to gain votes during the gubernatorial campaign (political race for the governor) of that year. Still others blamed Atlanta newspapers, which printed story after story of African American violence against whites.

On the afternoon of Saturday, September 22, local newspaper headlines carried false reports of black assaults. By 9pm, a crowd of over 5,000 whites and African Americans had gathered on Decatur Street. Some accounts reported that thousands of whites brought guns and began to roam through the downtown area. Fears grew, and the attacks became real.

The riot lasted two days. Martial law was declared before the city once again became calm. (Martial Law occurs when military forces are used to maintain order because civilian forces will not or cannot maintain order). The cost of human life was high. At least eighteen African Americans and three whites were killed; hundreds of people were injured. The value of property destroyed was also high, but it could not be accurately estimated.



Leo Frank Case

Georgia suffered a civil rights setback with a court case that attracted national attention and that resulted in the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. On August 17, 1915, Leo M. Frank was lynched in Marrietta.

The 19 yr. old was from Brooklyn and had been the superintendent of the National Pencil Company factory in Atlanta for 5 years. On April 26, 1913, he was charged with the murder of Mary Phagan, a 14-yr. old employee. The trial that followed was one of the most debated in Georgia’s history. Although there was little evidence, Frank was convicted and sentenced to death, largely because of the testimony of Jim Conley, the factory’s African American janitor. Because Conely was also a suspect, his testimony normally would not have been heard. However, these were not normal times. Frank was Jewish, and during that time, many people disliked Jews.

Frank’s lawyers appealed the case to the state supreme court. Governor John Slaton was under pressure to pardon Frank. The day before his term of office ended in June 1915, Slaton changed Frank’s sentence from death, to life imprisonment. In his magazine, The Weekly Jeffersonian, Tom Watson led a public outcry against Slaton’s action. He even called on the people to take matters into their own hands. Two months after the sentence change, 25 armed men walked into the state penitentiary in Milledgeville and took Frank from his prison cell. They drove to Marietta, the home off Mary Phagan, and hanged Frank from a tree. The next day, about 15,000 curious people filed by Frank’s open casket in an Atlanta mortuary. Pictures of Frank’s hanging body were sold, and “The Ballad of Mary Phagan” became popular.

In July 1915, amid the anti-Jewish feelings and continuing racial unrest of the Leo Frank case, the Ku Klux Klan received a charter from the Fulton County Superior Court. On Thanksgiving night 1915, Atlanta preacher and salesman William Simmons and 34 others climbed on to the top of Stone Mountain near Atlanta. There, the group, which called itself the Knights of Mary Phagan, lit torches as they circled a burning cross. The Ku Klux Klan was reborn in Georgia and elsewhere in the Country.

County Unit System

The 1917 Neill Primary Act established a county unit system for political primaries. At that time, the Democratic party was the only active political party in the state. This meant the outcome of primary elections and general elections were usually the same. Because that was true, the county unit system, in fact, affected both elections.

Under the county unit system, the 8 most populated counties had 6 county unit votes each (total, 48). The next 30 counties had 4 county unit votes each (total, 120), and the remaining 121 counties had 2 county unit votes each (total, 242). The 38 largest counties had 2/3 of Georgia’s voters, but the other 121 counties together could decide a state election.

Those who opposed the county unit system pointed out that people were elected to office without a majority of the state’s popular vote. Those who supported it said the system allowed small, less populated counties to have the same power and influence as larger ones. The county unit system was in effect until 1962, when it was declared unconstitutional.



Review Questions:

  1. Which statement BEST explains why the term Bourbon Triumvirate was most appropriate for Joseph Brown, Alfred Colquitt, and John Gordon?

    1. They shared a strong belief in white supremacy

    2. They ruled the state consecutively for a period of over thirty years

    3. They were political rulers drawn together by power and political goals

    4. They were known for excessive business practices and high profit motives

  2. The Bourbon Triumvirate believed in…?

    1. Lower taxes

    2. Improving working conditions

    3. Economic assistance for the poor

    4. Expansion of educational opportunities

  3. Which Georgian and his achievement are matched correctly?

    1. Tom Watson—civil rights leader

    2. Hoke Smith—inventor off the steam engine

    3. Henry Grady—editor of the Atlanta Constitution

    4. Robert Toombs—mayor of Atlanta after the Civil War

  4. What Georgia leader coined the phrase “New South”?

    1. Alfred H. Colquitt

    2. Rebecca Latimer Felton

    3. John B. Gordon

    4. Henry W. Grady

  5. The Main Purpose of the International Cotton Exposition that was held in Atlanta was to…?

    1. Showcase the industries of the New South

    2. Get ideas from foreign countries

    3. Showcase the cotton gin

    4. Bring visitors to Atlanta



  1. The International Cotton Expo was held in…?

    1. Athens

    2. Atlanta

    3. Augusta

    4. Savannah

  2. What Georgian Populist leader called on black and white farmers to unite in an effort to gain fair treatment from the state and national governments?

    1. Joseph E. Brown

    2. Henry Grady

    3. Hoke Smith

    4. Tom Watson

  3. What was Tom Watson’s greatest accomplishment?

    1. A voting bill for women

    2. The Rural Free Delivery bill

    3. A bill to provide meat inspections

    4. A bill to increase the minimum wage

  4. When Rebecca Latimer Felton wrote for the Atlanta Journal, she focused on the need for reforms in…?

    1. voting laws

    2. race relations

    3. the prison system

    4. working conditions

  5. Rebecca Latimer Felton did NOT support the…?

    1. Educational reform movement

    2. Temperance movement

    3. Suffrage movement

    4. Convict lease system

  6. How long did the Atlanta Riot of 1906 last?

    1. 12 hours

    2. 18 hours

    3. 24 hours

    4. 48 hours

  7. What happened to Leo Frank after his trial?

    1. He was sentenced and put to death

    2. He was taken from jail and lynched

    3. He spent the rest of his life in prison

    4. He was found guilty, but was later freed

  8. The county unit system affected voting and politics in Georgia by…?

    1. Favoring cities where most people lived

    2. Focusing power inside the Atlanta area

    3. Helping blacks get more voting power

    4. Giving the rural areas more power


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