The History of Georgia Essay

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The history of the State of Georgia stretches back to the pre-Columbian period. It’s well documented that Native American tribes were domiciled in the region for thousands of years prior. The state has always been a melting pot of cultures, and this is evidenced by the many Spanish named locations in the State. These places date back to the nineteenth century.[1]

The English are posited to have arrived in the area in the early part of the 1700s, pioneered by James Oglethorpe, thereby creating a colony and naming it after George II of Great Britain.[2]

Subsequently, the economy of the place had become slave-based by the 1750s.

After the American Revolution, the economy prospered, spurred by the removal of the Indians and the development of agriculture. There was a cotton gin established to process the short-staple cotton that grew inland, which precipitated the cotton boom in the State. The economy was now essentially cotton-based and ran on slave labor. The State was caught up on the Confederate side of the Civil war and as a consequence lost out terribly in an economic sense. By the time of the Civil war, Atlanta had grown into an important commercial railroad hub, but the subsequent invasion and destruction by William Sherman’s armies left a disastrous legacy that shattered its entire economy along with that of the Confederacy.

The period after the civil war was one of economic destitution. The Reconstruction lasted until 1875 when Democratic rule was reinstituted, and was characterized by military annexation, segregation, and institutionalized economic reforms. Apart from that, the State remained primarily rural-based and the economy was still fuelled by cotton growing. Also, the Great Depression of the 1930s was harsh on the locals. However, there was some economic revival in the State at the start of the Second World War with the establishment of several military stations and artillery factories, while cotton lost its strangle-hold on the economy. The upturn continued through the 1950s and Atlanta eventually morphed into a crucial regional center and transit hub with sprawling neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Georgia Odyssey is a brief contemplation of the history of Georgia. The narrative takes us from the infancy of the state as a European colony, to its present metropolitan inclinations. Throughout its existence, Georgia has undergone several evolutionary moments that have always made it stand out as a dynamic land of opportunity. Considering its Confederate past, Georgia has surprisingly managed to diversify its demographic, with more Hispanic and Asian Americans setting up base in the region over the past seventy years. This has had a consequential effect on the economic, social, and cultural aspects of the state.

In light of the aforementioned, it’s quite evident that Cobb, who is a Georgia native, is astute at discrediting the long-held prejudices against his homeland. In one passage he posits, “The constantly shifting cultural landscape of contemporary Georgia presents a jumbled panorama of anachronism, contradiction, contrast, and peculiarity.”[3]

The ever shifting demographic and cultural landscape has always shaped the economic environment of Georgia. This keeps happening to date, in fact, The US Census Bureau estimates that the population of Georgia grew by 5.44% over five years, from 2010 to 2015.[4]

The number of migrants into the state over the same period topped six hundred thousand, which equated to a net increase in people of about four hundred thousand. Considering the Federal report that ranks Georgia as one of the most illegally populated states in the US,[5]

this essentially equates Georgia as one of the most rapidly growing populations in the country.

Reconstruction Georgia

After the Civil War, the State of Georgia was in palpable condition infrastructure-wise. The fighting had not spared the plantations, so coupled with the terrible weather, there was no agricultural production to speak of by the time the war ended. Furthermore, the yields from the state’s cash crops like cotton and corn, were also devastated.[6]

The immense infrastructure redevelopment that followed suit meant the state endured a substantial burden on its coffers, evidently, some areas never recuperated from the destruction, like the coastal rice plantations.

Georgia conspicuously had a lot of freedmen at the advent of the Reconstruction, most of them moved to Atlanta seeking better economic opportunities and ended up building their own little societies. With the end of the slave-economy, former slaves now had the capacity to negotiate labor contracts, even though this measure was a struggle to implement and the movement of blacks was controlled by the use of restrictive codes thereby denying them the opportunity to contribute effectively to a struggling economy.

Furthermore, in a bid to boost state revenue, Georgia began enforcing the convict lease system in 1868. Under the program, the state loaned out most of its black prison population, who did not earn any income, to interested parties who required specified services. It was a profitable scheme for the industrialists who subsidized their expenses by paying less for manpower. Consequently, it ensured that Georgia kept up with the pace of industrialization, but in hindsight, it probably had quite the humanitarian toll since it was similar to slavery. Additionally, the end of the reconstruction was marred by the maleficence of members of Rufus Bullock’s administration who were accused of stealing from the public coffers.

Postbellum Georgia

This period saw the capital of the state moved to Atlanta, where the new capitol building was opened in 1889. This precipitated a population boom into the city that profited the economy to the point of turning it into the state’s trade and governmental hub.

Furthermore, this was the Gilded Age that saw the state’s economy and infrastructure gradually recuperate from the civil war. Coincidentally, it also saw the birth of the state’s most famous product, Coca-Cola. Ironically, the inventor of the product, pharmacist John Pemberton, had come up with the drink in response to the prohibition laws that had been enacted in Atlanta.

Georgia was subsequently fostered as an amiable place to do business in a country that was industrializing quickly, and the state’s loudest proponent was Henry W. Grady. Additionally, after hosting the International Cotton Exposition of 1881 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895, Georgia emerged from the abyss to once again be an attractive textile hub; Textile mills were constructed in the region, as businesses from wider America came for the easily accessible raw materials and relatively cheap labor. Moreover, the logging and mining industries became the backbones of the paper mills, the turpentine distillers, and the brick manufacturers.

It is arguable that, despite the success, Georgia probably failed to achieve its full economic potential by politically disenfranchising the blacks and poor white people in the city with legislation such as poll taxes and literacy tests, [7] a situation which persisted until the 1960s.

Agrarian Uprising

Even though the future of Georgia was touted as an urban one, the economy was still heavily dependent on cotton and the residual textile industries. Up until the 1880s, most cotton plants in the region had not diversified their product base, these growers were severely dented by the falling cotton prices that hit seven cents by the 1890s.[8]

It suddenly cost more to produce the cotton than the selling price, which left several farmers living a destitute life.[9]

This did not reflect well on the general well-being of the state.

Progressive Era

The twentieth century saw the educated professionals and businessmen of Georgia bring about the Progressive Era, whose goal was to bring Georgia into the modern era. As an advocate of the ideals, Joseph Terrell was the state governor for five years in the 1900s and he brought about reforms through legislation addressing different areas of state and public service.

Manufacturing and agriculture anchored economic growth in the 1910s, and this continued steadily up to 1921 when yields were devastated by pests.[10] This up and down tale of cotton prices went on up to the end of the twenties.

The steady expansion of prohibition was inadvertently profitable for the state of Georgia. Prohibition was widely hailed as the solution to wanton drunkenness, however, the blind-spots in the enforcement of the laws ensured that enterprising Georgians could still make money importing and selling whiskey in nondescript saloons. Moreover, the presence of the internationally popular Coca-Cola at the time, ensured the state headquartered one of the biggest and most successful commercial enterprises in the entire southern region.[11]

The Great Depression and 2nd World War

     Georgia’s economy flourished in the 1910s. Its main cash crop, cotton, remained steady until after the First World War. The decimation of the rural economy due to low products prices, consequently affected the whole state and by 1932 the recession had turned into a full blown depression. Farmers and blue-collar workers felt the brunt of it. Fortunately, the New Deal programs proved beneficial by raising the cotton prices, and advocating for urbanization of rural areas. It is posited that Georgia received a total of $250 million in seven years, from 1933 to 1940, as a result of the New Deal.[12]

However, Georgia’s powerful governor, Eugene Talmadge, was not an advocate of the New Deal and its proponent, President Roosevelt. Talmadge denounced the New Deal programs that provided for equal pay between black and white employees, moreover, he attacked what he described as the communist tendencies of the New Deal.

Production plants during World War II pulled Georgia's economy out of the recession. A lot of locals were employed in manufacturing plants spread across the region with Marietta's Bell Aircraft plant, the principal assembly site for the Boeing B-29 Super-fortress bomber, employing nearly 28,000 people at its peak. Meanwhile, Fort Benning grew into the world's largest infantry training school; while Fort Gordon developed into a crucial deployment center; and Robins Air Field near Macon employed nearly 13,000 civilians. Furthermore, shipyards in Savannah and Brunswick constructed most of the Liberty Ships used to transport goods to the European and Pacific Theaters. Crucially, the state's urban centers continued to grow even after the cessation of hostilities.

In 1946, Georgia became the first state to allow 18-year-olds to vote, and remained the only one to do so before passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971. The Communicable Disease Center, later called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was subsequently established later in the same year, as an initiative by former staff from the Malaria Control in War Areas.

Over five hundred new factories were built in Georgia between 1946 and 1955.[13]

This resulted in most Georgians taking up jobs in manufacturing and farming. Additionally, there was less need for labor requirements as machines took up most of the harvesting work. Consequentially, a lot more people moved into urban areas in search of fresh opportunities.

Moreover, at one point during the conflict, Atlanta’s Candler Field was the most hectic airport in the country in terms of flights, and this precipitated Mayor Hartsfield to successfully push for Delta Air Lines to set up its commercial hub at the airport, which was subsequently named after him.

Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement had a profound effect on the economy of the state Georgia. It did not suit the rapidly industrializing state to experience sustained civil disobedience and abstinence from work. The majority of the workforce in the factories of the region constituted African Americans. Those who had been to World War II as part of the segregated military were disillusioned with the state of affairs after coming back to the South where Jim Crow laws were still applicable.

The Civil Rights movement cantered through the mid-20th century and reached its climax in the 1960s. The process was grueling and the cost of lives cannot be overstated, but, the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 ensured that all those lives were not lost in vain.

It cannot be underestimated, even though it was never quantifiable, how much the Civil Rights movement cost the state of Georgia. It must be assumed that when the bulk of your workforce, which constitutes almost fifty percent of the entire load, refuses work, naturally the enterprise is bound to suffer.  Today, the civil loyalty in Georgia is subject to a well-defined rule that caters for the needs of the people and give room for enhancement in the labor laws. As a result, this has been key for the growth of the labor department to meet the international standards.

Growth and New Era

By 1980, the newly completed William B. Hartsfield International Airport turned out to be a crucial economic asset for the city and the state. It was the busiest and ideally located to take passengers in from most locations around the world, and conveniently out of the US. The Atlanta metropolitan area grew into the nucleus of a financial, insurance, and real estate boom that was slowly engulfing the city. The city hosted regular trade fairs and conventions which culminated with the hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics and thereby defining itself as an attractive destination for travelers. Moreover, by 1991 UPS, the logistics company, had already set up its headquarters in Atlanta; coupled with the erection of the towering Bank of America Plaza in 1992, outside New York, the city was certified as worthy of the business traveler.

In addition to that, Georgia’s modern economy has developed over a period of time due to a number of activities that makes it score high. The existence of vibrant export trade has opened an avenue for the economy to blossom especially in fruits cultivation (tea, citrus fruits, and grapes), industrial products such as wine, textiles, chemicals, and machinery, and tourism. All these activities are a new dawn for the general performance of Georgia in the global economy. This is clearly the new era in terms the activities that exist have propelled the economy to meet the needs of her population in length. It is through the new era that has enabled the major changes in several spheres in Georgia State which is the sole reason for the perceived growth.


Considering Georgia Odyssey argument and insights on the economic growth of Georgia especially between the end of the Civil War and the year 2000, it’s clear that a number of changes and great strides have been experienced. Despite the slow and progressive growth, the state has seen light in its ability to have transformative agenda in terms of industrialization, agriculture, civil rights and movements, infrastructure, and education. The diversification of the economy from textile based to modern agricultural techniques and industrialization has been a big step towards job creation in the state. Also, the aspect of international trade fares and unions in the marketing and trade arena. The impact in terms of effort and negligence of the Civil Right Movement had a remarkable applicability to the Georgia state whose influence is still felt up to date. Voting and rights to public opinion through democratic principles which allow an individual to exercise their right of selection and freedom of expression is the benchmark of growth and development. As such, the state had to adopt the rule of law in bid to achieve the exponential economic growth in almost all spheres.  This has become the new era of change and innovative quest in its day to day operations as a state. The employment rule and labor courts have necessitated equity and flexibility in the labor market as many people are today employed in both public and private plants. The remunerations amidst the labor rules has been boosted to cater for the people’s demands and expectations.   




James C. Cobb, Georgia Odyssey. (Athens & London: Georgia UP, 2008), 58

Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015.” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015)

Associated Press. “Southeast sees big influx of illegal immigrants.” (, 2010)

New Georgia Encyclopedia: Reconstruction in Georgia

“Atlanta in the Civil Rights Movement.” (Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education, 2014)

C. Vann Woodward. Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel. (New York: Oxford UP, 1938) p.132

Gerald Gaither. Blacks and the Populist Movement: Ballots and Bigotry in the New South. (Tuscaloosa, A.L.: Alabama UP, 2005) p.2

 “Cotton Production and the Boll Weevil in Georgia.” (Wayback Machine, 2006) p.11

Mark Pendergrast. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that makes it. (2nd Ed. 2000)

[1] James C. Cobb, Georgia Odyssey. (Athens & London: Georgia UP, 2008), 58.

[2] Ibid, 61

[3] Ibid, 1052

[4] “Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015.” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015)

[5] Associated Press. “Southeast sees big influx of illegal immigrants.” (, 2010)

[6] New Georgia Encyclopedia: Reconstruction in Georgia

[7] “Atlanta in the Civil Rights Movement.” (Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education, 2014)

[8] C. Vann Woodward. Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel. (New York: Oxford UP, 1938) p.132

[9] Gerald Gaither. Blacks and the Populist Movement: Ballots and Bigotry in the New South. (Tuscaloosa, A.L.: Alabama UP, 2005) p.2

[10] “Cotton Production and the Boll Weevil in Georgia.” (Wayback Machine, 2006) p.11

[11] Mark Pendergrast. For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that makes it. (2nd Ed. 2000)

[12] New Georgia Encyclopedia: New Deal in Georgia

[13] New Georgia Encyclopedia: World War II in Georgia

November 24, 2023


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