Sherpa Café: Episode #4

The African-American Experience, Part 1

Good morning and welcome to the Sherpa Café. It’s Sunday, April 25, 2021 and this is Episode #4. This mini-podcast and newsletter goes out to my premium subscribers and members of the Sherpa Club. This week’s topic is The African-American Experience. The music you just heard was “I Be So Glad when the Sun Goes Down” by Ed Lewis from the album, Songs of the South. I’ve included a video that contains the entire soundtrack below…

Enhancing the Source Content

The African American Experience is the third of four essays that provide context for the Atlanta Travel Itinerary, which was created by the National Park Service to create public awareness about places of historic and cultural significance. Due to the length of this third essay, I decided spread it over two episodes — Part 2 will come next week.

As I shared previously, the NPS content is good but it is somewhat dated. Like an old house, it has “good bones.” To create a better experience for you, I have done five things to enhance the original content:

  1. Narrated and provided the text below so you can listen and/or read it — ATLsherpa on the go!

  2. Updated the information when and where appropriate.

  3. Replaced the original images used by the NPS with some of my own photos as well as images I curate from various sources.

  4. Added some wonderful videos to this week’s episode. These will provide you with some additional context and make these mini-podcasts more dynamic for you.

  5. Included links to some excellent articles, essays and other online tools at the bottom under the heading “Explore More.”

Let’s get to it! I am going to start by narrating the essay for you. Once I am done narrating, I am going to go back through the newsletter and share some thoughts about the images and links I have included. If you are not in a place where you can view the images and links right now, I encourage you to spend some time with these later. Most importantly, please let me know what you think of the Sherpa Café by leaving a comment below.

Essay# 3: The African-American Experience, Part 1

The history of African Americans in Atlanta is synonymous with the history of Atlanta itself, and is one of progress and perseverance. From the early days of slaveholding until today, when the last six mayors of Atlanta have been African Americans, the story of the largest southern city can be told through the experiences of its largest ethnic minority.

Atlanta has elected six African-American mayors in the past 37 years: Maynard Jackson, the first, served from 1974-1982 and again from 1990-94 | Andrew Young, 1982-1990 | Bill Campbell, 1994-2002 | Shirley Franklin, 2002-2010 | Kasim Reed, 2010-2018 | Keisha Lance Bottoms, 2018-present

Atlantic Slave Trade

The majority of African Americans were originally brought over from Western Africa and Madagascar as part of the slave trade between 1760 and 1810. Charleston, South Carolina, became the major southern port where African Americans were introduced to the lower south. By 1750 an estimated 240,000 Africans or people of African descent lived in British North America, comprising nearly 20 percent of the total colonial population, mostly concentrated in the southern colonies. In Georgia and South Carolina the wealthy planters drew upon the skills and knowledge of African Americans brought from Senegambia to aid in the cultivation of rice, which was the first major export crop of these southern colonies. The slave trade from Africa was halted by the U.S. Congress after January 1, 1808, and in the North the gradual abolition of slavery took place. In the South, economic factors, notably the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, kept the institution alive.

5-MIN VIDEO: Slavery has occurred in many forms throughout the world, but the Atlantic slave trade — which forcibly brought more than 10 million Africans to the Americas — stands out for both its global scale and its lasting legacy. Anthony Hazard discusses the historical, economic and personal impact of this massive historical injustice.(TED Ed)

Early Atlanta

The city of Atlanta originated in the 19th century. Starting out as Terminus in 1837, and later named Marthasville in 1843, the rapidly growing town incorporated under the present day name of Atlanta in 1845. Already by 1850, Atlanta had a population which included 493 African slaves, 18 free blacks, and 2,058 whites. This small population would grow, and by 1870, the black population of Atlanta comprised 46 percent of 21,700 residents, a proportion roughly maintained to the end of the 19th century.

The Civil War

The early history of African Americans in Atlanta was forever altered by the Civil War. Georgia banded together with other southern states to create the Confederate States of America, fearing that the election of Abraham Lincoln to the American Presidency in 1860 election would usher in a strong Federal government opposed to slavery. Overall, as Peter Kolchin wrote about African Americans in American Slavery 1619-1877, although "some stood loyally by their masters and mistresses through thick and thin," when Union troops approached, "the transformation of master-slave relations became unmistakable as slaves sensed their impending liberation." General William T. Sherman invaded Georgia from the northwest in May 1864. Later that year he took control of the city of Atlanta and forced evacuation of the citizenry when his armies burned the city before leaving to continue their march to the sea.

3-MIN VIDEO: Slavery’s role in antebellum Atlanta. Slavery was an integral part of the overall economy. One out of every five Atlanta residents was a slave. Like other urban areas, Atlanta had a lower slave population than the rest of the antebellum South due to the absence of plantations. Unlike rural areas, many slaves in Atlanta had valuable job skills, such as carpentry or tailoring, which helped fuel a modernizing economy. (AJC)

SIDE NOTE: This video was recorded at the Atlanta History Center in front of the Tullie Smith House, which was discussed in
Episode #2: Antebellum Atlanta.

Many slaves escaped to follow Sherman's armies. Burke Davis recorded in his book, Sherman's March, that, concerned about the mobility of his army, "Sherman issued orders in Atlanta barring the elderly, the infirm and mothers with young children from joining the march." Under political pressure, Sherman in January of 1865 ordered thousands of acres of abandoned land in the Sea Islands and low country of Georgia and South Carolina to be made available to the freed slaves for homesteading. This order was later rescinded by President Andrew Johnson. Congress, violently opposed to President Johnson, later passed the Southern Homestead Act in 1866, which allowed for homesteading on public lands in five deep southern states, although enforcing this later proved difficult.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT: On January 16, 1865, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15, which one admiring biographer lauded as “the single most revolutionary act in race relations in the Civil War.” The order promised thousands of freed men 40-acre parcels of land located in a 30-mile wide swath from Charleston south along the Atlantic coast to the St. Johns River in Florida. But Southern-sympathetic Northern politicians and even Sherman himself would come to betray the famous order that gave freed men “40 acres and a mule,” and former slaves would be forced off the land their families had worked for generations. (History.net)

Reconstruction in Atlanta

In the spring of 1865 the exhausted Confederacy collapsed and Union control was exerted over the entire South. The Atlanta City Council later that year vowed equal application of laws to whites and blacks, and a school for black children, the first in the city, opened in an old church building on Armstrong Street. In 1867, General John Pope, the U.S. General in charge of Atlanta, issued orders allowing African Americans to serve on juries. In 1868, the State legislature, in defiance of Georgia's Governor Bullock, expelled 28 newly elected African Americans from the legislature. The State Supreme Court reinstated the legislators the following year.

Thomas Nast's famous wood engraving originally appeared in Harper's Weekly on January 24, 1863. The liberation of the state's enslaved population, numbering more than 400,000, began during the chaos of the Civil War and continued well into 1865.
ABOUT THIS IMAGE: On January 1, 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order based on his constitutional authority as commander in chief. All enslaved persons in Confederate territory were declared to be forever free. Nast held strong liberal views and his family had emigrated from Germany to New York in 1848 to escape persecution. Here he created a striking, complex image for Harper’s Weekly that celebrates the promise inherent in the proclamation. In a large central vignette an African American family enjoy domestic tranquility around a "Union" stove while, immediately below, a baby symbolizing the New Year breaks the shackles of a kneeling slave. Scenes at left detail horrors associated with slavery–whipping, branding and the separation of families. At right, these are contrasted with future blessings–payment for work, public education, and enjoying one’s own home, goals that could only be realized if the Union won the war. — The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

The 15th Amendment

In 1869, the State legislature voted against ratifying the 15th Amendment, which guarantees that the right to vote will not be abridged based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The Federal government returned Atlanta to military rule that December, stating that Georgia would not be readmitted to the Union until the 15th Amendment was passed. The same year a positive step for African Americans was taken when the Methodist Episcopal Church's Freedman Aid Society founded a coeducational school for African American legislators that would later become Clark College in Atlanta.

2-MIN VIDEO: Historian Yohuru Williams give a brief rundown of the history of the 15th Amendment, which outlawed voting’s rights discrimination after the Civil War. (History)

In 1870, the legislature ratified the 15th Amendment and Georgia was readmitted to the Union while the Governor had to fight to keep African-American legislators seated. Dennis Hammond, a Radical Republican, was elected mayor of Atlanta and the first two African Americans, William Finch and George Graham, sat on the new City Council. The era of Reconstruction ended in 1877, when the bulk of the Federal troops were removed from the South and African Americans could no longer rely on their political protection. Still, African Americans found other ways to thrive, both economically and socially. One the best examples of such success was former slave Alonzo F. Herndon, founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, located in the Sweet Auburn Historic District. Through this enterprise, Herndon became Atlanta's first black millionaire.

8-MIN VIDEO: From Rags to Riches: The Story of Alonzo Herndon — On this episode of Georgia Stories; Alonzo Herndon, a former slave born in 1858 in Social Circle, sought to better himself and ultimately became Atlanta's first African-American millionaire. An entrepreneur at heart, he learned barbering and eventually opened his own shop in Atlanta called the Crystal Palace and later founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Historian Marcellus Barksdale describes the Crystal Palace as fitting its name. Carole Merritt, director of Herndon Home, takes students on a tour of the house where Alonzo Herndon lived with his wife Adrienne and their son Norris. | Georgia Stories (GPB)

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Sherpa Café. Next week, we will continue this discussion with Part 2 of the African-American Experience essay. Please use the comments area below to share your thoughts, provide feedback etc. You can also use the share button below to let your friends know about the Sherpa Café. Thank you for supporting me on this project; I hope you have a great week.

This is Steve Saenz, your ATLsherpa.

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