Georgia — History and Culture
Georgia may be south of the Carolinas, but it shares a lot of common ties, culture, and style. It’s a gracious southern state loaded with important history that runs from the first colonies through the Civil War and into the modern era of Civil Rights. Grand old cities like Savannah embody this southern charm, while the mountainous north has more of an Appalachian, folksy vibe. No matter where you go in Georgia, however, you can expect a warm welcome.
In 1731, Georgia was established to serve as a buffer between the Spanish territory of Florida and the booming tobacco state of South Carolina. The English king commanded General James Edward Oglethorpe to create a new colony modeled after England, but without Catholicism, slaves, or liquor. It wasn’t until the first African slaves arrived in 1750 that Georgia’s economy began to thrive.
The colony quickly divided into two distinct regions. The eastern coast lowlands prospered with huge rice, tobacco, cotton, and indigo plantations that helped create the wealthy towns of Savannah and Charlestown. The farmers who did not own slaves moved inland to the hills. They remained poor and were called ‘up country’ folk by the richer ‘low country’ folk along the shorelines.
The residents of Georgia sided with the patriots to declare war on the English. They gave General Cornwallis, the British commander, a tough time in Charlestown by building Fort Moultrie to protect the valuable harbor. In the years that followed independence, African slaves did almost all of the labor on Georgian plantations. That changed in 1793 when Georgian Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin outside of Savannah. Huge plantations gave way to small farms with fewer slaves.
Georgia was one of the first states to secede from the Union in 1861. The Civil War that resulted was fought hard in Georgia. Union General Sherman’s famous March to the Sea cut a swath of devastation across the central and eastern regions, burning Atlanta to the ground and taking Savannah soon after. The destruction and devastation was immense and can still be relived today in one of the many historical museums or monuments.
Racial tension and segregation became a normal way of life in Georgia after the Civil War. Though most of the violence of the Civil Rights Movement happened in neighboring states, Georgia was slow to accept change. It wasn’t until native Jimmy Carter became President that Georgia truly began to embrace equality. Today, Atlanta is one of the country’s most popular and successful cities for African Americans, which make up more than half the city’s population.
Southern culture runs deep in Georgia. Major events like slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement have all shaped the modern face of this state’s people. They are typically very religious and known for their good manners and hospitality.
Much of Georgia’s economy comes from forestry, and its cuisine has many local flavors such as grits, peaches, cornbread, and seafood. Georgia has always played a starring role in American pop culture as a representative of the South. From Gone with the Wind to Sherman’s March through Atlanta, there is a certain romanticism about the low country region. Georgia has also birthed some impressive musical talent over the years, including Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, and rockers R.E.M.