During the two centuries before 1865, the U.S. South was governed by and for slaveholding planters. Southern law gave these enslavers almost total authority over the lives of enslaved people. The Civil War, however, destroyed the legal institution of slavery and, with it, the legal power of the slaveholder. Southern states faced the question of how to maintain the cotton economy without slavery. Their solution was to transfer the legal power over Black Southerners that had been held by slaveholders to the state.
As scholars who have long been immersed in this pivotal period, we were excited to learn of the lavishly produced HBO series The Gilded Age. With the exception of the fabulously successful feature film Titanic in 1997, ours is a historical period that is often overlooked in popular culture. So we were delighted when The Gilded Age generated advance reviews in mainstream publications including the New York Times and Washington Post. We hoped it would bring attention to the period we find so important in our history, especially for the light it can shed on present day problems and issues—both how they were created and how they might be remedied.
Working with three first-year students and two graduate students at Georgia State University, I oversaw the development of a self-guided walking tour that uses David Fort Godshalk’s Veiled Visions to describe the horrific events that occurred on Saturday, September 22nd, the first day of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. The tour, available for free on Emory University’s mobile-optimized OpenTour website, takes about an hour to complete and extends approximately three quarters of a mile across downtown Atlanta. The race riot raged for three days, as angry mobs stormed from downtown Atlanta to surrounding neighborhoods.