The history of the gun laws in Georgia is very clear. The white ruling elite were fearful of armed black Georgians. They created a system that would guarantee that Blacks were disarmed and that would have the appearance of being non-discriminatory.
Following the Civil War, Southerners wanted to create a proper investment climate for northern money. To do that, myths and illusions were created to hide the true extent of racial prejudice in Georgia.1 The white ruling elite couldn’t directly deny Blacks their rights; they needed to use subterfuge.
To deny Blacks the right to vote, the law was changed in 1908. The law needed to appear to be race-neutral to avoid antagonizing the Northern states. The law that Georgia enacted was to require voters be either a) of good character and able to pass a test on citizenship, (b) be able to read and write provisions of the U.S. or Georgia constitutions, OR (c) own at least 40 acres of land or $500 in property. To avoid disenfranchising poor white votes, the law provided that any Georgian who had fought in any war from the American Revolution through the Spanish-American War was exempt from these qualifications. More importantly, any Georgian descended from a veteran of any of these wars also was exempted. Because by 1908, most white Georgia males were grandsons of Confederate veterans, this exemption became known as the “grandfather clause.” Essentially, the qualifications of good character, citizenship knowledge, literacy, and property ownership applied only to blacks wanting to register to vote.2 3 Since most Blacks at that time were former slaves and poor tenant farmers, the literacy and property ownership requirement eliminated them from the voter rolls. The good character clause eliminated educated and wealthy Blacks through its subjective application. In 1910, the Atlanta Journal celebrated the disenfranchisement of Blacks in Georgia by proclaiming “Georgia takes her place among the enlightened and progressive states which have announced that the white man is to rule.” 4
Employing a similar race-neutral deception in 1910, Georgia enacted the law that requires a license issued by the Ordinary (now know as probate judge) in order to have or carry a firearm. The qualifications and intent was similar to those that disenfranchised Blacks two years earlier. Applicants had to be: a) at least eighteen years old or over b) give a bond payable to the Governor of the State in the sum of one hundred dollars, AND c) a fee of fifty cents. 5 $100 in 1910 is equivalent to over $2000 in 2007 dollars.6 In the unlikely event a black man could post the bond, the Ordinary, who was always white since blacks could not hold office, could be counted on to deny the application. Judicial Immunity applicable to the Ordinary meant that Blacks were unable to challenge the license denials.
This legacy of Jim Crow and the Black Codes still stains our state. None of us are free until all vestiges of Jim Crow are erased from our laws.
Michael Menkus is presently a pricing analyst within the telecommunications industry. He is a graduate of Colorado School of Mines with a BS in Geophysical Engineering and Emory University with an MBA. He is a licensed Georgia Professional Engineer. His work experience includes oil exploration, environmental cleanup and risk assessment, and telecommunications network design and management. Michael competes in USPSA pistol competitions and is a certified USPSA Range Officer.
To contact the Author or for questions/comments about this article, please
1 Grant, Donald, The Way It Was In the South ? The Black Experience In Georgia, Carol Publishing Group, 1993, page 182-190
2 Grant, Donald, The Way It Was In the South ? The Black Experience In Georgia, Carol Publishing Group, 1993, page 209 -211
3 Dittmer, John, Black Georgia in the Progressive Era 1900 ? 1920, University of Illinois Press, 1977, page 100 ? 103
4 Grant, Donald, The Way It Was In the South ? The Black Experience In Georgia, Carol Publishing Group, 1993, page 210
5 Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, GALILEO, ACTS AND RESOLUTIONS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA. 1910 Part I.–PUBLIC LAWS.