This Day in History

Dec. 9, 1867: Georgia Constitutional Convention

Time Periods: 1865
Themes: African American, Reconstruction, Laws & Citizen Rights
Rev. Henry McNeal Turner | Zinn Education Project

Henry McNeal Turner. Source:

The Georgia Constitutional Convention was held on Dec. 9, 1867 with 33 African American and 137 white delegates. The New Georgia Encyclopedia describes the context in an article on Reconstruction Conventions,

Georgia, now coming under firm military control by the federal government, prepared for another convention in 1867 to comply with the dictates of Congressional Reconstruction. The process of calling this meeting was unusual for the state in a number of respects. First, the military conducted massive voter registrations to include Black males of the same eligibility as white males. Any white males who had ever been disfranchised for disloyalty to the United States could not register. Once this process was complete, eligible voters, Black and white, went to the polls to choose whether or not to hold a convention and, if one was to be held, to select delegates to it. Since many conservative white voters boycotted the polls, first-time Black voters primarily determined the outcome. Blacks voted overwhelmingly in favor of a convention and chose many of the delegates.  . .

In December 1867 the federally sanctioned convention met in Atlanta and remained assembled until March 1868. Of the 169 delegates, 37 were Black. Republicans, moderate and radical, dominated the convention over the dozen white traditional conservatives. As directed by congressional Reconstruction Acts, the convention proposed a new constitution that included suffrage for Black males. Read more.

Nearly a year later, in the speech “Eligibility of Colored Members to Seats in the Georgia Legislature” Henry McNeal Turner stated.

You may expel us, gentlemen, but I firmly believe that you will some day repent it. The Black man cannot protect a country, if the country doesn’t protect him; and if, tomorrow, a war should arise, I would not raise a musket to defend a country where my manhood is denied.

The fashionable way in Georgia, when hard work is to be done, is for the white man to sit at his ease while the Black man does the work; but, sir, I will say this much to the colored men of Georgia, as, if I should be killed in this campaign, I may have no opportunity of telling them at any other time: Never lift a finger nor raise a hand in defense of Georgia, until Georgia acknowledges that you are men and invests you with the rights pertaining to manhood.

Turner was one of the elected representatives and delegates who was later expelled.

Listen to a reading of Turner’s speech by Danny Glover from Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

Learn more in the Zinn Education Project national report, “Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle: How State Standards Fail to Teach the Truth About Reconstruction,” and find teaching resources on Reconstruction below.