"Ancestors never die until there is no one to call their names." ~ An African Proverb

1867 Return of Registered Voters-Banks County, Georgia

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s day I was inspired to concentrate on my own Georgia ancestors. I revisited one of the documents that I found early on in my research that shows Gabriel Neal, (my third great-grandfather), on the 1867 Return of Registered Voters for Banks County, Georgia.

“WE CERTIFY to the correctness of the above Return,”

Board of Registration

P. P. Casey

J. G, Stringer

C. W. Beal

J. B. S. Davis

Benjamin Dunagan

Courtney Beal

Source: Microfilm, Georgia State Archives         

Contributed by Jim Davis

Transcribed 2005 by Jacqueline King

Professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. presented a similar document to U.S. Congressman John Lewis on an episode of Finding Your Roots that brought him to tears. I also feel that same tug at my heart and sense of pride that my great-grandfather only two years out of slavery recognized the importance of his vote. I’ve stared at this document numerous times searching for a deeper understanding of what it must have meant to Gabriel and my other family members to finally be able to participate in this process.

But in 1867, what exactly was the process for newly freed African Americans?

Congress passed the first Reconstruction Act on March 2nd, 1867 which divided the Confederacy into five military districts each governed by a Union general. The first two Reconstruction Acts were followed by a series of supplementary acts that authorized the military commanders to register the voters and supervise the elections. As a result of these measures all of the states had returned to the Union by 1870.

While some sources describe that as many as 700,000 Blacks were registered by 1868, it made me wonder how many of them would cast a vote in the next election. And if they did make it to the polls, would they be educated enough to make their own choice, or were they being coerced by political agendas? Blacks would only have a short time to celebrate the Fifteenth Amendment ratified in 1870, and would soon meet with opposition from Southern states in the form of Jim Crow laws, intimidation and violence.

My ancestors in Banks County, Georgia were proud farmers, and even 13 years later on the 1880 census only one of Gabriel’s daughters could read and write. I believe that Gabriel took a strong leap of faith to make a better life for his children and grandchildren in signing his voter registration. In that step he would attempt to ensure his family’s freedom for generations to come.

When I voted for the first African American president in the last 2 elections I kept Gabriel and his sacrifices in my thoughts. I worked as a volunteer to register new voters, donated financially and continue to work as an advocate in Washington, D.C.

The words of Dr. King resonate also continue to resonate with me in my genealogical research. The foundation of my study requires me to “sift and weigh evidence” and to maintain a level of integrity in my work. It is therefore equally as important for me to give back, educate, and enlighten others on the joy of finding their own ancestors.

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” Martin Luther King, Jr.,-The Purpose of Education

Reference

Bragg, William H. “Reconstruction in Georgia.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 10 January 2014. Web. 20 January 2014.

Advertisements

11 responses

  1. Vicky Daviss Mitchell

    Nice post Ms Neal, keep up the good work

    January 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    • RootsGenie

      Thanks for visiting, Vicky!

      January 21, 2014 at 7:16 pm

  2. True!

    It was a Great find for me as well. My Ancestor born 1812 was there.

    January 21, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    • RootsGenie

      Were they in Banks County, or somewhere else in Georgia?

      January 21, 2014 at 11:29 pm

  3. Bernita

    You must be so proud of your family exercising their right to vote. What a great find! You raised some very important questions. Those records are very usual. Keep up the good work.

    January 22, 2014 at 7:06 am

    • RootsGenie

      Thanks for reading Bernita! As I mentioned on FB I try not to get too emotionally tied into it because I have a nagging feeling there were ulterior motives! What state did you find your ancestors on the voter roll? I have been looking for Arkansas but I don’t think they were digitized.

      January 22, 2014 at 10:32 am

  4. Well said! I was moved to find my newly free ancestors on the voter rolls in Alabama and Tennessee too.

    January 22, 2014 at 7:50 am

    • RootsGenie

      Thanks Kristin! It was an exciting find that, of course, led to more questions. I have been searching for proof that Gabriel was related to Edmond Neal listed below him. I though that the matching information after their name might be a clue. Do the voter rolls look the same for every state? I wondered if they all tell how long the person lived in the county/state, etc.

      January 22, 2014 at 10:28 am

      • Now I have to go check again but I don’t remember finding any other information aside from that they registered. It really affected me the first time I saw it too.

        January 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

  5. I know your very proud of your ancestors…great part of our history!!!Great post!!!!!

    January 22, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    • RootsGenie

      Thanks Nique! I am truly proud of their accomplishments considering all of the hardships they faced. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

      January 22, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s