Located between the Ogeechee and Oconee rivers in Georgia's formerly rich cotton belt, Greensboro lies at the heart of Greene County, halfway between Atlanta and Augusta. The Creek Indians prized this region for its abundant game. The Georgia legislature created the county in hopes of attracting white settlers to the region and dislodging the Creeks. Although the state attempted to maintain a façade of legality in taking Indian lands, tensions ran high between white newcomers and Native Americans. In 1787 Indians attacked Greensboro, burning homes and killing residents. Despite these and other difficulties of frontier life, Greensboro and Greene County grew rapidly. By 1810 the county as a whole claimed 12,000 residents, half of whom were slaves. A decade later slaves composed a majority of the population.
Cotton Is King
The phenomenal rise of the
Although cotton made a few men extremely wealthy and underwrote the proliferation of stores, banks, and civic buildings in Greensboro, it also created an underclass in the form of slaves and poor whites. Despite the social and economic system that kept a majority of the county's citizens enslaved and impoverished, there was little question of which side county leaders would support in the secession crisis leading to the Civil War (1861-65). All three of Greene County's representatives to the Georgia Secession Convention voted to secede, and Greensboro men organized the Greene Rifles to fight for the South. Of the men that Greene County sent to war, one-third would not return and another third would come back maimed or wounded. A portion of Union general William T. Sherman's troops briefly occupied Greensboro in November 1864 in a diversionary tactic meant to convince the Confederates that the Union troops were headed for Augusta, not Savannah, on their march to the sea.
Aftermath of War
The end of the Civil War unleashed pent-up social forces in
Return to Cotton
Despite a short-lived attempt to turn toward increased food production, Greene County quickly returned to its dependence on cotton and suffered the attendant consequences. With the demise of the old plantation system, sharecropping and tenancy rose to take its place. The elite of Greensboro prospered, though. Many who formerly had only sold goods became moneylenders in the furnishing system, which arose after the demise of the old cotton-factory system. The proliferation of sharecropping contracts also led to a rise in the number of prosperous lawyers in town.
The New Deal Arrives
World War II and Beyond
Whatever temporary relief New Deal programs may have provided, Greensboro and Greene County could not truly prosper until there were enough industrial jobs to absorb the surplus agricultural population. Following the lead of the rest of the South in the early twentieth century, the county attempted to entice industry to the area through its Greene County Development Company. Greensboro recorded its first such success in 1899, when the Mary-Leila Cotton Mill opened. World War II (1941-45) proved a boon to the cotton mill, though it would achieve a certain amount of adverse notoriety when its workers went on strike for higher wages in 1941.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, Greensboro's population was 3,359. Its lively and historic downtown area offers a variety of shops and services, as well as historic tours. Several museums, including the Greene County Historic Museum and the Calvin Barber Museum and African-American Resource Center, are also located in Greensboro.
Jonathan M. Bryant, How Curious a Land: Conflict and Change in Greene County, Georgia, 1850-1885 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
Arthur F. Raper, Preface to Peasantry: A Tale of Two Black Belt Counties (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1936).
Arthur F. Raper, Tenants of the Almighty (New York: Macmillan, 1943).
Thaddeus B. Rice, History of Greene County Georgia, 1786-1886 (Macon, Ga.: J. W. Burke, 1961).
Jason Manthorne, University of Georgia
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