History Behind the Story: Voter Registration in Georgia, 1867

In the light of the news about obstacles to voting in Georgia today, I thought I’d share a happier moment in Georgia’s history, when the freedmen, newly-minted as voters, were enthusiastically registered under the auspices of the Union Army.

Under post-Civil War military administration, Georgia was divided into 44 districts, corresponding to the state’s senatorial districts. In each district, three registrars were appointed. Two were white, but the third was black. The white registrars chose their black colleague; as in my novel, Let Me Fly, they chose a man they knew and trusted.

In my novel, I appropriated one of my characters as the black registrar, but the real-life registrar for District 42, which included Cass County, was a fascinating man in his own right. His name was William Barton Higginbotham, and he was born a free man in Virginia in 1818. In the 1840s and 1850s, at considerable personal risk, he was an Abolitionist in Georgia. In 1867, he registered the black men of District 42 as voters, and during the contentious election of 1868, he organized northwestern Georgia for the Union League, the secret society that supported the Republican Party.

If you want to read more about Higginbotham’s life and about the history of his home, Floyd County, before and after the war, take a look at this article by David Dixon, published in Georgia Backroads Magazine in 2011.