By Ed Brock
Grace Hardwick is now more than just a student of history.
She's a contributor to it.
Deep in the climate-controlled vaults of the National Archives and Records Administration of the Southeast Region where she works as a research assistant, Hardwick uncovered U.S. Census records that told the story of Georgia's first and only black Congressman from the Reconstruction period.
"Basically I came across something by accident," Hardwick said.
Hardwick, 27 and a senior at Clayton State University, was researching a paper for Professor Kathryn Kemp's senior seminar class under the general topic "the new South."
"In searching for a specific topic for my paper I began wondering what had happened to all of the former slaves that rose to political power during Reconstruction," Hardwick said. "I began wondering what happened to them after Reconstruction when the Bourbon Democrats took over and reversed everything that had happened during Reconstruction."
That's when she learned about Jefferson Long.
Until Hardwick's research little was known about Long, a former slave who served for a short time in Congress shortly after the Civil War, said Gene Hatfield, head of Clayton State's Social Sciences Department.
"His name is often in texts on the period but very little was known about him," Hatfield said. "That really is significant in that he is the only African American Georgian to serve in Congress during the Reconstruction period."
Hardwick's paper significantly fleshes out that scant knowledge of Long's personal history.
She started with Long's obituary and worked backward, also incorporating parts of an oral history given by Long's granddaughter in 1977.
According to Hardwick's research, Long was born sometime in the mid-1830s. His listed birthday, according to slave records, covered a two-year period.
"That's pretty good for slave records," Hardwick said. "He was obtained as a slave by the time he was five."
That was 1840 in Knoxville, Ga.
Hardwick also was able to partially confirm a rumor that Long was the son of Crawford Long, the Georgia surgeon known for initiating the use of sulfuric ether as an anesthesia.
Crawford Long owned slaves and lived in a county where Jefferson Long was born, but so did another man named Long.
Long eventually moved to Macon where he worked as a tanner but was still a slave. He married a "free woman of color" and eventually his mother-in-law bought his freedom before the end of the Civil War.
He owned a tailor shop that was across from a newspaper (and the local slave market) and eventually managed to educate himself, learning how to read the paper that was printed near his shop. After the war he became a member of the AME Church of Macon.
"The church was very politically active," Hardwick said.
Long set up the Freedmen's Bureau in Macon and gradually became more politically involved running up to his election to Congress.
"He never really sought political office. He was asked to run," Hardwick said.
Because some of the white politicians refused to take the "iron clad oath" of allegiance to the Union others were needed to finish their terms in Congress.
"Long only served a matter of months," Hardwick said.
During those months Long spoke out against the Amnesty Bill that would exclude some people from taking the iron clad oath. After his term was up Long came back to Georgia and gradually became disillusioned with the political process.
"(There was) a riot in Macon that prevented most blacks from voting in the 1870 election," Hardwick said. "(It) was led against Long and he was saved by a white man who hid him from the mob."
Long continued to make speeches and was one of the first people to try to unify the black voting bloc. He left politics in the 1880s and opened a dry cleaning business in Macon. He died in 1901 of influenza.
Hardwick's hard work will pay off. She has submitted her paper for the Outstanding Archives Awards Program issued by the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board, on which Hatfield has a seat.
"This is one example of what we think will be numerous demonstrations of the opportunities the National Archives will be for the students at Clayton State," Hatfield said.
Hardwick said she would like to keep working at the archives after she graduates, but it depends on where her husband, Army Sgt. Clay Hardwick stationed at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, goes next. But her interest in Long's history is far from finished.
"I'm still tracing the current family members," Hardwick said.