A Cartersville resident once served as U.S. Attorney General, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan and created the agency that became the FBI.
But few probably knew Amos Tappan Akerman’s place in state and U.S. history until the Georgia Historical Society recently put him in the spotlight among Georgians who advanced the cause of African-American residents in the century following the Civil War.
The Historical Society worked with the Bartow History Museum and the Savannah-based Waters Foundation Inc. to dedicate a new historical marker recognizing Akerman on the site of his former home on South Tennessee Street in Cartersville March 28.
Akerman served as the federal district attorney for Georgia in 1869 and then as U.S. Attorney General under President Ulysses S. Grant from 1870 to 1871 — defending black residents’ political and civil rights and prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan before being forced to resign, according to the Historical Society.
Bartow History Museum worked with the Historical Society for about a year to secure a spot for the marker recognizing Akerman, said museum director Trey Gaines.
Gaines said he believed the Cartersville man’s place in American and Georgia history was “not widely known” and was “eye-opening” to many.
Elyse Butler, who manages the Historical Society’s marker program, agreed with Gaines about Akerman’s relatively unknown place in state history.
Butler said the Akerman marker is one of a series her organization erected with funding from the Waters Foundation, which is headed by State Board of Regents Chairman Don Waters.
The Waters Foundation approached the Society about funding markers to honor some Georgians who contributed to the advancement of African-Americans in the state, Butler said.
Akerman was included in the series at the urging of Society President and CEO Todd Groce and senior historian Stan Deaton, who knew of Akerman after researching his work extensively as a college student, Butler said.
The series also honored Susie King Taylor, who was the first black Georgian to teach openly in a school for former slaves in the state in the late 1800s; and former Savannah Mayor Malcolm Maclean, who worked to peacefully integrate the city in the early 1960s.
Akerman was a New Hampshire native who graduated from Dartmouth College and moved south. He tutored the children of U.S. Senator and former U.S. Attorney General John Macpherson Berrien in Savannah, which led to him studying law and working as an attorney in Clarkesville and Elberton.
He supported the Confederacy during the Civil War but joined President Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party after the conflict ended, the historical society said in a press release.
Akerman then defended black residents’ political and legal rights in Chatham County, which reportedly led him to move his family to Cartersville after his actions proved unpopular in Elberton.
President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him federal district attorney for Georgia in 1869 and U.S. Attorney General in 1870, where he organized the then-new Justice Department’s first investigative unit and forerunner of the FBI.
“He aggressively prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan for political terrorism and violence against African Americans before his forced resignation in 1871,” the historical society wrote on his marker.
After his death in 1880, Akerman was buried in Cartersville’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
Among the speakers at the March 28 dedication ceremony at the Booth Western Art Museum were Larry Thompson, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General for Georgia under President George W. Bush.
Other speakers were Waters, who is also a Georgia Historical Society Board of Curators member; and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr; Walter M. “Sonny” Deriso, chairman of the Georgia Historical Society Board of Curators; Gaines and Groce. Former UGA football coach Vince Dooley, a Board of Curators member, also attended.