|Atlanta race riot|
The cover of French magazine Le Petit Journal in October, 1906, depicting the Atlanta race riot
|Date||September 22-24, 1906|
|Caused by||Alleged rapes of white women by black men|
|Methods||Rioting, assault, pogrom|
|Death(s)||25+ blacks, 2 whites|
The Atlanta race riot of 1906 was a racist pogrom in Atlanta, Georgia (United States), which began the evening of September 22 and lasted until September 24, 1906. It was characterized at the time by Le Petit Journal and other media outlets as a "racial massacre of negroes". The death toll of the conflict is to this day unknown and disputed, but "officially" at least 25 African Americans along with two confirmed European Americans; Unofficial reports ranged from 10 -100 African Americans and 2 European Americans were killed during the riots. According to the Atlanta History Center, some African Americans were hanged from lamposts during the actual riot. The main cause of the race riot was newspaper-publicized rapes of four white women in separate incidents, allegedly by African American men.
Atlanta considered itself to be a prime example of how whites and blacks could live together in racial harmony; however, with the end of the American Civil War, an increased tension between black and white wage-workers began. As Atlanta became known as the "rail hub" of the South, workers from all over the country began to flood the city. This resulted in a drastic increase in both the African-American population (9,000 in 1880 to 35,000 in 1900) and the White population as individuals sought prosperous economic opportunities. With this influx of individuals and the subsequent increase in the demand for jobs, race relations in Atlanta became increasingly strained. These tensions were further exacerbated by increasing rights for blacks, which included the right to vote. With these increased rights, African Americans began entering the realm of politics, establishing businesses and gaining notoriety as a stratifying social class in the eyes of the white population. These newly acquired African-American rights and status brought increased competition between blacks and whites for jobs and heightened class distinctions.
These tensions came to a boil with the gubernatorial election of 1906 in which M. Hoke Smith and Clark Howell competed for the Democratic nomination. Both candidates were looking to find ways to disenfranchise black voters because they felt that the black vote could throw the election to the other candidate. Hoke Smith was a former publisher of the Atlanta Journal and Clark Howell was the editor of the Atlanta Constitution. Both candidates used their influence to incite white voters and help spread the fear that whites may not be able to maintain the current social order. These papers and others attacked saloons and bars that were run and frequented by black citizens. These "dives", as whites called them, were said to have nude pictures of women, some of whom were white. The Atlanta Georgian and the Atlanta News publicized police reports of white women allegedly sexually molested and raped by black men.
On September 22, 1906, Atlanta newspapers reported four sexual assaults on local white women. Following the report several dozen white men and boys began gathering, beating, stabbing and shooting blacks in retaliation. Le Petit journal reported, "Black men and women were thrown from trolley-cars, assaulted with clubs and pelted with stones. An unknown and disputed number of blacks were killed and many injured. The governor called in the militia to restore order."
The New York Times reported that when the mayor was asked as to the measures taken to prevent a race riot, he replied:
The best way to prevent a race riot depends entirely upon the cause. If your inquiry has anything to do with the present situation in Atlanta then I would say the only remedy is to remove the cause. As long as the black brutes assault our white women, just so long will they be unceremoniously dealt with.
The New York Times adds that the Charleston News and Courier wrote in response to the riots:
Separation of the races is the only radical solution of the negro problem in this country. There is nothing new about it. It was the Almighty who established the bounds of the habitation of the races. The negroes were brought here by compulsion; they should be induced to leave here by persuasion.
On September 28, The New York Times reported,
The Fulton County Grand Jury today made the following presentment:
"Believing that the sensational manner in which the afternoon newspapers of Atlanta have presented to the people the news of the various criminal acts recently committed in this county has largely influenced the creation of the spirit animating the mob of last Saturday night; and that the editorial utterances of The Atlanta News for some time past have been calculated to create a disregard for the proper administration of the law and to promote the organization of citizens to act outside of the law in the punishment of crime."
An unknown and disputed number of African Americans were killed in the conflict. It was confirmed that there were only two white deaths. Significant African-American social changes were also an outcome of the riot; these included a disturbance of black housing and social patterns. In the years after the riot, African-Americans were most likely to live in settled black communities, which were most likely found to the west of the city near Atlanta University or in eastern downtown. Black businesses were dispersed to the east, where the thriving black business district Sweet Auburn soon developed. Other outcomes included an increase in black suffrage in 1908.
Some black Americans modified their opinions on the necessity of armed self-defense, even as many issued explicit warnings about the dangers of armed political struggle. Harvard-educated W. E. B. Du Bois purchased a shotgun after rioting broke out in Atlanta, and stated in response to the carnage of the race riot, "I bought a Winchester double-barreled shotgun and two dozen rounds of shells filled with buckshot. If a white mob had stepped on the campus where I lived I would without hesitation have sprayed their guts over the grass." As his position solidified in later years, circa 1906-1920, Du Bois argued that organized political violence by black Americans was folly, but in response to real-world threats on black people, Du Bois "was adamant about the legitimacy and perhaps the duty of self-defense, even where there [might be a] danger of spillover into political violence."
Efforts to promote racial reconciliation and understanding included the creation of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (which later evolved into the Southern Regional Council) in 1919.