I spent some time on Monday with my daughter and a very talented photographer. Dear Daughter was busy getting a few of her Senior pictures taken against the backdrop of the vibrant art and culture of the Little Five Points area of Atlanta.
However, if we had suddenly been transported back to September, 1906 our Little Five Points experience would have been very different……downright scary and dangerous.
You see….Dear Daughter and I are white and our expert photographer friend is black, and if the year had been 1906 we would have been caught up with the Atlanta Race Riot of that year since many of the scenes of violence were centered in the Little Five Points area.
It began on September 22, 1906 and by the time the event ended it has been reported twelve blacks and two whites were killed though some historians argue many, many more were killed. Some advise that some families took the bodies of their loved ones and quietly buried them not wanting to have the stigma of having taken part or having been a victim of a race riot. Others were quiet about the death of a family member because they understood the effect the riot could have on the economy of the city.
Things like that just didn’t happen in Atlanta.
After all……Atlanta is the city that is too busy to hate, right? It seems to me though the city was actually too busy to remember as the details regarding the riot have been mostly forgotten and not taught in schools.
The cause of the riot is actually very convoluted basically ranging from paternalism – a feeling blacks had to be taken care of to negrophobia – where whites believed blacks were always prone to crime and violence. The 1906 governor’s race has been held up as a major cause as the two men running for office both brought race relations to the forefront stating they would do what they could to keep black men from voting. Some historians blame the changing Atlanta economy – from an agrarian society to a highly industrialized transportation hub, and others state changes in black society also contributed. By 1906, there was a definite middle class that existed in Atlanta’s black neighborhoods and there were even a few wealthy families. Another cause had to do with several saloons or “dives”, as whites referred to them, on Decatur Street where black men frequented. Whites were worried about a rise in crime that could spill over into white areas. Add in competition between the races for jobs, a tug-of-war over civil rights, and other issues left over from Reconstruction...... a powder keg was most certainly brewing.
In the days leading up to the riots there had been some unproven reports black men had been attacking white women. Mob psychology took over. At the height of the riot reports state there were as many as 10,000 whites and hundreds of blacks involved. The violence occurred for a few days before the state militia was called out.
New Georgia Encyclopedia states the after effects of the riot include retrenchment of Atlanta’s black community, statewide prohibition and black suffrage, a turning away from the leadership of Booker T. Washington to W.E.B. DuBois who wrote a poem regarding the event titled The Litany of Atlanta.
Mainly……the event was minimalized and forgotten.