Atlanta race riot

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The cover of French magazine Le Petit Journal in October, 1906, depicting the Atlanta race riot

The Atlanta race riot of 1906 was a mass civil disturbance in Atlanta, Georgia (USA), 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".[1] The death toll of the conflict was at least 25 African Americans[2] along with two confirmed European Americans;[3] Unofficial reports ranged from 10 -100 African Americans and 2 European Americans were killed during the riots. 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. 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.

The Atlanta race riot[edit]

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. Ten blacks were killed and many injured. The governor called in the militia to restore order."[1][4][5][6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

Grand Jury[edit]

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."[9]


A total of 25 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;[10] 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 a thriving black business district 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."[10] 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."[10]

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.


  1. ^ a b "Un lynchage monstre" (September 24, 1906) Le Petit Journal
  2. ^ Burns, Rebecca (September 2006). "Four Days of Rage". Atlanta Magazine: 141–145. 
  3. ^ "WHITES AND NEGROES KILLED AT ATLANTA; Mobs of Blacks Retaliate for Riots — Two Whites Killed; MANY NEGROES SURROUNDED; Two of Band That Killed an Officer Try to Escape, but Are Captured and Lynched." (September 25, 1906) New York Times
  4. ^ "ATLANTA MOBS KILL TEN NEGROES; Maybe 25 or 30 --- Assaults on Women the Cause; SLAIN WHEREVER FOUND; Cars Stopped in Streets, Victims Torn from Them; MILITIAMEN CALLED OUT; Trolley Systems Stopped to Keep the Mob from Reaching the Negro Quarter" (September 23, 1906) New York Times
  5. ^ "RIOTING GOES ON, DESPITE TROOPS; Negro Lynched, Another Shot, in Atlanta; SATURDAY'S DEAD ELEVEN; Exodus of Black Servants Troubles City; MAYOR BLAMES NEGROES; Leading Citizens Condemn the Rioters and Demand Cessation of Race Agitation -- Many Injured" (September 24, 1906) New York Times
  6. ^ "3,000 GEORGIA TROOPS KEEP PEACE IN ATLANTA; Soldiers Disarming Negroes in All Parts of the City; HUNDREDS CAUGHT IN RAID; Clark University Professors Among Prisoners -- Whites and Negroes Meet to Demand Peace" (September 26, 1906 ) New York Times
  7. ^ "THE ATLANTA RIOTS" (September 25, 1906) New York Times
  8. ^ "DEPORTING THE NEGROES" (September 30, 1906) New York Times
  9. ^ "PAPER BLAMED FOR RIOTS.; Grand Jury Accuses Atlanta News of Stirring Up Race Feeling" (September 28, 1906) New York Times
  10. ^ a b c Johnson, Nicholas (2014). Negroes and The Gun: the black tradition of arms. Amherst, New York: Prometheus. pp. 151–157. ISBN 978-1-61614-839-3. 


  • Bauerlein, Mark (2001). Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906. San Francisco: Encounter Books. ISBN 1-893554-54-6. 
  • Baker, Ray Stannard (1908). Following the Color Line: an account of Negro citizenship in the American democracy. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company. 
  • Burns, Rebecca (2006). Rage in the Gate City: The Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. Emmis Books. ISBN 1-57860-268-8. 
  • Godshalk, David Fort (2006). Veiled Visions: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot and the Reshaping of American Race Relations. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-5626-6. 
  • Mixon, Gregory (2005). The Atlanta Riot: Race, Class, And Violence In A New South City. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-2787-X. 
  • Allen, Josephine (2005). "Atlanta, Georgia". Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (2nd ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster and the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. ISBN 978-0-02-865816-2. 

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