Charles was involved in the Liberian emigration movement .
In his thirties in 1900, he was a quiet, intense young man who worked at odd jobs and supported black emigration to Africa as a response to white terrorism in the South. He read a lot and collected weapons, but broke no laws. One night in July he sat on a front porch in New Orleans talking quietly with a friend. Close to midnight, three police officers arrived with drawn pistols and billy clubs to announce his arrest. Charles responded by drawing his gun and shooting one of the officers. Wounded himself, he fled - not to safety but to rearm. Grabbing a rifle, Charles moved from one hiding place to another. Along his trail he left five dead police officers and a dozen wounded ones. A mob of over one thousand joined the police in the manhunt, frequently firing indiscriminently into the black community. Finally surrounded, Charles was burned out of his hiding place and immediately riddled with bullets. As was customary, the mob then badly mutilated the body. Newswoman Ida Wells-Barnett investigated the incident and ended her report with the words: "The white people of this country may charge that he was a desperado, but to the people of his own race Robert Charles will always be regarded as the 'Hero of New Orleans.'" Later his willingness to fight police brutality with retaliatory violence would be renewed by the Black Panthers in the 1960s.
Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900. By William Ivy Hair. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press,1976.
America and its People Volume 2 From 1865 - 1988. Page 599 "Rise Brothers!": The Black Response to Jim Crow; by James Kirby Martin, Randy Roberts, Steven Mintz, Linda O. McMurry, James H. Jones, Publisher : Scott, Foresmans and Company, ISBN 0-673-18316-5