Atlanta’s image challenged by the facts of the 1906 massacre

ATLANTE – Anyone traveling through downtown Atlanta today passes by places where innocent black men and women have been pulled from carts, shot in their workplaces, chased through the streets and beaten to death by a crowd of 10,000 white men and boys.

But few have been told about the Atlanta Race Massacre of 1906, which shaped the city’s geography, economy, society and power structure in lasting ways. Much like the Red Summer of 1919 in the South and Northeast and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 in Oklahoma years later, white-against-black violence in Atlanta shattered dreams of racial harmony. and forced thousands of people from their homes.

A grassroots coalition is working to restore the Atlanta murders and their legacy to public memory. Historical markers and tours are planned for the anniversary this September. A one-act play will be performed simultaneously at group dinners across the city. Organizers are looking for 500 hosts, with the ambitious goal of hosting 5,000 people to discuss lasting effects.

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These activists say the massacre doesn’t fit comfortably into the narrative of Atlanta’s “birthplace of the civil rights movement,” but they insist on telling the truth as some politicians push to ignore the city’s history of racial violence. country.

Wrongly labeled a riot, the killings of at least 25 black people and the destruction of black-owned businesses had a specific purpose: to thwart their economic success and voting power before African Americans could claim status. equal, said King Williams, a reporter who gives tours describing what happened.

“The mob began their work early in the evening, dragging the negroes from the streetcars and beating them with clubs, bricks and stones,” reported the Associated Press on September 24, 1906, adding that “the negroes were beaten, cut and trampled in a mad, unreasoning frenzy.If a Negro risked resisting or protesting, it meant virtually certain death.

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The violence began where the Georgia State University campus now stands. Enraged by unsubstantiated headlines about attacks on white women and the harms of ‘racial mixing,’ crowds set saloons on fire and pounced on black men and women returning from work, Williams says during the tour.

Their next target was the ‘Crystal Palace’, an opulent barber shop where Alonzo Herndon made his first fortune catering to white elites. Poorer white people couldn’t handle such success from a black man and broke the place, Williams says.

Bodies were piled in front of the statue of journalist Henry Grady. Williams describes Grady as a “post-Civil War demagogue who stood up for Atlanta, but also stood up for much of the racial rhetoric we still see resonating today.” His statue is four blocks from the CNN Center, and for most people “it’s just something they walk past,” Williams said.

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A few feet away, black people jumped or were thrown from the Forsyth Street bridge onto the train tracks below. Others have taken refuge inside the gates of Gammon Theological Seminary in Brownsville, a thriving African-American neighborhood three miles south.

This is where the mob, now “supplied” as law enforcement, came for arms on the third day, ransacking businesses and dragging women and children from their homes. A white officer was killed and some 250 blacks were arrested, including 60 convicted. Not a single white person has been held responsible for any of the deaths, community organizer Ann Hill Bond said.

The cause was beyond doubt. Atlanta Constitution Editor Clark Howell and former Atlanta Journal publisher Hoke Smith had outdone themselves by promising to disenfranchise black voters during their gubernatorial campaign . As Election Day approached, newspapers ran unsubstantiated stories of attempted attacks on white women.

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A Fulton County grand jury cited ‘inflammatory headlines’ for fomenting violence, but when ‘Voice of the Negro’ editor J. Maxwell Barber linked the stories to racist campaigns, he was fired from the city.

As governor, Smith signed laws that kept most black people from voting for another half century. Thousands of people have abandoned Atlanta, which became two-thirds white in 1910, the census showed. City officials cited the need to avoid violence as they enforced segregation in neighborhoods, including “Sweet Auburn” Avenue, which became a model of African-American economic self-sufficiency. Herndon left the barber shop to become one of the nation’s leading insurers for black families.

The “riot” label was still relevant when the massacre was finally added to Georgia’s eighth grade school curriculum in 2007.

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“It is important for us to use correct language when we speak, remember and honor the lives that have been lost. It was a massacre. People have been killed,” said Bond, who runs a #changethename campaign. “And that’s just the right way to tell the truth to achieve healing. If you don’t take the bandage off, you’ll never get healed.

The massacre remains “terrifying” for playwright Marlon Burnley, whose one-act play will be performed by the Out of Hand Theater company at the September Fairground Dinners.

“The biggest dividing line for me is the presence of fake news and just made up stories and scare campaigns. And I feel like that’s just a constant in our history,” Burnley said.

Williams gets a variety of reactions while touring. For students, “it’s like discovering fire,” he says. Older Atlantans are surprised they’ve never heard the details before. “People with skin in the game in the city” — civic boosters and people who run nonprofits or work in politics — often become disgusted, he says.

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“When you talk about the history of what happened in 1906, a lot of that overlaps today,” Williams says. “And a lot of people just don’t like it. It really doesn’t shine in Atlanta when we try to present ourselves as a respected city on a hill.

The violence doesn’t fit the image many black people have of Atlanta as some sort of Wakanda, the mythical, highly advanced African nation of “Black Panther” fame, said Allison Bantimba, who co-founded Fulton County. Remembrance Coalition.

“I think restoring this story to public knowledge will make a difference,” Bantimba said. “The second we lift the veil and acknowledge all of this, a lot of people will have to reorient themselves.”

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