Atlanta Riot of 1906

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Atlanta Riot of 1906

The Atlanta Riot was an expression of southern white hysteria over rape and the social and political implications of race. On September 22, 1906, following a race-baiting gubernatorial campaign by Hoke Smith and a lengthy newspaper series about a purported wave of rapes of white women by black men, the city of Atlanta, Georgia, a center of the black middle class, was taken over by a white mob.

On the evening of September 22, whites, aroused by false and exaggerated reports of arguments between blacks and whites, massed on Decatur Street. Word spread, and whites attacked streetcars and destroyed black shops and businesses on Auburn Street, then invaded black neighborhoods, with halfhearted resistance by or the support of city police and local militia. Black homes were pillaged, and five blacks were murdered. Blacks put up some resistance but were overwhelmed and outnumbered in pitched battles with armed whites. On the following night, state militia troops arrived, but many joined the white mob, which headed toward Brownsville, the city's middle-class black college suburb, and attacked its black residents. Police arrested and disarmed blacks who attempted to defend themselves. The next morning, police and militia entered Brownsville homes, supposedly to hunt for guns and arrest rioters; they beat and arrested affluent blacks. White rioting continued every night until September 26, when order was finally restored. Twenty-five blacks had been killed (as well as one white), and hundreds had been injured or had their property destroyed. More than a thousand blacks left Atlanta during and after the riots.

The rioting in Atlanta demonstrated the helplessness of black populations in urban settings and the emptiness of rhetoric about the "New South." The white savagery caused many blacks to question the effectiveness of Booker T. Washington's accommodationist philosophy. Washington himself was energized by the riots into calling the Carnegie Hall Conference of 1906, which prompted the formation of the Committee of Twelve, a short-lived attempt at unified black leadership. Elite whites disclaimed participation in the riot, which they blamed on blacks and on poor, immigrant whites. However, elite whites joined in promoting the rebuilding of black Atlanta. They sought to avoid further rioting by joining with "respectable" black moderates such as John Hope and Henry Hugh Proctor to reduce racial tensions. Out of the movement came annual meetings on race relations in the Southern Sociological Congress, beginning in 1912, which led to the formation of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation in 1919.

See also Washington, Booker T.


Brown, Richard Maxwell. Strain of Violence. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Williamson, Joel. The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South since Emancipation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

greg robinson (1996)

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Atlanta Riot of 1906

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Atlanta Riot of 1906