How can we avoid repeating our past mistakes? One of the best ways is to understand what happened and why it happened so we can avoid doing the same thing in the future. One such event in Georgia’s past was the race riot of 1906. As economic conditions worsened after the Civil War, poor whites joined blacks moving to Atlanta where both groups competed for work. Historian Cliff Kuhn describes the increasing segregation of the races through Jim Crow laws that applied to streetcars, trains, cemeteries, and even Bibles in the courtroom. In 1906, Hoke Smith ran for governor and inflamed racial tensions when he accused blacks of committing crimes against white women. Newspaper articles, using flimsy facts and sensationalized events, heightened tensions. In mid-September, a riot started in Atlanta when violent mobs of whites began randomly attacking black men, beating and killing them. According to Carole Merritt, director of Herndon Home, part of the reason for the anger directed at blacks was their economic accomplishments. When black men began fighting back, the mob lost its courage. The militia was called in by the governor. The riot ended after three days of fighting that left 26 people dead and hundreds injured. When it was over, whites wanted to forget and return to normal but black Atlantans could not. Why not? Because those same divisions continued and exist today, dividing society. It is important to recall what occurred and understand it so we do not allow history to repeat itself.
Teacher tip: Ask students to describe conditions in 1906 for blacks and whites. Define the word “tolerance” and ask students to discuss how tolerance among political leaders may have helped prevent the 1906 race riot.