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Teacher's Resources: The Race Riot of 1906

1. On what date did the Atlanta Race Riot begin?

The riot broke out on the evening of September 22, 1906.

References: Newspapers


"Facts of Last Night's Reign of Terror." The Atlanta Constitution.

2. What political race created the atmosphere for the race riots in Atlanta, and who were the leading candidates?

The governor's race of 1906 involved two main candidates: Hoke Smith and Clark Howell. Smith and Howell were editors of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution respectively. [Other candidates in the race included John H. Estill, Richard B. Russell and James M. Smith.] Hoke Smith ultimately won that race.

References: Newspapers


Background to newspapers.


Atlanta Constitution Editorial Page Information


"Cornered by Clark Howell as to Negro Appointments, Hoke Smith Backed Down."
The Atlanta Constitution.


"Mr. Howell's Negrophile Allies." The Atlanta Journal.

3. What campaign issue inflamed public opinion, and what position did each of the two main candidates take on it?

The issue involved the disfranchisement of blacks in Georgia. Hoke Smith, President and publisher of the Atlanta Journal, campaigned on the position of passing a state constitutional amendment taking away blacks' right to vote, while Clark Howell, Editor-in-Chief of the Atlanta Constitution, campaigned against it, believing that an all-white primary election was safeguard enough against black votes influencing an election.

References: Newspapers


Background to Newspapers


"Cornered by Clark Howell as to Negro Appointments, Hoke Smith Backed Down." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Mr. Howell's Negrophile Allies." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Hoke Smith on Disfranchisement." The Atlanta Journal.


"Hoke Smith, His Cry for 'Disfranchisement', and his Consistency." The Atlanta Constitution.


"No Wonder He Stops to Think!" The Atlanta Constitution. "A Game That Won't Work." The Atlanta Journal.


"Negro Disfranchisement in Alabama Has Forever Removed the Stench From Politics and Makes Pure Elections." The Atlanta Journal.


"Disfranchisement and Education." The Atlanta Constitution.

4. What legal barriers were erected to keep blacks from voting in elections throughout the South in 1906?

General answers will need to be gleaned from other sources; the material on our site focuses on the specific disfranchisement issues in 1906 Georgia. There, one could not vote in a general election if one didn't vote in the primary. By finding ways to restrict the primaries to white voters, blacks would be disqualified from voting in general elections. Hoke Smith wanted to see African Americans banned from all electoral participation through disfranchisement legislation; Clark Howell felt that discriminatory primaries were a sufficient floodgate to prevent blacks from having too much voice in government, and campaigned heavily on the position that Smith's legislation would accidentally disfranchise white voters. A similar invention of establishing a voting precedent as grounds for exclusion from the general election was the "grandfather clause" which excluded anyone from voting whose grandfather could not vote (most 1906 African Americans' grandfathers had been slaves). The "grandfather clause" was deemed unconstitutional in 1915. The poll tax discriminated against poor blacks because it asked them to pay a monetary fee to vote. The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished poll taxes in 1964. Amendments to state constitutions were also passed in several southern states to deprive blacks of the right to vote (these violated the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Literacy tests required blacks to read difficult excerpts of text or answer questions correctly (often with trick answers) to qualify to vote. In 1906, the year of the race riot, the Supreme Court was still years away from declaring such laws unconstitutional.

References: Web Resources


Attend a Meeting of the National Afro-American Council


The Britannica Guide to Black History


Examples of Jim Crow Laws

5. What were "Jim Crow" laws?

Jim Crow laws were named after a song in a minstrel show with derogatory implications for blacks living in the South. The laws were intended to discriminate against blacks by denying them equal access to public facilities, thereby imposing segregation by color. They were passed to maintain white economic and political control in southern society.

References: Web Resources


Attend a Meeting of the National Afro-American Council


The Britannica Guide to Black History


Examples of Jim Crow Laws

6. Why were white Southerners opposed to granting blacks equal access and voting rights?

There are several answers to this question: Fear of losing control and status in society, fear of losing competitive advantage in the work force, insecurity over changing cultural relationships compounded by industrialization, all serve to explain the existence of Jim Crow laws. Perhaps many white Southerners after the Civil War could not adjust to the economic changes brought about by industrialization. It may have boosted their self-esteem to have a cultural group to look down upon. Because African Americans are as smart and capable as whites, laws had to be passed in order to keep blacks down.

7. What was the official cause of the race riots?

White males attacked black males in retaliation for injustices to white women. However, one could cite numerous other ways the social climate of the time facilitated this tragedy.

References: Newspapers

"Facts of Last Night's Reign of Terror." The Atlanta Constitution.
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8. What role did the major newspapers of Atlanta play in the race riot?

You may be able to determine this just by focusing on the headlines. During the months prior to the riot newspapers reported on alleged assaults on white women by black males. Several articles referring to the gubernatorial campaign had discussed the legitimacy of black disfranchisement in Georgia and in other southern states. The sum of this reporting perpetuated stereotypes of blacks and rationalized prejudice and discrimination against them.

References: Assault on Women - Newspapers

Background to newspapers


"The Reign of Terror for Southern Women." The Atlanta Georgian.


"The Way to Save Our Women." The Atlanta Georgian.


"Women Should Arm Themselves." The Atlanta Journal.


"Protect Our Women At Any Cost." The Atlanta Journal.


"Protection for the Women of the Community." The Atlanta Journal.


"For Protection of White Women." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Action Should Follow Agitation." The Atlanta Georgian.


"The Situation Appeals to St. Railways." The Atlanta Georgian.


Headline: "Ku Klux Klan to be Revived Again." The Atlanta Journal.


Headlines the Morning of September 22: "Negro Publicly Whipped for Assault on Women by a Delaware Jailer" and "Negro Kissed Young Girl on Hand." The Atlanta Journal.

References: Disfranchisement ("Disenfranchisement") - Newspapers


Background to Newspapers


"Cornered by Clark Howell as to Negro Appointments, Hoke Smith Backed Down." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Mr. Howell's Negrophile Allies." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Hoke Smith, His Cry for 'Disfranchisement', and his Consistency." The Atlanta Constitution.


"No Wonder He Stops to Think!" The Atlanta Constitution.


"A Game That Won't Work." The Atlanta Journal.


"Negro Disfranchisement in Alabama Has Forever Removed the Stench From Politics and Makes Pure Elections.


" The Atlanta Journal. "Disfranchisement and Education." The Atlanta Constitution.

9. Who was the mayor of Atlanta, and what measures did he take to stop the mob violence?

James G. Woodward was the mayor in 1906. His early actions during the riots were mostly ineffectual. He made fervent efforts to address the mob on the night of September 22, but his words evidently fell on deaf ears. He asked, not ordered, all citizens, black and white, to stay off the streets the next day, and asked that saloons be closed all that day. Later he ordered the fire department to clear rioters out of the streets with water hoses, but the mob simply moved to other streets. As blacks received warning of the violence and took cover, the mobs turned to looting and vandalism. At around 2:00 am, the governor, Joseph M. Terrell, ordered the state militia into the streets, but the mobs were dispersing anyway as a heavy rain continued to fall.

References: Newspapers


"Rioting Goes On, Despite Troops." The New York Times.


"Chased Negroes All Night." The Atlanta Constitution.

10. What efforts were made to maintain law and order?

Most newspapers of the time claim the police were powerless to quell the mob. The acting Governor of Georgia called in the militia to control the crowds. However, there are suspicions that the people in charge of maintaining law and order were prejudiced against blacks.

References: Newspapers



"Facts of Last Night's Reign of Terror." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Two Riot Calls Were Run for First Time in Atlanta." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Rioting Goes On, Despite Troops." The New York Times.

11. What impact did the Atlanta riots have on the political culture of the city?

An immediate result of the riot was the emigration of blacks from the city, leaving well-to-do whites to cook and clean for themselves. John Max Barber, publisher of The Voice of the Negro, left Atlanta due to controversy stirred through a letter he wrote to The New York World. That letter was written as an African American's perspective on the race riots in order to counter a more racist view expressed in The World by John Temple Graves, editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Georgian. Although Barber's letter was published anonymously, the identity of the author apparently was quickly discerned. Not wishing to be "dealt with summarily," as The Atlanta News euphemistically put it, Barber packed his bags and left for Chicago where he began The Voice.  As an aside, Barber had the pleasure of reporting on the bankruptcy of The Atlanta News in the March 1907 edition of The Voice. The Independent quoted a Southern Baptist journal that stated that in the aftermath of the riots: "The license of every saloon has been revoked by the city council. We are going to close up all dives and barrooms that attract Negroes and low-browed whites. Then we are going to move against the saloons of the more respectable type. Whatever the reforms we get, we have paid dearly for them."

References: Newspapers



"Why Mr. Barber Left Atlanta." The Voice.


"Closing Atlanta's Saloons." The Independent.


"Rioting Goes On, Despite Troops." The New York Times.

12. What message is conveyed in the cartoon "No Wonder He Stops to Think"?

Answers will vary. The subject of the cartoon is Hoke Smith, who is pondering the issue of disfranchisement (allowing blacks to vote). The legislation lies in a bear trap, suggesting that his supporting it would be political suicide. The cartoon in the inset is too small for the writing in it to be legible, but appears to be a reprint of an earlier cartoon (it has the same cartoonist's signature at the same location at its bottom), and shows a white farmer toiling under the auspices of a black observer. Other cartoons on the Georgia Stories site say Clark Howell suggested that disfranchisement would harm the state's agricultural interests.

References - Newspapers



"No Wonder He Stops to Think." The Atlanta Constitution.


Higher Order Thinking Skills:

One of the results of the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906
was that black leaders realized that W.E.B. DuBois’ ideas of pushing
racial equality was more productive than the ideas of Booker T.
Washington. Explain why the riot made DuBois’ ideas more popular.

The un-equal treatment of Blacks by white newspapers
and employers, which were the beginnings of the riots, caused Blacks to
re-think their place in society. Black African-Americans realized that
they would not achieve racial, educational, or social equality with
whites unless they forced the issue. DuBois’ helped found the NAACP
for the express purpose of introducing legislation that would advance
people’s thinking that equality in the U.S. Constitution meant all
races, not just the white race. After the riot in Atlanta, Blacks felt
that Washington’s ideas would have taken much longer to achieve
equality for the Negro. Washington wanted Blacks to be prepared
educationally to “exercise…these privileges” of equality with white
people. He knew that it would be a “severe and constant struggle
rather than of artificial forcing….”


Activities:

1. Compare how major Atlanta newspapers reported riot violence. How do the articles published in 1906 compare with how violent crimes are reported in newspapers today? Create a newspaper of 1906 using these articles, then make up a modern-day newspaper using actual articles from our local papers. Show these on an overhead or computer pointing out the similarities and differences. Ask/Answer: Do newspapers objectively report the news or are they biased in their reporting?

[One observation is the graphic and sometimes gory detail in the 1906 articles. Articles about events during the Atlanta riot dwelled on acts of violence and faithfully broadcasted every racial slur and epithet uttered by the rioters. Some of these articles seem unnervingly festive. Contemporary news articles also describe violence, or portray it in photographs, but generally lack the lurid enthusiasm prevalent in the older papers. All newspapers, including today's, reflect the cultural prejudices of their time.]

References: Newspapers


"Chased Negroes All Night." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Fierce Fight on Street Car." The Atlanta Constitution.

2. Create a chart to compare the language of three articles from the following newspapers summarizing the events on September 22, 1906.

References: Newspapers


"Atlanta Massacre." The Independent.


"Chased Negroes All Night." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Rioting Goes On, Despite Troops." The New York Times.

How do such articles differ in tone and bias based on the use of emotionally charged descriptions and derogatory expressions?

[The Independent article, which is an editorial written by an anonymous black writer, criticizes the mayor, police, white citizens, clergy and the Atlanta papers for precipitating the riot. Since the editorial was written a few weeks after the dramatic events that inspired it, it does not possess the immediacy of some of the other dailies on this site; it is a study in reason and tempered anger. The editorial suggests that Atlanta papers were to blame for inciting the riot. It maintains that the reporting of unproven black assaults on white women and the exaggeration of details made the Atlanta newspapers responsible for the violence.] The Constitution's bloody account turns the reader into voyeur and participant on the hunt for blacks. Each killing is detailed breathlessly (try imagining the story as if read by a sports announcer and you get the idea). "One of the most sensational attacks was that made on the old union depot," the article crows. It is peppered with quotes from the crowd, which are in turn riddled with derogatory expressions for African Americans. Mayor Woodward's appeal to the mob comes near the end of the article, almost as an act of redemption after all the gleefully reported violence that preceded it, but after the appeal we have descriptions of gun stores being cleared of their stock by an onslaught of white consumers. The New York Times presents a more level-headed recounting of the event. Regarding one victim of the mob's activity: "There was no question of the Negro's guilt or innocence. He was simply a member of the race whose members menaced white women, and that fact doomed him. As a matter of fact, no one believes that a single guilty Negro was killed." "When they could no longer find Negroes the mob, from pure wantonness, broke windows and damaged property." The unbridled enthusiasm of The Constitution is replaced here by a more sober, and somber, tone. Like the Independent's editorial, this article tries to examine the reasons for the violence in addition to reporting on the specific events of the night. An interesting detail mentioned in the Times article is the effect the emigration of fearful blacks had on the city. Many blacks had been employed in positions of servitude, and when they fled they left the whites to cook and clean for themselves. The Atlanta Constitution's subhead praises the mayor's attempt to stop the riot ("Mayor Woodward made splendid appeal to the mob") while the subhead of the article from The New York Times sounds less celebratory ("Mayor blames Negroes").]

3. If you had been the police chief in Atlanta in 1906 (with the information you have today), what would you have done differently? Create a play using others in your class or a monologue and present it in front of the class. If possible, dress the part in what a police chief’s uniform would have looked like in 1906.

[Based on 20/20 hindsight, there are a number of possible alternate policing scenarios. The moment trouble started, downtown bars could have been shut down and a curfew could have been imposed on citizens less than 18 years of age. Much of the mob consisted of working youths who had received their paychecks and had gone out drinking that night; after Mayor Woodward's appeal to the mob, these paychecks were used toward the purchase of handguns, reported the Atlanta Constitution in "Chased Negroes All Night." Dispersing small groups before they turned ugly and arresting individuals who appeared to be inciting a riot would have been another strategy. Posting police officers on the blocks around Union Station might also have reduced the lawlessness. Calling out the fire department earlier in the evening (to use their hoses against the crowds) might have dispersed mobs before they turned violent. Some good suggestions were presented in The Independent's "Mob Violence, Rape--Their Baneful Consequences," an article accessible from our newspapers section.]

4. Read news articles to find the street names where several violent incidents occurred during the riot. Locate these sites on a current map of Atlanta.

References: Newspapers [almost every article mentions some locations; here are a few]


"Facts of Last Night's Reign of Terror." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Rioting Goes On All Night Despite Troops." The New York Times.


"Chased Negroes All Night." The Atlanta Constitution.


"Two Riot Calls Were Run for First Time in Atlanta." The Atlanta Constitution. [The corner of Marietta and Forsythe Streets; North Pryor Street near Decatur Street; the junction of Peachtree and Marietta Streets; Wall Street; the corner of Whitehall, Marietta and Decatur. All of these locations are in current downtown Atlanta, near the CNN Center. ]


Vocabulary:

assault: A violent onset or attack with physical means, as blows, weapons, etc.; an onslaught; the rush or charge of an attacking force; onset; as, to make assault upon a man, a house, or a town.

constitutional: In line with the fundamental, organic law or principles of government of men, embodied in written documents, or implied in the institutions and usages of the country or society.

derogatory: Tending to derogate, or lessen in value; expressing derogation; detracting; injurious. Often refers to injurious comments or words.

discriminate: To treat unequally; to separate from another by discerning differences.

disenfranchise: To disfranchise; to deprive of the rights of a citizen.

gubernatorial: Pertaining to a governor, or to government.

Jim Crow laws: Laws developed specifically to inconvenience African-Americans or to promote

The Race Riot of 1906

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