Sunday, January 15, 2006

The 1906 Atlanta Race Riots

Happened 100 years ago, but it's news to us. They taught us the name of Lee's horse in Georgia history classes (Traveler) but they sure didn't mention this 4-day race war:

On a humid Saturday night in 1906, an Atlanta newsboy named Mendel Romm went downtown to pick up papers for delivery. He talked about what he saw for the rest of his life.

"When he got to Five Points, they were having a race riot," says his son, 77-year-old Mendel Romm Jr. of Buckhead. "They were pulling people off the streetcars and lynching them right there. My father was so scared he ran all the way home."

The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot is the closest thing to a race war that has ever happened in this city.

For four days that September, white mobs attacked black people in a fit of hysteria over exaggerated and erroneous reports of sex crimes against white women. Then blacks started fighting back. When the dust settled, at least two dozen people were dead, and Atlanta's reputation as a paragon of New South moderation had taken a beating in the eyes of the world.

Now a group of Atlantans wants to commemorate the riot — and try to learn from it — on the occasion of its centennial.

The Coalition to Remember the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot first met a year and a half ago in the fellowship hall of old Ebenezer Baptist, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s church. This weekend, as the nation celebrates the King holiday, the coalition is beginning a series of public events leading up to an exhibition at the King National Historic Site in May and a symposium at Georgia State University's Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in September.

The coroner only listed 12 deaths in Atlanta during those four days despite witnesses reporting at least two dozen men were lynched in the streets during the riots, indicating that he and his good ol' boys didn't even bother with looking over the bodies of the slain. We hope that they get not only the respect they deserve, if belated, but also more time in future Georgia classrooms than Lee's horse.

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