ATLANTA — President Biden’s visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma highlights what had been a little know story of racial violence a hundred years ago, Atlanta has a similar story.
The flashpoint for the violence in 1906 was in a part of downtown, now mostly occupied by Georgia State University. Back then, it was described as a "riot."
But it really wasn’t.
"This was a surprise attack on the black community," said history scholar King Williams. "It was a massacre."
One backdrop was politics. In 1906, Georgia’s governor’s office was up for election. Candidate Hoke Smith had published the Atlanta Journal and Candidate Clark Howell published the then-competing Atlanta Constitution.
As the election approached, each newspaper published incendiary headlines that stoked racial fears among white readers.
"There were a series of four particular reports in local Atlanta papers – both the Journal and the Constitution at the time -- saying that black men were actually sexually assaulting white women when there was no record of it," said Williams, speaking with 11Alive News from Decatur St. at Central Avenue. "But that was enough to get a mob ensued. And it started not far from where we are. And from that point, there were three days of violence."
Williams thinks the government should post markers downtown where the violence raged in 1906 – officially taking 26 lives but Williams said it was likely more than a hundred.
Hoke Smith won the governor’s race; the violence provoked by the newspapers receded in history. "I would guess maybe 90 percent of the people in the city and the state don’t know about this," Williams said.
The 1906 violence reshaped Atlanta. Black communities moved from here to points south and west of downtown. The Black business community relocated to Auburn Avenue.