Volume 77
Number 4

Health for All

Fear of Flying

Flying II: High Anxiety

Virtual Vietnam

Uncovering the Past

Wired New World

Enigma: Physics Band

Emory University

Association of Emory Alumni

Current News and Events

Emory Report



Sports Updates





















































AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, long before Atlanta was described as “the city too busy too hate,” it was a haven for African-American thinkers and home to a dynamic black community that included writers, editors, ministers, and teachers.

“Atlanta was known for its paternalism, its progressive tolerance of blacks,” says Emory English professor Mark Bauerlein. “If you were a black intellectual, it was the most tolerant place to be in the South.”

So it was all the more unbelievable when, on September 22, 1906, mobs of angry white citizens took to the streets around downtown Atlanta’s Five Points, attacking and even killing black people at random with guns, knives, clubs, and bricks.

“The riot was shocking to people,” Bauerlein says. “They thought, this is a thriving model of New South cooperation–violence does not happen here, and racism certainly does not express itself through anything like a race riot.”

Despite the disturbing level of violence, this ugly chapter in Atlanta’s history faded to a few lines in some Southern history books. But Bauerlein’s recently published Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906, attempts to restore this missing piece of the past.

“I think [Negrophobia] is the only attempt to give a full account of what happened, and I’m surprised there haven’t been more,” Bauerlein says. “This was a moment in the life of the city that was absolutely bizarre and incredibly intense. A lot of very important people were involved and it brought together a lot of issues.”

Bauerlein’s interest in the 1906 riot sprung from curiosity about the history of his own neighborhood, Inman Park. On a walk down Auburn Avenue some five years ago, he was struck by something he read on an African-American history display mounted along the side of an empty building: “The Massacre of Negroes!” A graphic color illustration showed black Atlantans frantically fleeing a crowd of threatening whites. The picture and caption turned out to be a reproduction of the local French newspaper Le Petit Journal from 1906, depicting the violent events that rocked Atlanta that autumn.

Bauerlein did some digging, and the more he learned, the more absorbed he became. From local archives, city and state records, and news accounts, he gradually was able to piece together the circumstances and incidents that led to the deaths of at least sixteen black Atlantans and possibly many more.

“Atlanta is not a good preservation city,” says Bauerlein. “It tears down and erases the past and puts up strip malls instead. I was really trying to investigate the past, to give more historical meaning to the streets I drive along each day.”

As Bauerlein worked to assemble a more complete picture of Atlanta as it was in the summer and fall of 1906, he came to understand that the sudden eruption of violence was not so surprising. Beneath a veneer of civility, social and political tensions were simmering dangerously in the months leading up to the riot.

A close and contentious fight for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination led candidates Clark Howell and Hoke Smith to abandon any pretense of racial tolerance and resort to race-baiting. Meanwhile, controversy brewed between the militant black movement led by W.E.B. DuBois, whose base was Atlanta, and the more moderate camp of Booker T. Washington.

Before the riot, the publication The Voice of the Negro (which “matched for intelligence and wit anything being published in America at the time,” Bauerlein says) was able to strike a militant stance without any apparent objection from whites. After the riot, its editor, black intellectual Max Barber, was run out of town and his offices destroyed. Barber was one of a cadre of militant black thinkers who coined the term “negrophobia” to describe a particular mindset among white Southerners who looked upon blacks as savage, lazy, degenerate, and ultimately rapacious. It was often contrasted with paternalism, a more affectionate, condescending view of blacks as inferior but not threatening.

As African-American leaders grew in number and influence, blacks were increasingly perceived by whites as a threat to established social and political structures, to white supremacy and racial purity, and perhaps most damning, to white women. The image of the chaste white Southern woman was one of the most powerful icons of the time, Bauerlein says; even the slightest hint of an overture by a black man was enough to whip whites into a frenzy. On the day the riot broke out, there were four reported cases of sexual assault by black men against white women. Throughout the day, the Atlanta Journal released extras with screaming headlines: “Two Assaults,” “Third Assault.” Though he has called these reports “ridiculous,” Bauerlein believes most women were genuinely fearful of African-American men and probably overreacted in their presence. These allegations, largely unfounded, were the catalyst that so incensed the white mobs.

“The truth is, riots are never caused by a single event like this,” he says. “It takes time and an atmosphere created over months or years. People feel they have been continuously discriminated against, attacked, and social and political solutions have been inadequate. It reaches a point where all you need is for a trigger event to happen.”

On the night of September 22, 1906, crowds of whites, mostly men and boys, stormed the streets of Five Points, intent on harming or killing any blacks in their path. In just one of dozens of incidents recounted by Bauerlein in Negrophobia, a horde smashed the front windows of a barbershop without warning and gunned down two black barbers (who had been attending to white customers), then ripped off their clothes and paraded their bleeding bodies through the streets. Another mob swarmed a streetcar, beating the black passengers, and clinging on when the car began to move and police officers desperately tried to push them off. Pawn shops and hardware stores stayed open all night to unload their entire inventory of firearms.

As the evening wore on and the chaos escalated, uniformed police officers began to turn their backs on the violence or join the whites. Five-year-old Margaret Mitchell, ensconced in her family’s home on Peachtree Street, retrieved a sword kept in the house and, tiptoeing to her father in her nightgown, handed it to him so that he could better protect the family, according to Negrophobia. Bauerlein quotes the Evening News: “Meanwhile, strange as it may seem, Negro news boys darted in and out of the crowd, shouting their extras while members of their race were slaughtered all around them.”

It was the wealth of intriguing, if gruesome, anecdotes that led Bauerlein, a professor of nineteenth century literature, to write a historical narrative in the first place. “What made me pursue the story was that I kept coming across these fascinating episodes of individuals trying to cope with or foment a bizarre chain of events–it was completely captivating,” he says.

A groundswell of interest in the book has put Bauerlein in the news, on C-SPAN, and on more than a dozen radio shows. Negrophobia has drawn praise from African-American leaders including Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and Congressman John Lewis. Lewis, a longtime civil rights activist, called the book “a story that is part of our past and needs to be told. . . . Negrophobia takes us to a place where we must go before we can build a community at peace with itself.”–P.P.P.



© 2002 Emory University