Racial Violence

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A caricature entitled "For the Sunny South," published in 1913 by Puck magazine. It depicts an airplane with three well-dressed white passengers towing a "Jim Crow trailer," which is held aloft by a blimp. African American passengers are crowded onto the platform. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Racial tension in Atlanta exploded during a violent race riot in 1906, caused by sensationalist press reports (none verified) of white women attacked by African American men. White mobs attacked African Americans in streets, homes, and businesses over several days. Martial law was declared and state militia restored order. Dozens of African Americans were killed; many more were wounded.

In 1913, Atlanta’s population was one-third African American. Jim Crow laws mandated segregation for African Americans in all areas of life, denying them the right to vote and access to public areas and accommodations while discriminating against them in housing and employment. Jim Crow laws were the legal means of counteracting the freedoms that African Americans obtained after emancipation and the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. And often, they were supplemented and enforced using an extralegal method —lynching.

All African Americans were expected to act deferentially to white people; refusal could result in violence. Most lynching victims were African American men. Lynchings were horrific spectacles witnessed by large crowds that included children; the victim was often brutally tortured first. Accusations of rape were often impetus for lynching, but lynchings could also occur whenever an African American was accused of violating a Jim Crow law.