During the Atlanta race riot that occurred September 22-24, 1906, white mobs killed dozens of blacks, wounded scores of others, and inflicted considerable property damage. Local newspaper reports of alleged assaults by black males on white females were the catalyst for the riot, but a number of underlying causes lay behind the outbreak of the mob violence.
Causes of the Riot
The emergence during this time of a black elite in Atlanta also contributed to racial tensions in the city. During Reconstruction (1867-76), black men were given the right to vote, and as blacks became more involved in the political realm, they began to establish businesses, create social networks, and build communities. As this black elite acquired wealth, education, and prestige, its members attempted to distance themselves from an affiliation with the black working class, and especially from the unemployed black men who frequented the saloons on Atlanta’s Decatur Street. Many whites, while uncomfortable with the advances of the black elite, also disapproved of these saloons, which were said to be decorated with depictions of nude women. Concern over such establishments fueled prohibition advocates in the city, and many whites began to blame black saloon-goers for rising crime rates in the growing city, and particularly for threats of black sexual violence against white women.
The candidates for the 1906 governor‘s race played to white fears of a black upper class. In the months leading up to the August election, both Hoke Smith, the former publisher of the Atlanta Journal, and Clark Howell, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, were in the position as gubernatorial candidates to influence public opinion through their newspapers. Smith, with the public support of former PopulistThomas E. Watson, inflamed racial tensions in Atlanta by insisting that black disenfranchisement was necessary to ensure that blacks were kept “in their place”; that is, in a position inferior to that of whites. Since receiving the right to vote, Smith argued, blacks also had sought economic and social equality. By disenfranchising blacks, whites could maintain the social order. Howell, on the other hand, claimed that the Democratic white primary and the poll tax were already sufficient in limiting black voting. Instead, Howell emphasized that Smith was not the racial separatist he claimed to be, and he charged that Smith had in the past cooperated with black political leaders and thus could not be relied upon to advance the cause of white supremacy. In addition to the political debates waged in the Journal and the Constitution, other newspapers, especially the Atlanta Georgian and the Atlanta News, carried stories throughout the year about alleged assaults on white women by black men. The media provoked anger and hatred in its white readers—with stories, editorials, and cartoons warning of rising crime, the danger to white women of rape by black males, the disreputable saloons that encouraged drunkenness and licentious behavior in “brutish” men, and the desire of “uppity” blacks to achieve equality with whites. By late September, after newspaper reports of four separate incidences of alleged assaults by blacks on white women circulated in Atlanta, mob violence erupted.
On the afternoon of Saturday, September 22, Atlanta newspapers reported four alleged assaults, none of which were ever substantiated, upon local white women. Extra editions of these accounts, sensationalized with lurid details and inflammatory language intended to inspire fear if not revenge, circulated, and soon thousands of white men and boys gathered in downtown Atlanta. City leaders, including Mayor James G. Woodward, sought to calm the increasingly indignant crowds but failed to do so. By early evening, the crowd had become a mob; from then until after midnight, they surged down Decatur Street, Pryor Street, Central Avenue, and throughout the central business district, assaulting hundreds of blacks. The mob attacked black-owned businesses, smashing the windows of black leader Alonzo Herndon‘s barbershop. Although Herndon had closed down early and was already at home when his shop was damaged, another barbershop across the street was raided by the rioters—and the barbers were killed. The crowd also attacked streetcars, entering trolley cars and beating black men and women; at least three men were beaten to death. Finally, the militia was summoned around midnight, and streetcar service was suspended. The mob showed no signs of letting up, however, and the crowd was dispersed only once a heavy rain began to fall around 2:00 a.m. Atlanta was then under the control of the state militia.
On Monday, September 24, a group of African Americans held a meeting in Brownsville, a community located about two miles south of downtown Atlanta and home to the historically black Clark College (later Clark Atlanta University) and Gammon Theological Seminary. The blacks were heavily armed. When Fulton County police learned of the gathering, they feared a counterattack and launched a raid on Brownsville. A shootout ensued, and an officer was killed. In response, three companies of heavily armed militia were sent to Brownsville, where they seized weapons and arrested more than 250 African American men. Meanwhile, sporadic fighting continued throughout the day.
On Monday and Tuesday, city officials, businessmen, clergy, and the press called for an end to violence, because it was damaging Atlanta’s image as a thriving New South city. Indeed, the riot had been covered throughout the United States as well as internationally. Fears of continued disorder prompted some white civic leaders to seek a dialogue with black elites, establishing a rare biracial tradition that convinced mainstream northern whites that racial reconciliation was possible in the South without national intervention. Paired with black fears of renewed violence, however, this interracial cooperation exacerbated black social divisions as the black elite sought to distance itself from the lower class and its interests, leaving the city among the most segregated and socially stratified in the nation.
Newspaper accounts at the time and subsequent scholarly treatments of the riot vary widely on the number of casualties. Estimates range from twenty-five to forty African American deaths, although the city coroner issued only ten death certificates for black victims. Most accounts agree that only two whites were killed, one of whom was a woman who suffered a heart attack on seeing the mob outside her home.
There were other consequences of the riot as well, both locally and nationally. Its aftermath saw a depression of Atlanta’s black community and economy. The riot contributed to the passage of statewide prohibition and black suffrage restriction by 1908. It discredited for many black leaders the accommodationist strategy of Booker T. Washington among the leadership of black America, and gave new legitimacy to the more aggressive tactics for achieving racial justice epitomized by W. E. B. Du Bois, who wrote a powerful poem, “The Litany of Atlanta,” in the riot’s wake. Although it had a profound effect on many of those who experienced it, the riot was forgotten or minimized for decades in the white community and ignored in official histories of the city.
[cited from the Georgia Encyclopedia, original entry by Gregory Mixon, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Clifford Kuhn, Georgia State University, 09/23/2005. Last edited by NGE Staff on 10/29/2015.]
We are all of us, whether we like it or not, moving in the same direction. To know, from this flatness, when we were inseparable, no lines dividing your mission from mine, your fate from mine, my synopsis from yours (at the end, always so diminished, so frail, an encyclopedic accounting so etiolated by the frayage of time — no longer ‘fleshed out’ but fleshed in — that you are scarcely recognizable, one from the other.)
Is a corpse ‘raced’? or gendered? It can no longer bear witness to its condition, a commonplace yes but one which was conflicted by Judge Paul Schreber who was assured that god was only attracted to corpses, and not living human beings, being somehow afraid — or just unable to perceive– the condition of ‘life’. The greater interest for God, according to Schreber, being the generic condition of the corpse, a place of no-place where all conditions are razed to a common denominator, the ‘nerves’ of the dead forming a greater world blanket, no doubt, a plentiful multitude –which in God’s eyes would be only One perhaps — to which the living can hold no candle. Perhaps it could be said that the dead, in this regime, resemble God more than the living. Skin, and the nexus of patterns which it denotes, dissolves into a greater reliance on the miracle of invisible rays connecting all worlds, dominions, species, races, and genders, all flowing into a living dead molten mass. Like those hypothetical ghostly particles in physics which only ‘work’ or come alive when they exceed the speed of light, they also become invisible to the phenomenal world and are, in a way, already dead when they enter this world.
The Thunder : Perfect Mind*
[understanding] from grief
and take me
to yourselves from understanding
And take me
to yourselves from places
that are ugly and in ruin,
and rob from those
which are good even though in ugliness.
Out of shame, take me
to yourselves shamelessly;
and out of shamelessness
and shame, upbraid my members
And come forward to me,
you who know me
and you who
know my members,
establish the great ones among the small
Come forward to childhood,
and do not despise it
because it is small and it is little.
And do not turn away
greatness in some parts from the
the smallnesses are known
from the greatnesses.
From The Nag Hammadi Library, trans. George W. MacRae, ed. Douglas M. Parrott (my lineation)…
The year is 1964. My father’s father is lying in state in front of the pulpit at the Grace Methodist church, located no more than twenty feet beside my grandfather’s bedroom window, where he was a deacon since, I guess, the church was founded. The small two story frame house was built in 1945 by his eight sons and daughters. I don’t know when the church was built but I know it’s been there, brick siding and stained glass windows of disciples and Christ kneeling, for at last fifty years. As a child living a hundred feet from the church (and the small two story frame house), I could hear old man Simpson bellowing hymns above everyone else on Sunday mornings. The church is still there. My grandfather’s house is not, having survived their deaths, but succumbing to exhaustion (I guess), remaining unchanged since that day in 1964 when he died. It is as if the house had been plucked up by aliens, leaving only a sandy bald spot, with no debris to mark any kind of spot structure at all, having been hauled off my someone who will do something with it. First there was a mountain then there was not.
But my grandfather is still lying in wait to this day I can see now. The pews of the small church are packed with realatives and friends. The preacher comes forward at a certain point and allows that Richard ‘Dick’ Cheatham had a special friend Willie who would like to come view the body. Dick Cheatham worked in the sawmill a few miles from his house, some sort of foreman. Summer nights I can remember Willie, a black man, coming by and sitting in the back yard with my grandfather, talking till the fireflies came out.
Now all the fireflies have gone out permanently and Willie is visiting again. Was he not allowed to sit with the others? My confusion is rampant as I sit there in the stone silence, maybe a little organ music, Willie walking down the isle with his hat in hand. This image haunts me to this day, not knowing what to do with it. What does one do with ghosts anyway? And what are memories but ghosts, hauntings that can’t be exorcized except by penalty of losing part of one’s self? The deep well of remembrance sears us simply by its diaphanous nature, it’s inability to be easily pinned down, constrained by what we want, what we desire, what we think is best. The ectoplasmic stuff of remembrance never quite gets frayed into nothingness, it hangs on though its own externality, posing as pure internality … but who is to say about that, about what is purely inside and what is purely outside? Surely there is no purely, but an enfolded complexity, various types of Mobius strips, Klein bottles that ceaselessly shuttle back and forth, matter becoming conscious becoming memory becoming matter becoming earthworms becoming plants becoming energy becoming life, becoming face, maybe to the ends of the universe — and back. Who is to say? Ghosting knows no limits. It simply shifts and squirms in its liminal constraints to another form, another race, another gender, another life, another species, the traumatic gossamer crinkling of its edges perhaps simply threshold phenomena, portals signifying other entrances and exits. These halos, thresholds are the very epitome of Benjamin’s description of aura as the inchoate perception of the greatest distance in that which is closest to us.
Skin: the thing that is closest to us, yet betrays the most distance, distances of galactic proportions (but even the word galactic sustains this duality of skin, meaning from the ancient Greek, milk, as if the stars were poured out into a thickening skin in the sky, white on black). Skin as boundary marker and threshold delineating, separating, folding together; even a sacrament which opens the inside to the outside in Eros as well as in wounding; even a sacrificial threshold, the only one a person ever has really, a singular offering, continually deferred even while daring all others to avoid the breach of the skin.
And what is more ghost-like than skin? Never announcing itself (except when it becomes visible at the borders of the socius, of races–still, visible but invisible), yet subtly holding together, holding out for, but surreptitiously so, an invisible boundary between self and others —and when it comes visible trouble starts, just as ghostly manifestations announce their own traumas, delays, deferrals, returns of the repressed, the mobiating of black to white and white to black and the sacrificial halts in between, the black and white stills from back then, alternating with technicolor, then technical color, then nothing.
And at this time, now, the techologized body is “a body … entirely dominated by gash marks, excisions, and technical scars — all under the gleaming sign of a sexuality that is without referentiality and without limits.” (Jean Baudrillard, Ballard’s Crash, S.F. Studies, quoted in The Body as Battleground in Alien Abduction, Patricia Barbeito, Journal of American Culture, vol. 28, June 2005). The supercessions of the technical state fold questions of race/gender not away but back on itself, as a rupture and rapture within the body social/physical/political, an imploded uncanny terrain of lost races, uber-races, and final races, all debauched from notions of genesis, origin, identity (to struggle only makes the grasp tighter, capital pulling the reins to more fully follow the form of desire, becoming one with your guilt, your pleasure, your denial, your skin-care products, your smell, your flesh, your remains); squeezing vessels dry, the better to fill them to the brim.
Ezekiel 37:7-9 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.
8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ “
- [41.20] Until when they come to it, their ears and their eyes and their skins shall bear witness against them as to what they did.
- [41.21] And they shall say to their skins: Why have you borne witness against us? They shall say: Allah Who makes everything speak has made us speak, and He created you at first, and to Him you shall be brought back.
-  And you did not veil yourselves lest your ears and your eyes and your skins should bear witness against you, but you thought that Allah did not know most of what you did.
The particle ‘ri-‘ seems to range over the territory OF particularity, the bit, the morsel, a piece, even the riff of riff raff (‘one and all’, keeping in mind that riff raff constitutes the debris of society, those who cannot be constituted as a proper group, those who can only participate in an aimless Brownian motion). It would even seem to be expressive of rift as a gap. Opening, or breach (as the singularity often does for the collective).
The suffix ‘-ot ‘ expresses nativity (patriot, idiot), or a natural ‘belonging to’.
‘Riot’ might naturally be taken to mean a condition of excessiveness brought on by an aggregate of those who natively (‘naturally’) belong to the one, (that is, their own unmediated desires), to their own anarchic potential to transgress, to be unincorporable in the collective, those in the gap. Those in a riot (and like chaos, all riots, no matter when or where, would always be the same faceless aggregates of the always-potential uncontrollability of singularities) would exhibit the excessiveness of bare life, the possible profanation of its border-breaching nature, its lawlessness. A riot is the breaking open of the social skin, the surface holds the directed activities of the body politic into a vectored whole; it is the rising up of the ribbed (always there but in a state of detumescence), the rizome, the spreading of the bit, the morsel: like but separate from the whole.
RE-MIX: ecstasis 1
The tongue and the skin are inextricably intertwined. In the Indian Summer month of September of 1906, Atlanta would suffer a ‘race riot’ with twenty five blacks and two whites dead, fanned into flame by the rhetoric of white fear-based sensationalism and unsubstantiated rumours of black crime.
Meanwhile, some months earlier in Los Angeles, the tongue had broken loose from its mooring, testifying to a different end than the devisiveness of the white race-bating speech. From the New York Times:
” While its roots can be traced to revivalist bonfires in the Midwest at the end of the 19th century, Pentecostalism’s animating miracle took place a hundred years ago this month during a prayer meeting in Los Angeles. On April 9, 1906, an itinerant black evangelist and the son of former slaves, William J. Seymour, watched as one of his followers was overcome with the Holy Spirit and started speaking in tongues — the gift known as “tongues-attested baptism.” Within days, Seymour founded the Apostolic Faith Mission on Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles and began sharing this gift with a raucous congregation of men and women, blacks, whites and Latinos, rich and poor, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and nonbelievers of every stripe.”
In September 1961, Betty and Barney Hill, A New Hampshire couple under heavy pressure for their interracial marriage, decided to visit Montreal Canada for a short holiday. On their return, they found themselves suffering from unexplained physical pain, anxiety, and nightmares. They were particularly disturbed because they could not account for two hours of their return drive, so they consulted a psychiatrist, Benjamin Simon. After undergoing repeated sessions of hypnosis with Simon, they recalled a truly incredible experience: they claimed that while driving south on US Highway 3 through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, just south of Indian Point, they were taken from their car by a group of small, gray, large-eyed aliens, led into a UFO, and subjected to a series of physical examinations and medical procedures, including the taking of skin, nail, and hair samples. The aliens gave Betty what they called a pregnancy test by inserting a long needle into her abdomen, and they took a sperm sample from Barney by attaching a circular device to his groin. The Hills also reported that the aliens, who communicated telepathically with them, seemed fascinated by the differences between the couple, especially by Barney’s dark skin. After being told by the aliens to forget what happened to them, the Hills were allowed out of the UFO and watched it depart.
Thus began the modern fascination with alien abduction.