Center for Civil and Human Rights wants name of 1906 Atlanta race riot changed to massacre

ATLANTA — For decades, historians have referred to the 1906 Atlanta massacre as a race riot.

But now, there’s a petition to change that.

It might seem like a small change, but as historians told Channel 2′s Audrey Washington on Tuesday, the word “massacre” better describes what happened.

The illustrations and headlines don’t tell the full story of what happened in downtown Atlanta on Sept. 22, 1906.

“There was a mob of 10,000 white men and boys who descended on downtown Atlanta and massacred 23 African Americans, at least,” said Jill Savitt, CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Savitt said history shows that weeks before the murders, two gubernatorial candidates purposely had false news articles published about Black men attacking white women.


She told Washington that it was a tool to fuel hostility and hate towards the prosperous Black community forming in the area now known as Five Points.

“There was a backlash to this progress, and the backlash manifested itself by attacks on the Black community,” Savitt said.

The murders went on for several days.

News articles from the time referred to the mass murder as a race riot.

“Let’s be clear: This was not an attack by the African American community. This was an attack on the African American community,” Savitt said.

Right now, if you look up the incident online, you’ll find several websites that still label what occurred as a riot.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights aims to change that. Center leaders started an online petition to officially change the name from riot to massacre.

“We have loyalty to the truth, so we think a name change is warranted in this case,” Savitt said.

Historians said if the name is actually changed from riot to massacre, that means we will see that change in educational curriculum and media references.

The petition already has more than 400 signatures.