Henry County

Historian, author says Atlanta massacre was more about money and power as anniversary approaches

ATLANTA — This week will be the 116th anniversary of one of Atlanta’s most violent moments.

A race riot left dozens, mostly Black people, dead in the streets. Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston learned that the massacre had more to do with money than race.

Georgia State University history professor Maurice Hobson said the riot was like a powder keg waiting to blow.

Four different factions were all fighting for money and political power. To light the fuse, unconfirmed reports were circulating that Black men were assaulting white women.

“All hell breaks loose. There was this notion that Black folk are gaining too much wealth,” Hobson said.

That wealth could be found on Auburn Avenue where several Black people established their own newspaper, The Daily World.

There were also Black-owned pharmacies, attorneys and a man named Alonzo Herndon, the city’s first Black millionaire. His northwest Atlanta mansion is now a museum.


Herndon built an Auburn Avenue building where he established Atlanta Life, an insurance company for black people.

“Atlanta life is founded in 1905 on the eve of the tempest that would be known as the Atlanta race massacre,” Hobson said.

He said during this time, wealthy plantation owners were butting heads with new urban rich white businessman and working-class white people were upset that the black community in Atlanta had carved out a thriving middle and upper class.

“The real catalyst is truly economic competition and really trying to put black folk back in their place,” Hobson said.

To do that, Hobson said a story spread that Black men were attacking white women.

A mob formed on Sept. 22 and for four days that mob destroyed property and killed dozens.

“T25 black people die and two white people die. But we really have no understanding of who died and who didn’t,” Hobson said.

The atrocities of the Atlanta massacre were ignored by press. You can’t find any headlines or stories of it in the Atlanta’s mainstream press. The only remaining account was from a French newspaper.

“The trauma of it is passed down through DNA,” Hobson said.

The National Institutes of Health said traumatic events, like a massacre, can cause health and mental disparities for generations.

Hobson wonders if that could be one of the lingering effects of the 1906 Atlanta massacre along with mixed messages of telling people to make something of your life.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, make something of yourself, quit waiting on handouts, even when black America has created those lanes. The insecurity and jealousy of some aspects of white America still comes for us to demolish them and that’s what should be understood about it,” Hobson said.

Hobson wrote a book called, “The Legend of the Black Mecca,” a name often used when talking about Atlanta.

He writes extensively about the Atlanta massacre.