Democrat offers resolution marking Atlanta race massacre — 116 years ago today

·4 min read

Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) on Thursday offered a House resolution calling on Congress to condemn the actions of a white mob that attacked and murdered Black families in Atlanta more than a century ago.

The resolution marks three days and four nights of violence that began in Atlanta on Sept. 22, 1906, when a mob of more than 10,000 white men and boys gathered in the city. At least 25 Black residents were killed along with two white men, hundreds of Black residents were injured and thousands of Black businesses and homes were burned or destroyed.

Many of the remaining Black-owned businesses were closed, even though white and Black Americans were partially integrated at the time. Black families were forced to move into the south, southwest and west sides of Atlanta.

“As a Black woman from the Deep South who represents Atlanta in Congress, I have an obligation to tell this story,” Williams said in a statement. “By introducing this resolution, I am honoring the victims of the massacre and reaffirming the commitment of the House of Representatives to condemn white supremacy.”

“My resolution is also a step toward healing for the Black communities that were terrorized by the mob of white supremacists,” Williams said. “Atlanta has the widest racial wealth gap in the country and one of the contributing factors is that Black families that were thriving fled the city after the massacre. As we atone and move forward, we must commemorate the truth of our past so that history does not repeat itself.”

The racial violence by the mob has been cast in history as a race riot that muddied the blame.

This was intentional, according to Ann Hill Bond, preservationist and chair for the Fulton County Remembrance Coalition, who said the city of Atlanta instructed African American leaders to call the mob violence a riot caused by disruption on both sides — with African Americans as the main instigators.

Bond said the mob at the time was responding to the upward mobility of Black families in Atlanta and yellow journalism that insinuated Black men were brutalizing white women in the city — calls that echo other racist crimes across U.S. history.

“At this particular time [in history], Alonzo Herndon is on the trajectory of becoming the first millionaire in Atlanta,” Bond said, referring to the entrepreneur and businessman.

“We have African Americans in college. We have African Americans owning homes, owning land, owning businesses, right here in Atlanta. And so with that comes the idea that African Americans are taking away from the general wealth of their white counterparts here in the city of Atlanta.”

With her resolution, Williams said she wants to show the “lasting impact” of the violence that dramatically altered the city.

“It’s hard to find descendants,” said Bond. “We can put names to 14 of the 25 victims that are documented as being killed over those days. We can’t put names to 11. We just found one of the descendants and she was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Not only have these families lost a part of their history, Bond said, but they also lost their homes, suffered economic losses and have faced decades of redlining stemming as a result of the massacre.

Williams’s resolution has 51 co-sponsors, and Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) is expected to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

“We must remember and acknowledge our history in full, and that includes the 1906 mob violence that targeted the Black community around Atlanta, took dozens of lives, and displaced thousands,” Ossoff said in a statement.

The resolution also calls on Congress to support a national day of remembrance for all Black Americans who faced “forced migration” and to reaffirm federal government’s commitment to combating white supremacy and reconciliation for racial injustice.

“It’s not just the South, everywhere has these types of atrocities in America,” said Bond. “There’s 4,400 documented nationwide. What are we doing for them? What are we doing as a nation? What are we doing for those families, for those descendants? We’re just hoping to be able to be an influence to the rest of the nation for them to start digging in their community’s history and truth-telling in that space.”

Bond has created the Change the Name Campaign, which petitions to officially change the name of the incident from the Atlanta Race Riots to the Atlanta Race Massacre.

She hopes the campaign will be successful, and that in the meantime the resolution will offer education for all those who are unaware of the massacre that happened more than 100 years ago.

“I hope that it will be talked about in schools but more importantly, I hope that it’s talked about in our business,” she said. “It’s about telling our children about the history so it won’t repeat itself, but also posing to current adults that can look at this history and say, ‘Hey, this is how we are where we are right now.’”

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