Monday, August 07, 2006

The Banality of Intersections

Above you see the intersection of Decatur and Pryor Streets, downtown Atlanta, circa now. It's a pretty standard downtown four-way, nothing really of note -- a pawn shop, a book store, a multi-use condo/office building.

But 100 years ago next month, it was the flashpoint for one of Atlanta's worst moments, the start of a race riot that lasted several days and left at least 25 people dead (sources seem to vary on this, with numbers up to 40 given -- I'll go with the most common number). It was Atlanta's second race riot in five years; the first, the Pittsburg Riot, was pretty small change compared to this.

Put at its simplest, as is my tendency, the causes seem to be two-fold: a nasty race for governor marked by all sorts of race-baiting, and (likely overhyped) reports of black men assaulting white women. Thousands of whites gathered at the above intersection on September 22, 1906, then proceeded to go wild for four days, attacking the city's black population and causing considerable damage.

I only recently read up on the riots -- and realized that the starting point was in fact this site, an intersection I've driven through hundreds of times since living here. There's an idea in my head, I guess, that it should be more dramatic, more looming, there should be a sense of destruction even a century on. But it's just another bland cityscape.

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Some more info on the 1906 riots:

Coalition to Remember the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot -- a group working to increase Atlantan knowledge of the riots, and to put together more information on the victims.

Walter White -- a first-hand account of the riots.

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