Exhibit a Remembrance of Deadly Atlanta Riot
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Commentator Clarissa Myrick-Harris, who you heard in the last segment, shares her thoughts about the 100th anniversary of the Atlanta riots. She says she'll commemorate it by educating others.
Professor CLARISSA MYRICK-HARRIS (Co-Curator, Red Was the Midnight: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot): So with all that's going on in our world now, why take the time to remember the Atlanta race riot of September 1906? The reason has been obvious to me as I have worked with Macon, Georgia's Tubman Museum Director Andy Ambrose to curate the exhibit, Red Was the Midnight: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
The word sankofa from the language of the Akon(ph) people of West Africa explains it best. We must go back and reclaim our past so that we can move forward with an understanding of why and how we came to be who we are today. Our past is clouded by racial intolerance, cultural insensitivity and attempts of one group to suppress and exploit another.
All these things are manifestations of fear; fear of the unknown, fear of the progress of the other, fear of losing control, fear of being kicked to the curb or even annihilated as the world moves forward. In the case of the 1906 Atlanta race riot, we know that the local white press, including the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, concocted stories about a negro crime wave.
The onslaught of dubious news stories about black men sexually assaulting white women reinforced a national trend in the media of stereotyping black men as negro brutes stalking white women and black women as immoral carriers of disease into white homes.
In reality at the turn of the 20th century, the white builders of the new south in particular, feared the political and economic power and potential of African-Americans who had gone from being chattel to citizens, from being property to property owners in only four decades.
The yellow journalism of the time addressed all of these fears by criminalizing black men, vilifying black women and attempting to scare white women into submission.
During the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot Centennial Remembrance Weekend, September 21st through the 24th, there are many such opportunities to learn the lessons. We must continue to remember long after this weekend is over, just as we must also remember the many other acts of racial terrorism that stain our country's history.
Attempts to forget, bury or minimize the atrocities in our past will guarantee that new, perhaps even more horrific events will occur in our future. Let's look back now. Learn the lessons so that we can begin to move forward as more sensitive and humane people.
CHIDEYA: Clarissa Myrick-Harris is co-curator of the exhibit, Red Was the Midnight: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. To see photos from this period and to hear what one historian says about the riot in his book, Negrophobia, go to npr.org.
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