ATLANTA (AP) — As a boy, Farrow Allen, Jr., heard stories about the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 from his mother, whose father was hustled out of town to safety at the height of the four-day melee where 10,000 blacks and whites clashed in the streets.

Allen said he recalls little of the stories he was told as a child about his grandfather Luther Price, a fair-skinned black postmaster who ran a general store in a black neighborhood at the turn of the last century. But he remembers being scared to death of the stories — and of the South.

“I thought the South was the most horrible place in the world,” said the 64-year-old now living in Asheville, N.C., whose family moved to New England after the riot.

“I didn’t want anything to do with the South. I thought it was primitive, backward,” he said.

A century ago, on a hot September Saturday, many of Atlanta’s blacks and whites started to riot in a bloody downtown battle that would become known as the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. The situation exploded after months of hostility between the races in the city fueled by state politics and local media, which conjured stories of black men attacking white women.

It was an event that captured international attention, focusing the world on America’s racial tensions and inequities.

The riot had a profound effect on Atlanta, shattering the city’s growing image as the racially harmonious model of the New South, prospering and progressing only a few decades separated from slavery. The event became a cautionary tale for blacks and something minimized for whites.

For the city too busy to hate, it was a story that was hard to hear.

As a result, this ugly chapter in the city’s history was largely forgotten. Some black families fled North. Black businesses largely retreated to Auburn Avenue — the heart of the city’s black business corridor — and remained there for generations.

The white city fathers took a lesson from the riot: mob violence is bad for business, a lesson that helped Atlanta edge out Birmingham, Ala., as the South’s economic engine over time.

Despite Atlanta’s silence, the riot had lasting effects on the city that can be seen and felt 100 years later. In the coming weeks, as historians observe the riot’s centennial, Atlanta will have an opportunity to reflect on its ugly racial past — something many of its Southern neighbors have taken pause to recognize.

Organizers see the anniversary as an opportunity for enlightenment, healing and honesty about the city’s racial tensions joining other Southern communities — including Tulsa, Okla., and Rosewood, Fla. — that have atoned in recent years for segregation-era racial atrocities.

“Atlanta’s prosperity has muted that kind of conversation,” said Spelman College history professor William Jelani Cobb, who added that the city has yet to pay respect or memorialize the unknown number of individuals killed in the riot.

“That’s a stain on history that has to be admitted and recognized before it can be transcended,” Cobb said.

Today, while Atlanta boasts of having one of the country’s most affluent black populations, the poverty gap between blacks and whites persists. The city remains largely separated, and it continues to tout its feel-good image as a place where blacks and whites peacefully coexist.

Much like modern-day Atlanta, at the turn of the century, the city was home to a critical mass of affluent and educated blacks. Empowered with the right to vote, blacks in the city were establishing thriving businesses and social networks.

Blacks’ newfound middle class status made many whites nervous, and caused the city fathers to tighten Jim Crow restrictions. The gubernatorial race of 1906 also contributed to the tension, as politics dictated an agenda that kept blacks subordinate.

The black underclass was frequently targeted in local newspapers as uncouth and predatory toward white women, with huge headlines of unsubstantiated claims. By late July 1906, papers were publishing sensationalized accounts of a “black crime wave” against white women in Atlanta.

On the night of Saturday, Sept. 22, a climate of foreboding had swept into the city and racial tensions exploded in downtown Atlanta after four reports of assaults on white women ran large in the city’s competing newspapers. None of the reports were ever proven.

Streetcars, where blacks and whites were daily forced to stand shoulder to shoulder, were frequently targeted; more than 20 of the cars were smashed, derailed or attacked. Barber shops lining Peachtree Street, a symbol of bustling black business on the city’s main thoroughfare, were also destroyed.

Some blacks were thrown from the old Forsyth Street bridge to the railroad tracks below, near what is now the main hub of the city’s rail-transit system. Others jumped to escape lynch mobs. Though the riot was covered by international press, including publications in France, Italy and England, stories about the riot were told in hushed tones in black households.

The city later named a school after Allen’s grandfather. The dedication, which Allen attended as a boy, was the last time he was in Atlanta. Neither he nor his family much reflected on the riot.

“The times were bad enough that this wasn’t something in their history they didn’t talk much about,” Allen said. “They were looking ahead and not looking back very much.

“Stuff like that was brought up occasionally, but not a tremendous effort was made to pass it on,” he said. “I think that was just probably a sign of the times.”

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