What Addie would later call the "pent-up hate and envy of a dominant group" had burst whatever shaky norms of civility and decorum had previously managed to hold it in check.

On Story: Avengers A Conversation with Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

The riot had taken everyone by surprise. The commercial classes of black and white Atlanta were deeply intertwined through networks of loans, services, and trade goods. Slavery had been dead for four decades. Civic leaders touted the city as an example of what the South could be. To be sure, just two years earlier Atlanta had accepted the Supreme Court's invitation in Plessy v. Ferguson and imposed racial segregation on its streetcars.

To be sure, the local papers had for several days run screaming headlines about nonexistent assaults by Negro men on white women. To be sure, rival Democratic candidates for governor were competing over whose program would more thoroughly disenfranchise the darker nation. To be sure, a white neighbor had recently told Addie that she was very sorry but their children couldn't play together anymore: people were beginning to talk. In short, all black Atlanta must surely have felt something wicked brewing. But nobody knew it would be as bad as this. The violence continued for two days.

The mob has been estimated variously from the middle hundreds to the middle thousands. Negroes were beaten. Many were killed. The precise number is disputed because nobody in those days kept careful count of dead Negroes, least of all in the South. The deaths may have numbered over a hundred.

Stephen Carter on his new collection of personal essays

Yet the main target was not people. The main target was property. The riot began on lower Peachtree Street, at that time the heart of the Negro business district. Black-owned banks and insurance companies, barbershops and restaurants, real estate agents and newspapers, all had premises there. Many subsisted heavily on business with white customers. The mob did not care who the customers were. The mob cared who the owners were. For years worried whites had been exchanging whispered half-truths: The Negro middle class was taking over Atlanta.

Negro workers were taking white people's jobs. And at lower wages. The politicians refused to act, so the rioters took matters into their own hands. The Fourth Ward was where the well-to-do of the city's black community lived; the Fourth Ward, therefore, would be the target.

Family legend holds that the rioters stopped one house away from the Hunton residence at Houston Street. Possibly the tale is even true. The block on which my great-grandparents lived was half black and half white, neatly segregated down the middle, and their house sat precisely on the border. In case the mob wondered which homes to attack, the city directory helpfully appended next to the name of each colored family the symbol " c. There is no family story on whether William and Addie armed themselves against the mob, but they might well have. At this time, owning a firearm was still a signal of manhood, and despite efforts to restrict gun possession among Negroes, most colored households would have had weapons of some kind.

The guns, as it turned out, were needed. When the rioters grew bored of burning and killing in the environs of Peachtree Street, they tried to leave the business district and swarm into the residential areas, spilling onto the tree-lined lanes amongst the stout houses, searching for fresh targets. They were greeted with a hail of gunfire as Negro families protected their own.


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Of course the police eventually arrived, followed the next day by the state militia, which made several hundred arrests. And in a mighty show of egalitarianism, a handful of those locked up were even white. But most of those arrested were black men with guns, trying to protect their homes and businesses. In the Brownsville neighborhood, near the city's great Negro colleges and universities, a combination of mob and militiamen went door to door, searching for weapons. Men who resisted were shot dead. Many of the rest were dragged off to Atlanta's dreaded stockade.

Nobody was surprised. Negroes were constantly being arrested in the city, for crimes they committed and for crimes they did not, for rudeness or talking back or looking at a white woman, for being in the wrong neighborhood or being suspected of being in the vicinity of the wrong neighborhood. Upon conviction, many of these men were, in the words of one historian, "literally sold to the highest bidders. After the wave of arrests, local newspapers assured their white readers that the city was now safe from marauding Negroes with guns.

Stephen L. Carter: the Christian As Contrarian | VQR Online

The newspapers, of course, had the facts backward, probably on purpose. Atlanta's black middle class realized that its tranquil existence in the midst of Jim Crow was a lie. The riot had shaken the general sense of security. Among those shaken were the Huntons. William's work took him away frequently. He was an international secretary for the Young Men's Christian Association, and his duties led him all over the world.

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He had lunched at Buckingham Palace. In a few weeks he was scheduled to give a speech in Tokyo. Addie, too, was frequently out of town. She was a popular writer and speaker on issues of race and womanhood. She lectured all over the North. She taught part-time at a Negro college in Alabama. When both parents were away, a maid or a friend looked after the children. Now that seemed inadequate protection. William and Addie made their decision. Atlanta was no longer safe. They would take their children and move north. The Huntons were not alone.

The emigrants numbered in the thousands. Black and white leaders alike begged the Negro middle class to stay, and begged those who had left to return. Scant weeks after the riot, President John Bowen of Gammon Theological Seminary would write an essay assuring those who had fled that order had been restored and the community was safe. Booker T. Washington himself wrote to the New York Age, an influential Negro paper, urging students at Atlanta's several black colleges to head back to the city, where "the dangerous period, I am sure, has passed.

The migration frightened Dixie. The South was losing both cheap labor and skilled professionals. Hoping to keep Negroes put or lure them back, Southern states began running newspaper advertisements in the North touting their virtues. The ads spoke of wonderful colored schools and plentiful land for cultivation, available at low prices.

Some counties bragged that they had never had a lynching. A few states even sent commissions to Northern cities to make the case for return face-to-face. Few of the emigrants listened — and William and Addie Hunton were not among the few.


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  • Actually the family's life in Atlanta had been rounded by violence. Their arrival in the spring of happened to coincide with the lynching of Sam Hose, a particularly brutal murder that made worldwide headlines, not least because for the next few days you could buy pieces of the mutilated Negro in the city's shops. After the lynching, the Huntons considered leaving but decided that duty required them to stay.

    The themes of duty and hard sacrifice, learned at her parents' feet, would become a constant of their daughter's life. When the family arrived in Atlanta, Addie was pregnant. Two earlier children, Bernice and William, had died in infancy, probably of tuberculosis. The third pregnancy proved difficult. The Huntons worried. Before that, William had only dropped hints. Not at first. They wanted to make sure that she would survive.

    As late as August 8, in a letter to Moorland, William would refer to his daughter only as "Sugar. Two weeks later, Sugar finally had a name.


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    Our house is going up nicely. She had a name. She had a house. In October of , when Eunice was three months old, the family took possession of "their handsome new home" at Houston Street — an event recorded in a popular Atlanta Constitution column called "What the Negro Is Doing. The Hunton home is usually described as "modest. Thirty years later, Eunice would recall that the family "lived quite comfortably, in a room house staffed by a cook and a maid and a man to tend the furnace and garden.

    The property lay at the less expensive end of Houston Street.