Public Space and Leisure Time
ACCORDING TO press reports, a black man raped Annie Laurie Poole on a rural road near her home south of Atlanta on the last day of July 1906. In the middle of August, Mrs. Richard Hembree claimed to have fended off a different black man’s aggression using her hat pin. In another rural community outside of the city limits, Ethel and Mabel Lawrence alleged an encounter with a “tall, slender and very black negro,” who beat the young white women severely. Mittie Waits supposedly met a would-be attacker in a wooded area nine miles from Atlanta but scared him off with her screams. Throughout the late summer of 1906, Atlantans read in their local newspapers these stories of white women attacked by African American men. The themes of the tales remained remarkably constant throughout the summer and into the fall: women living outside of the city, women who by virtue of their rural location (and their race) should have been safe, found themselves facing the worst elements of the city: “prowling and idle Negroes,” emboldened by gambling, drink, and drawings of naked white women on liquor bottles, seeking to establish their political equality through the sexual domination of white women.1 Even alleged attacks on white women that occurred closer to the city’s center in August and September happened in spaces that white Georgians imagined to be safe from the disorders of the city, the women’s own homes. While most of the stories were later proved false,2 repeated tales of rape and incendiary cries from the yellow press to “Protect Our Women!” coincided with blatantly racist efforts to close city establishments selling liquor to African Americans and an inflammatory gubernatorial campaign in which African American disfranchisement became a major rallying point for white voters. The furor these three trends created among whites culminated in four days of violent rioting in Atlanta in late September 1906.3 At least twenty-five Atlantans died in the violence, and more than a hundred suffered injuries.
The calls to defend white women from black men and, by implication, from the supposed depravity of the city, left Atlanta’s African American women vulnerable once white mobs began their rampage. Mattie Adams, a black woman who ran a small eatery near downtown, suffered a brutal beating at the hands of the white