How Atlanta's newspapers helped incite the 1906 race riot

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When civil rights demonstrations embroiled Atlanta during the early 1960s, the institutional memory of another disturbance decades before tugged at the men who ran the city's newspapers.

The press, they knew, had been implicated in the worst racial carnage in Atlanta history: the 1906 race riot.

"All of us at the paper were acutely aware of it," remembers Eugene Patterson, who became editor of The Atlanta Constitution when Ralph McGill rose to publisher. "Mr. McGill and I talked about it. As race relations were heating up again, some of the old-timers around the paper would remind us that this had occurred and that we needed to pay close attention so it didn't occur again."

Patterson was curious about what the Constitution and others had published in 1906, so he dug into the morgue and did some reading. What he found was column after column of overheated stories about black men threatening white women and worse.

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