A century later, Atlanta remembers '06 race riot

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On a cloudy Monday night a century ago this month, a dozen white lawmen and armed civilians marched into Brownsville, a black neighborhood on the southern edge of Atlanta, and started arresting anyone with a weapon.

It was the third day of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, the worst outbreak of racial violence in the city's history. Whites had done almost all of the bloodletting so far, and authorities feared blacks were plotting reprisals.

As they headed back for the jail with their prisoners, the posse noticed figures lurking in the shadows. An officer ordered them to put up their hands. Someone pulled a trigger. Guns crackled and flashed for five minutes. A white cop and at least two black residents fell dead.

At the Fulton County Courthouse the next morning, one of the policemen, John Oliver, gave an account of the battle to a gathering that included a reporter for The Atlanta Evening News. After the shooting started, he told them, he spotted a man with a gun coming toward him and fired.

"I found him this morning. I had shot him in the stomach. He was an old negro and had a muzzle-loading musket."

The "old negro" was probably George Wilder, disabled veteran who lived with his wife on nearby Moury Avenue. At 70, he was a former slave who had fought with the Union Army at the end of the Civil War. Thought to be the oldest Atlantan to die in the riot, he lies under a broken tombstone barely a mile from where he was shot to death.

Wilder's grave has become a focal point for a group of Atlantans who plan to commemorate the riot centennial this week. The Coalition to Remember the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot — representing an array of local colleges, governments, and cultural and faith groups — is staging a four-day remembrance that will be part symposium and part town hall meeting.

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