1900 - 1940

Educate yourself on Atlanta's rich history with this 1900s civil rights timeline. Notable events include the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906. Read about this and other important events on the 1900s civil rights timeline.


Former slave Alonzo Herndon establishes the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, now a multi-million dollar company.

Rising from enslavement to stake his claim in the financial world, barber Alonzo Herndon opens Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Thanks to his entrepreneurial talents, Herndon was Atlanta's wealthiest African-American by the late 1920s. In 1922, the company's capital stock reached $100,000, giving it legal reserve status – an achievement shared only by four other black establishments at the time. Taking inspiration from Booker T. Washington, he collaborated with other Southern insurance companies, helping to solidify the link between mutual aid and capitalism.

September 22, 1906

Atlanta Race Riot (www.1900atlantaraceriot.org)

Over a three-day period, violence and cruelty roamed the downtown Atlanta streets. Despite the city's progressive mindset, latent fears and frustrations with the increase of African-American social and economic powers came raging to the surface. Spurred on by slanderous journalism and sadistic citizens, white rioters surged through the streets, brutalizing black-owned businesses and tormenting pedestrians. This vigilante "justice" resulted in hundreds of injuries and the deaths of 25 black citizens, and later became known as the Atlanta Race Riot.

May 21, 1917

More than 2,000 homes are destroyed in the Fourth Ward neighborhood near Auburn and Boulevard. Ten thousand people, most African-Americans, are left homeless in the devastating fire, which would come to be known as the "Great Fire."

Blazing a ten-hour, 300-acre streak through the heart of the city, the Great Fire of 1917 decimated Atlanta. Juxtaposed with the clear and breezy day, the less affluent neighborhoods between Decatur Street and Edgewood Avenue lay smoldering in the sun. Although losses totaled $5.5 million, the day's only casualty was a woman who suffered a fatal heart attack after losing her home. 22 million gallons of water, along with firefighters from nine Georgia towns (as well as Chattanooga and Knoxville, TN) were needed to halt the destruction caused by a pile of burning mattresses. While reconstruction was underway, the character of the city was forever altered. Gone were the sprawling estates with lush lawns. In their stead, presumptuous apartment buildings crowded the sidewalks, while businesses elbowed their way onto the busy streets. Discovering over 85% of damaged property had wooden shingles, the city passed an ordinance banning the building material.

August 5, 1928

The Atlanta World Newspaper is founded by William A. Scott. It becomes a daily paper in 1932.

Founding what would become the nation's longest running daily newspaper, William A. Scott prints the first edition of the Atlanta World. Utilizing newsboys and door-to-door solicitors, Scott's paper was one of the Deep South's most widely circulated black newspapers by 1930. Launched as a business (rather than political) venture, the Atlanta World covered local, regional, national and international news. This broad spectrum allowed Scott to obtain local and national advertising from widely-known corporations, including Coca-Cola, Sears, Roebuck & Company, and Rich's. As a result, the newspaper became a medium where many of the nation's top journalists and photojournalists began their careers. In 1950, Louis Lautier, the paper's Washington D.C. correspondent, becomes the first African-American elected to the National Press Club. Despite its disinterest in politics, The Atlanta Daily World was very instrumental in delivering the messages of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15, 1929

Martin Luther King, Jr. is born in Atlanta, GA.

Born on January 15, Michael Luther King, Jr. would become one of the nation's leading Civil Rights activists. Son of the devout Ebenezer Baptist Church preacher, Michael's father (Michael Luther King, Sr.) changes both his and his son's name to honor the German religious reformist, Martin Luther. With family, church and education at the core of his convictions, MLK, Jr. graduated an ordained minister from Morehouse College in 1948. Pursuing his Ph.D. in Boston, King meets his future wife, Coretta Scott. After initial hesitation, King joined the Civil Rights Movement, educating black activists and white pacifists in nonviolent protest tactics. Surrounded by fear, loathing and constant FBI surveillance, King remained dedicated to his cause. Under his influence, organizations sprang up over the Deep South, practicing nonviolent direct action such as sit-ins, freedom rides and boycotts. The pinnacle of King's career came between 1963 and 1965 when the March on Washington, his "I Have A Dream" speech, and Nobel Peace Prize resulted in 1964 Civil Rights Act which outlawed segregation. On April 4, 1968 Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, TN. At the loss of her husband, Coretta Scott King became another pivotal activist, helping solidify the King legacy.

April 1, 1929

Atlanta University, Morehouse and Spelman colleges form the Atlanta University system and agree to share facilities and would later become the nation's largest consortium of higher education for African-Americans.

At a time when higher education was a predominately Caucasian notion, three universities united with a mission to impart knowledge on the African-American community. On April 1, Spelman College (America's oldest institution for black women) president Florence Read, Morehouse College (Atlanta's prestigious member of the Black Ivy League) president John Hope, and Atlanta University (the nation's oldest graduate institute with a black majority student body) president Myron Adams, signed an affiliate agreement to share facilities. Under the agreement, Spelman and Morehouse were responsible for the undergraduate education, while Atlanta University provided graduate studies. This affiliation resulted in the creation of the Atlanta University System, which would later become the country's largest consortium for African-American higher education.


Martin Luther King GPS Tour

Tour the MLK National Historic Site by GPS and enjoy history at your own pace.
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Celebrating Civil Rights

Vicki L. Crawford, director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, discusses the annual observances of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and Black History Month
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