Decades after the Civil War, Atlanta was booming and the place to live. In 1911 the city prided itself as the gateway to the New South. There were more than a dozen major railroads passing through the area, and businesses were skyrocketing, bringing in profits like never before to owners. There were many homes and building popping up every day, and Inman Park and Peachtree Street was where many of the wealthy resided. There were many #Black-owned businesses and local colleges such as Atlanta Baptist College and Morris Brown were some of the top higher education schools to attend in the nation.
However, for many of the non-white residents, the city was less than perfect. Many people worked menial jobs, some people were cooking and cleaning for white people, and the others were taking jobs loading, or installing sewers or loading railroad cars. Although, Abraham Lincoln gave black people the right to vote, early twentieth-century Georgia did all it could to discourage the rights of the blacks. Segregation was the law of the land. Black people just could not do anything, and never had a moment of peace. Black people could not be buried in white cemeteries, they could no walk through white parks, no eating or drinking at the same restaurants, and they were not allowed to share the same water fountains.
During 1906, the small racial unity that existed was soon destroyed. A group of several thousand white men and boys gathered in downtown Atlanta. They group reported that four attacks had taken place on white women at the hands of black men. The all white mob went on a rampage. Three days later, over 40 Black men were found dead.
“By 1911, the population of Atlanta had climbed to more than 150,000, and whites actively sought to keep their neighborhoods free from black residents. That July, white citizens living on Ashby Street gathered at the Immanuel Baptist Church “for the purposes of suggesting methods of keeping Negroes out of the vicinity.” Four black families had already moved in and there were signs that more were on the way. The committee decided to visit property owners in the neighborhood and ask them not to sell or rent to blacks.”
During this time young black women and mixed-race women began showing up slain brutally. The newspapers did not pick the stories up, because it was no concern to the white community. The staff at the newspaper were exclusively white reporters and editors, the newspapers was only concerned with white crimes. Even blacks who had committed crimes against blacks did not get any attention. “This is evident from a story in the Atlanta Constitution from May 29, 1911, which buried a two-paragraph brief on page seven under the headline “Negro Woman Killed; No Clew to Slayer — Was Found With Her Throat Cut Near Her Home.” The brief went on to say that the mutilated body of Belle Walker was found by her sister on Sunday morning, after Walker failed to return home the night before from her job as a cook at a home on Cooper Street.” (Taylor, 2014) It was not until Addie Watts was killed, that it was speculated the work of the “negresses” could be that of a solitary killer. The headlines of the paper read “Black Butcher at Work!”
The women had been choked unconscious, their through slit from ear to ear, and the carving of the victim was in the same place on each body. Surprisingly, none of the women had been raped, but it appears as the crimes were indeed sexual in nature. As in the case of London’s Jack the Ripper and nearly all of his imitators, reporters claimed that the killer “seemed to possess some knowledge of anatomy.” Read the story of Emma Lou who survived at being stabbed in the back here.
Over time, the murders faded away, people living in Atlanta forgot about the Ripper. He became a distant figure in American minds. No reward was ever collected for his capture, there was never a real suspect and no one was every punished for the murders of these African-American women.