March 22nd, 1901

Atlanta, Georgia: Black Man and White Woman Arrested for Walking Together

The Civil War and emancipation threatened to overturn Southern culture and social relations, which were based in white supremacy and racial hierarchy. After Reconstruction ended and white politicians and lawmakers regained control and power in the South, many efforts were made to restore that racial order through very strict laws that mandated segregation and made it illegal for black and white people to interact as equals; interracial marriage, integrated education, and even interracial athletic events were strictly banned.

An example of these laws in action occurred on March 22, 1901, when a white woman and a black man were arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, and accused of walking and talking together on Whitehall Street. In a news article entitled, “Color Line Was Ignored,” The Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported that Mrs. James Charles, “a handsomely dressed white woman of prepossessing appearance,” and C.W. King, “a Negro cook,” were arrested after Officer J.T. Shepard reported having seen the two talk to each other and then “walk side by side for several minutes.”

Mrs. Charles gave a statement after her arrest, not challenging the law itself, but fervently denying the accusation. She insisted she had exchanged no words with Mr. King, and merely smiled as she passed him dancing on the street:

"As I paused to listen to the music I noticed a negro man, the one arrested with me, dancing on the sidewalk. I smiled at his antics and was about to pass on when a policeman touched me on the arm and said he wanted to talk to me. I stopped and he asked why I talked to a negro. I denied having spoken to any negro. I told him I was a southern born woman, and his insinuations were an insult."

Mr. King also denied having spoken to Mrs. Charles; he said he never knew there was a white woman near him.

No further reporting on the arrests was published, and it is not clear whether they were convicted and fined when tried the next afternoon.