Please support our programs

America’s Black Capital

Never miss a show! @ symbol icon Email Signup Spotify Logo Spotify RSS Feed Apple Podcasts

Cover of the book, "America's Black Capital"with group photo of african american people in black and white at the top half of the cover

Cover of the book, “America’s Black Capital.” Credit: Hachette Book Group

“America’s Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy” chronicles how a center of Black excellence emerged amid virulent expressions of white nationalism as African Americans pushed back against Confederate ideology to create an extraordinary locus of achievement.

Alongside author Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, in this episode we examine the methods in which Black Atlanteans pushed for social, economic, and political upliftment through the development of Black collegiate systems, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement.  


  • Dr. Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar – Author of America’s Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy.

Episode Credits:

  • Host: Anita Johnson
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, Amy Gastelum, and Lucy Kang
  • Executive Director: Jina Chung
  • Editor: Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong
  • Engineer: Jeff Emtman 
  • Digital Media Marketing: Anubhuti Kumar


  • Blue Dot Session – Bedroll
  • Audiobinger – The Garden State
  • Quiet Orchestra – My Friends 


Anita Johnson 1:

As voters enter an election year, many feel that democracy itself is in jeopardy. A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice finds that voters in 27 states will face restrictions in the 2024 elections unlike anything they’ve experienced in an election before.

The report also finds that legislators in at least 13 states have introduced 41 bills that would create new voting obstacles. Some bills would allow citizens to initiate post-election audits; others would impose harsher criminal penalties on election workers for making unintended errors. Many of them give partisan actors more influence. And if passed, these laws would disproportionately impact voters of color.  Specifically Black and Brown folks. 

Collage: New Clips of people talking about Voter Suppression or clips of excited voters who helped turn the state purple! 

Anita Johnson 2: 

Atlanta has long stood out as a dynamic city in the South. With its robust Black middle class, booming business sector, and concentration of Black colleges, it is hard to conceive that Atlanta exists in the heart of Georgia ..home to the KKK and confederate Southern pride.

Dr. Ogbar 1: 

The city of Atlanta has been popularized, I think in the last 60 years or so, and maybe as even almost 70 years, as a very progressive southern city, and that, unlike Jackson or Memphis or even Little Rock, Arkansas, that Atlanta has been more progressive and has been able to avoid some of the hot flashes of great hostility and resistance to civil rights, democracy and equality of before the law.

Anita Johnson 3:

In his book, America’s Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy, acclaimed author and historian Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar explores the rise and persistence of white nationalism against the backdrop of Black political engagement in the state of Georgia. (15secs)

Dr. Ogbar 2: 

If you look at the actual data and look at the numbers and look at, um, what cities. Desegregated buses, or what cities desegregate schools or hotels, or just public accommodations in general, or what cities, uh, have more terrorist activity, more explicit white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, Atlanta is that city.

It outperforms by every single metric, every other city in the South, by all those standards, which is always surprising to people when you explain that there were more terrorist bombings in Atlanta than Birmingham, Alabama doing the black freedom movement that the Klan, when it reached this apogee of activity in the 1920s, and it was headquartered in the south with 4 million members across the country.

It wasn’t headquartered in Memphis or New Orleans or Charleston or uh, Jackson, Mississippi, but it was headquartered in Atlanta. You know, the mayor was a Klansman, police officers were Klansmen. Uh, the congressional delegation had three Klansmen open Klansmen too. They weren’t clandestined about it. And so.

What, what I’ve always found very surprising is that the political power, socioeconomic power in Atlanta has been firmly in the hands of virulent white nationalists for so long that African Americans in the city were forced to create institutions foreboding about their survival in ways that other cities had to, but other cities didn’t have the high concentration of black colleges and universities. 

(2:00 minutes)

Anita Johnson 4: 

You explored numerous topics in the book but for today’s purpose I wanted to focus on US political history as it relates to race. There were a number of interesting people presented in the book. Two characters in particular were Clarke Howell and Hoke Smith in the early 19th century. What’s their significance in the larger historical conversation of black disenfranchisement and undermining democracy? 

Dr. Ogbar 3:  

Wow. Well, yeah, you, uh, I really like that question. That’s a fantastic question. That’s, that’s, um, one of the best questions I’ve heard in any interview.  Clark Howell and Hoke Smith ran for, um, the governorship of Georgia in 1906. And one was supported by the Atlanta Journal, one was supported by the Atlanta Constitution.

Those were the two major newspapers in Atlanta. And, The two papers today are combined, the Atlanta Journal Constitution it’s called, and they use the two papers to promote their political platforms and they argued both that they were bigger white supremacists than the other guy. And they were like, and back then you could. They didn’t have to use dog whistle politics.

They could just be open. They’re like, I hate niggers. I want white supremacy. And they were very clear about it. So you can read the papers and they just are like, how can we disenfranchise the Negro? And so they went hard in the paint to say that each man claimed that he was more effective in eliminating the black vote than the other guy.

And so they had to come up with a platform to, and they were running for the democratic primary in the state. And so they were like, there were other guys in the race, but these were the two major ones. And so they said, Hey, uh, one guy said, I will eliminate the black vote by creating a constitutional amendment eliminating their vote altogether. And another guy said, well, you know, I will do it by having literacy tests. And the other dude said, well, if we have the literacy test,  we will eliminate a whole bunch of white people the way it happened in Virginia. And they were literally saying one guy, at least was saying that this literacy test will support black people and undermine whites.

Anita Johnson 5: 

Hoke Smith, the former publisher of the Atlanta Journal, and Clark Howell, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, were exploiting their news platforms to promote themselves while running for governor.

Both newspapers sparked anger and hatred among its white readers—with stories playing to their fears. These sensationalist stories created such a tense environment  that by late September, city-wide violence erupted in the streets with white mobs vandalizing Black-owned businesses, assaulting hundreds, and killing 25 African Americans during the four days of racial violence. 

This day in Georgia’s history would later come to be known as the Atlanta Race Massacre.  Seen as a direct result of the election. 

Dr. Ogbar 4:

In September of 1906, we had a series of reports in the white press that black people have been attacking white women and, uh, girls. They, uh, whites poured out into the streets and started murdering black people. And you had a, and many people ask, like, why didn’t Atlanta have a Tulsa? But Atlanta did, and that was Atlanta’s Tulsa.

So 1906 race massacre happened in September, um, in 1906. And mobs of, uh, hordes of Thugs and hoodlums poured out into the street, attacking people, pulling people from streetcars, burning black businesses.  Hoodlums went into people’s homes, kicked in doors. Black people were hanged from lampposts. Businesses were burned and destroyed. 

And the city ended up being in a civil collapse for about two or three days.  The state militia had to come in and restore. Sort of order if you will, but in the process they brutalized black people as well It’s an all white state of state militia and they sided with the thugs and barbarians who were running through the street destroying and causing  chaos and  violence, so it was a very harrowing three days and it went down as a  Turning point in black Atlanta and white Atlanta in many ways too there were whites in the city who came out and  Uh, try to protect their black friends, and there are cases of white bravery, uh, what’s also surprising to a lot of people is that you have cases of, uh, the most elite aristocratic black people that you’ve ever seen, like you see those old 19th century photos or early 20th century Victorian  old elite Black folks.

Those people, W. E. B. Du Bois, um, Walter White, who became called Mr. NAACP, uh, the first black president of Morehouse College, John Hope, his wife, Regina Burns Hope, they actually had guns. They passed guns out to black people. And many of us see this famous picture of Malcolm X with a gun peering through the, his assault rifle peering through a window, but, um, Du Bois, who was ironically or coincidentally at the same age as Malcolm in that photo, about 38 years old, uh, Du Bois had his own, he, as he said, he had a double barrel Winchester shotgun on my porch with shells waiting to pass, blow the guts of a terrorist on my front lawn if they came to murder my family.

Anita Johnson 6:

Status, education, and prominence did not shield WEB DuBois from the risks of violence. As segregation tightened its grip across the nation…many African Americans developed an understanding and practice of armed self-resistance in an attempt to protect themselves from white Southern authorities and terrorist organizations.

Dr. Ogbar 5: The New York Times reported how shocked they were to see so many armed African Americans, and that the image of Black people, the only images that white Americans had of Black people were servile, cowardly, minstrel coons. That’s all the images they had.

They had nothing other than that in the dominant expression of Blackness and pop culture in the United States. Yet, in 1906, the New York Times reported that 300 Black men were marched off and stripped of their guns, and that Black men had been defending themselves, according to the New York Times, they took it a solid way.

And they joked at the fear of the whites because they had armed themselves and defended their community the way they did. And they were marched with state militia, 300 men, uh, gunpoint with machine guns at them. They marched them, arrested them, and took them downtown because they were defending themselves against terrorists. 

But this is a really powerful scene. In many ways, it’s been overlooked in the national discourse. (3:17 minutes)

Anita Johnson 7: 

What two political figures in the 21st century, uh, that would best represent a similar dog whistle mindset of Howe and Smith? Clark and Hoke were two very polarizing figures but we still have that in today’s time. (33sec)

Dr. Ogbar 6: Dog Whistle Mindset Edit

If you look at  modern iterations of  This effort to appeal to the most, um, base elements of humanity, right? Ignorance and fear, and people who traffic in ignorance and fear in order to win the election.

That’s sort of aspirational, not hopeful, not saying what I can do, uh, for you, but what I can do to eliminate them, or, you know, destabilize them, or, uh, neutralize the threat of them. And I think that, um, In terms of the national election, Trump is the closest who comes to mind. You know, he came out in 2016 by saying that, you know, Mexico is sending, you know, rapists and drug dealers, and they’re worse.

Clip of Donald Trump saying Mexicans are rapists. 

So there’s a threat of them, you know, and then you have him referring to immigrants from these other countries. And, uh, he had a speech where he talked about they’re, um, polluting our blood, right? And that these people, and he named, uh, people from Africa. From Asia, from Latin America, right? He didn’t, he named these continents and he made a point not to name Europe.

And so he’s very clear with dog whistle politics in the same sort of way that we might see Clark Howell and Hoke Smith in 1906. And this is very unfortunate. And I think that the base, um, you have people who are again, um, hostile to fairness and democracy, and I’m not sure how curious they are about a world beyond their narrow, myopic, points of information.

(1:25 minutes)

Anita Johnson 8: 

Clark Howell and Hoke Smith, can be considered the early pioneers of racist dog whistle politics known for invoking racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that threaten their own interests and American democracy.   It’s a long political tradition of loaded rhetoric …be it promises to crack down on crime, restrict access to public aid programs, and the protection of American purity through the restriction of non-european immigrants. 

Simply put, the minority is the problem. Which is problematic because it limits one’s ability to critically see the commonality in struggle and the connections between the political agendas they support. But this too is an old narrative.

I asked Professor Ogbar to share with me the story of Tom Watson. Watson an early figure in American history who urged poor whites to not be fooled by plutocrats and ambitious politicians. Instead he asked them to recognize the economic hardship and political marginalization shared by both Blacks and Whites.

Dr. Ogbar 7: Tom Watson – Davey’s 

There are a number of people that come up in the book, a lot of fascinating characters. And one person I was familiar with before I began the research was a white Georgian guy named Tom Watson. Tom Watson in the 19th century was a lawyer. His father served in the Confederacy and was killed. He was a successful guy who looked around Atlanta and looked around Georgia in the late 19th century and saw that poor people, Whites and blacks were being exploited by the same class of exploiters.

And he said that,  I’m paraphrasing him here, he said that imagine an arch that supports your oppression, your poverty, and your economic, social, political marginalization. He told poor people, white and black.  The keystone to that arch is Racism, right? And the term racism didn’t just be said, racial hatred, something to that extent.

So he said that racism supported your oppression, white guys, and that you may be barefoot, you could be broke down, you’d be illiterate, you might be, um, unable to provide for your family, but you believe that some rich guy who is creating policies for other rich guys Will benefit you because you see yourself in him, not the people who share your economic lot.

And you can all benefit by having labor reform by having child welfare reform, educational reform. And they talk about all these reforms and the taxes on these big corporations that are exploiting everyone. But at the end of the day, Their fidelity to white nationalism, uh, won out. And so at the day, they got nothing from it other than what Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, famous historian said, the psychological wages of whiteness. So they might still go back to the little hobble, a little hut, a little shack, no healthcare, no education, but They psychologically feel themselves tethered to the elite whites and therefore have a psychological wage. That’s what Du Bois talks about.

So we do see definitely a theme of that running through politics presently.  (2:00)

Anita Johnson 9:

Tom Watson’s political thought is still being debated today. He’s viewed as a complicated Georgia figure that cannot be put in a box.  In the start of his career he was labeled a liberal, especially for his time. 

But later in life, Watson stepped away from his liberal beliefs. By 1904, resentful of the manipulation of Black voters by southern Whites. Which resulted in many failed political campaigns (for him) and with the growing influence of Black leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois, Watson became a staunch supporter of white supremacy.

Even though Tom Watson lived more than 100 years ago, Dr. Ogbar points out that in Georgia, white nationalism is still very much alive, but the strategies to impede the Black vote have evolved with the times.

Dr. Ogbar 8: Voter Suppression and Does Your Vote Matter?

So I always think that at the end of the day to your earlier question about what Atlanta demonstrates to the possibilities of the United States is the possibility of a huge turnout. And I, and I will say this, Anita Johnson, and I will say this right now, there are people working overtime under the cloak of being super woke black people. 

And they’re like, okay, we need to convince black people not to turn out so we can create. voter suppression laws. We can criminalize giving an old woman water who’s standing in line, but what we need to do is convince Black people that their vote does not count. We need to get people to go online and tell black folks that there’s no difference between the parties and the best way to demonstrate their political power is not voting. (51 sec)  

Anita Johnson 10: 

For decades, the Black community has been a loyal voting bloc for Democrats, but with recent polls citing Black voter disillusionment…some Black folks are discussing abandoning the political process altogether in order to make a political statement that the Black vote won’t be taken for granted. 

Dr. Ogbar 9: Voting Ruse

I think right now we’re gonna be confronted with a group of people who will continue to assault us with information about how we need to not vote. And the congressional, uh, bipartisan investigations on, uh, Russian meddling in the 2016 election found that Russians spent more money targeting one demographic group in the United States to suppress their vote.

And that was African Americans because African Americans were voted against Trump. And so I think this is a fact of matter. And that voter suppression takes many forms. And one of the forms is to convince Black people that their vote doesn’t matter. I always tell people that if your votes didn’t matter, their fang and little hammer wouldn’t have been picked up and tortured and put in jail, right?

If your votes didn’t matter, they wouldn’t have been blowing up people in churches, little Black kids in churches and hanging people from trees. If your votes didn’t matter, they wouldn’t have spent hundreds of millions of man hours over the course of, you know, 400 years to prevent your ancestors from voting, right?

Voting clearly matters. They want you to think so, and this is their latest ruse.

(59 secs)

Anita Johnson 11: 

What do you see as the three biggest threats moving into the 2024 election?

Dr. Ogbar 10: (3 Biggest Threats

Well, I do think that you have  belligerent,  ignorant,  hateful  rhetoric coming out of the Trump camp.  I’ve not seen in any way, uh, people who have,  and I’ve been around, I’m a historian. I’ve not known people who’ve stormed, um, buildings and let alone the, the, the federal Capitol and tried to undermine the election and create a coup.

And of course they will say that Trump won, but. Members of their own party are quick to say, all across the United States, uh, from Georgia to Michigan,  and Arizona,  elected Republicans themselves said that the election was fair, there was no widespread, uh, voter fraud, and Trump lost. And Trump’s advisors said that he lost.

They told him that he lost. Bill Barr, his attorney general, told him he lost. And Bill Barr left rather than be part of this whole thing. And there are people who I logically I find repugnant, but they understand the utility of, uh, the law and elections. And as much as I might’ve found someone like Uh, George Herbert Walker Bush anathema to my, my beliefs when he lost the election.

He didn’t go out like a Trump. He didn’t go out like Bashir al Assad in Syria or Mubarak in Egypt or Mugabe that, or, uh, Papa Dot or Marcos or Pinochet, I can go, or Tito, right? I can go to a whole list of, of, or Hitler or Stalin or somebody, right? I go to the whole list of people who have, uh, uh, dismissed the democratic process.

Because they want to stay in power and they will run the country in the ground. Otherwise, Trump is not cut from the same cloth as typical politicians. Trump is again, like Bashar al Assad of Syria is like, I will tear this MF down if I don’t stay in power.

And that’s a fundamental danger. That’s different than what we’ve dealt with before, you know? And, and that I think is a fundamental threat to the American Republic in a way that Liz, even Republicans who are not running for reelection.  All of them,  almost all of them are like Trump is an existential danger to the American Republic.

And that’s the thing that I’ve tried to explain to people why, you know, people are like, there’s no difference. I mean, obviously the Supreme Court demonstrates more starkly than anything else in the last few years, what a difference is between these parties. But also we had to disrupt this idea that we only vote for an ideologically pure position.

That somehow, if you are not ideologically pure, I will not support you. And that’s a, that’s a guaranteed way to lose an election every single time if you ever take that position. And as much as I would love someone to be more progressive or more radical or more this, more that, at the end of the day, I know there are two options and one person will give much more to my community than the other, or a little bit more than the other, or do less damage than the other.

And I don’t take loss of life lightly, right? So,  If it comes down to it, I will vote for the one that will benefit my community more than the other is a very clear issue for me, and I don’t understand this, this, this position of trying to say that white supremacists were right, black people should not vote.

I will not side with white supremacists who said that black people should just stay at home and not vote,  but there’s some people who want to do that. That’s on them. 

Anita: Playing devil’s advocate and not letting what you just said.  I’ve heard this before, uh, some people say it’s a conspiracy theory, people are crying wolf,  but  you’re suggesting, if I understand correctly, that our democracy is in jeopardy because we’re dealing with someone, meaning Trump, who could exist in a space like other dictators that have just decided to sit in the seat, that he would be in If given the opportunity, he would put into place ways that he could not be removed or he would create an atmosphere that might create what we saw, uh, you know, when he was ousted or forced to leave the office, presidential office or seat. 

Ogbar: So let’s look at the world right now. We have two world leaders, Putin and Xi Jinping, both in while they were president.  And China and Russia have modified their constitution so they can stay in office longer. That’s now.  I don’t know if people thought, Oh, Putin couldn’t do this. That’s impossible. Oh, Xi Jinping couldn’t do this.

That’s impossible. I don’t know if they were having those conversations in those other places.  But in our lifetime, right now, that’s happened. I don’t see how the United States would be different. Um, I’m sure there are people in 1860 when Lincoln got elected, like, Oh, no, civil war can’t happen. No, that’s not, this is the United States.

And of course, more Americans got killed in that conflict than wars combined, right? 700, 000 Americans dead four years later.  I think that a lot of times people  Think of themselves as somehow special and not prone to the  predilections of other places that are not somehow as evolved. But time and again,  we found ourselves in positions where we have been surprised by our capacity to  go off path and I don’t think that many people have thought that you have had a president who would refuse to recognize that he lost, even when his closest advisors told him he lost, and even when his own vice president told him he lost, and even when his attorney general told him he lost, and I don’t think that we have thought that we have seen a president who will then inspire a mob of thugs to run up into the Capitol and literally these people are channing hanging hang Mike Pence the vice president the United States because he didn’t try to support a coup and that even when people are calling the president United States telling him that it’s a nationalized troops and send them out to protect these lawmakers that he refused to for hours.

Right? I don’t know if people who thought that three years earlier, and even now,  half of Americans, if not slightly more, are willing to put that same man back in power. And it shows you the degree to which there are certain people who find democracy inconvenient  when its results are not what they wanted it to be.

And this is, this is, this is very frightening. And I think that there’s no way to ignore the fact that Trump is this fundamental threat.

And, you know, people can say what they want to say about, um, you know, Biden. And the thing is, I find crazy that people like John Bolton. You have these people who are hardcore right wing Republicans who are explaining how much of a fundamental threat Trump is. I mean, you don’t have anything like this in the Democratic party.

As much as people might not be super enthusiastic about Biden, at the end of the day, he’s not a fundamental threat to America. A very different landscape. 

You do not have people who work closely with Biden who are coming out saying that this man is a fundamental threat to America. You have that with Trump in spades. 

Anita Johnson 12: 

Whether you agree with Dr. Ogbar or not, one thing is clear – this election year…the stakes are high.

I’m Anita Johnson. And this is Making Contact. I spoke with University of Connecticut historian Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar Ph.D about his book America’s Black Capital: How African Americans Remade Atlanta in the Shadow of the Confederacy. If you want to check out the book or listen to the unedited clips of our conversation, go to our website Thank you for listening to Making Contact.

Author: Radio Project

Share This Post On