Robert Charles was a proud Black native Mississippian who went to live in New Orleans around the dawn of the 20th Century. Mr. Charles was self-educated, highly intelligent and very well read. He followed the teachings of the controversial and radical Black leader/ Pan Africanist Bishop Henry M. Turner. Bishop Henry M. Turner, a native of Georgia, U.S.A., preached that Blacks should defend themselves with guns against the Ku Klux Klan and other White racist institutions that sought to destroy and kill Black people in the United States. Being a man of religion and action, Turner also urged Blacks to start seeing God the Benevolent and Merciful One in their own image instead of in the popular image of the oppressors which belittled their humanity and labeled them inferior.
Robert Charles also felt that Black people should consider returning to their ancestral homeland of Africa (in particular, the nation of Liberia –which was founded by former Black U.S. slaves in 1822) to escape from the White supremacist power structure in the U.S.A. Mr. Charles was also a sales agent for Turner’s magazine, Voice of Missions, which talked about some of the previously mentioned beliefs in exact full detail and analysis. In 1896 Robert Charles joined the International Migration Society, a group which advocated sending Black Americans to Liberia.
Mr. Charles honestly felt that no Black person would ever receive full treatment as a citizen and human being in a country where the violent lynching of a Black person took place everyday. This country was also the same place where Blacks were not even allowed to vote or receive equal treatment and protection under the law (the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1896 by the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized segregation). This, in theory, meant that Blacks were allowed to be treated separately but as equals of Whites. However, in reality this meant that Blacks were forced by law to endure harsher, more unfair and inferior treatment by Whites.
On July 23, 1900 , a hot and steamy night in New Orleans, Robert Charles and a friend were confronted by aggressive and racist cops on the “ the suspicion of being suspicious” while waiting for his girlfriend and her female companion on the steps of her residence. After being physically assaulted by the cops, Robert Charles drew his gun in self defense and fired at the two cops. Later, one of the officers, Officer August Mora admitted that he did draw his gun first. Charles was injured in the leg after being hit with return fire. He escaped police custody and for several days in July 1900 New Orleans erupted in thunderous riots and chaos.