Monthly Archive for July, 2012

On This Day: The New Orleans Race Riot of 1866

On July 30, 1866—146 years ago today—New Orleans descended into racial violence that, by the end of the day, would leave an estimated 38 individuals dead and dozens injured.

Racial tensions, which were already high soon after the close of the Civil War, flared after African Americans were denied the right to vote. The enactment of the so-called “Black Codes” infuriated Republicans determined to secure citizenship rights for all Americans, and they ultimately reconvened the Louisiana Constitutional Convention in hopes of seizing control of the state government.

During a break in the Convention, violence broke out between armed white supremacists and African Americans marching in support of suffrage—and the African Americans were not prepared for the fight. Unarmed African Americans were attacked and murdered, and many law enforcement officials perpetrated the crimes.

The riot did not last long; it was suppressed the same day. However, an estimated 38 people died, all but a few of whom were African Americans. The city existed under martial law for several days.

The riot—and others like it—shocked the country and convinced many Northerners that firm action was needed to control ex-Confederates. After Republicans gained control of Congress that fall, they quickly put Reconstruction policies into effect.

To learn more, check out James G. Hollandsworth’s An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866 (Louisiana State University Press, 2001) and Gilles Vandal’s The New Orleans Riot of 1866: Anatomy of a Tragedy (The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 1983).

To read the Encyclopedia Britannica article, click here.

To view images depicting the violence, check out this page from the New York Public Library.

For an account printed in the New York Times on August 1, 1866, click here.

This was not the last riot New Orleans would face; another riot in 1868 left more than twenty people dead.

To learn more about Reconstruction, check out John Hope Franklin’s Reconstruction after the Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 1994) and Mark Summers’ A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction (UNC Press, 2009).

On This Day: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

On July 27, 1919—93 years ago today—Chicago, Illinois, erupted into a horrifyingly violent race riot that by the end of 8 days would leave 38 individuals dead and countless more injured and homeless.

The “Red Summer” of 1919—so named because of its many bloody clashes—was characterized by racial friction and violence. That summer, 25 race riots shook cities across the United States, leaving many dead and injured. The Chicago Riot is often considered the worst of these clashes.

Chicago had undergone significant demographic changes in the years leading up to the riot, with the African American population doubling from 1916 to 1918. Real estate was limited, and African Americans faced bombings and violence on the part of hostile white neighbors. Crimes against African Americans often went unpunished, and African American individuals faced constant prejudice.

On July 27, an African American teenager who was swimming in Lake Michigan drifted into an area customarily reserved by whites; he was stoned and drowned. Police refused to arrest the white men involved in the teenager’s death, and fighting broke out.

The state militia was called on the fourth day of violence, but the riot continued for several more days; troops finally withdrew by August 9th. It ultimately left 25 African Americans and 15 whites dead. The riot shocked the nation, forcing Americans to confront the existence of increased racial conflict and violence. The Cook County Coroner’s office collected evidence and examined witnesses, ultimately writing a report about the incident; however, no whites were ever convicted of murder.

To learn more, check out this summary from the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

To read the Encyclopedia Britannica’s summary of the riot, click here.

To learn more, and to view photos, check out this article from the Chicago Tribune.

Two months after the riot, the NAACP’s Walter White published “The Causes of the Chicago Race Riot.” (To learn more about Walter White, check out Kenneth Janken’s Walter White: Mr. NAACP, UNC Press, 2006.)

This page from WTTW links to several outside sources and documents, including a report from the Chicago Commission on Race Relations.

To learn more, check out William Tuttle, Jr.’s Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (University of Illinois Press, 1996).

Remembering Executive Order 9981

On July 26, 1948—64 years ago today—President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, abolishing racial discrimination in the United States armed forces.

Seven years earlier, in the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 8802, banning discriminatory practices in defense industries and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). Although the FEPC was later terminated, the Executive Order’s bans on discrimination set an important precedent for civil rights. After taking office, President Truman established a Commission in Civil Rights and ultimately put into effect several civil rights reforms.

Executive Order 9981, which created the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, banned discrimination in the armed services. The order read, in part:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.

The president’s Committee would study the procedures of the armed forces and recommend strategies for complete desegregation.

The order was (predictably) met by resistance—both from white supremacists and from the army itself (see this July 28th newspaper article). Although desegregation was not fully realized for quite some time, most of the military was finally integrated by the end of the Korean War in the mid 1950s.

To learn more, and to view the document, check out this page from the Our Documents collection.

To learn more about the Executive Order, check out Jon Taylor’s Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981 (forthcoming in September 2012 from Routledge).

For a chronological view of armed forces desegregation, check out this page from the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

To learn more about President Truman and his relation to the civil rights movement, check out this page from the Federal Highway Administration.

To learn more about army desegregation, check out Sherie Mershon and Steven Schlossman’s Foxholes and Color Lines: Desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

To learn more about African Americans’ service in the U.S. armed forces, check out Kimberley Phillips’ War! What Is It Good for?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq (UNC Press, 2011).

To learn more about the connections between armed service and minority rights, check out Ronald Krebs’ Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship (Cornell University Press, 2006).

On This Day: Milliken v. Bradley

On July 25, 1974—only 38 years ago—the Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley restricted its earlier decision about school busing, now holding that outlying districts were exempt from aiding the desegregation of inner-city school systems.

Three years earlier, the Supreme Court in Swann v. Mecklenburg Board of Education had upheld busing programs designed to speed racial integration. By that time, it had been 17 years since the milestone Brown v. Board of Education had outlawed racial segregation in public education; the case set an important precedent for schools across the country as each went through its own desegregation process.

However, in 1974, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments surrounding the desegregation of the public schools in Detroit, Michigan. Its decision would have profound effects.

The NAACP sued Michigan Governor William Milliken, charging that the public school system was racially segregated as a result of a policy he had put into effect. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision that the system was indeed segregated, and ordered the state to adopt a desegregation plan which encompassed 54 outlying school districts.

The Supreme Court, however, decided 5-to-4 in favor of Milliken, holding the lower court’s order as impermissible and stating that “desegregation, in the sense of dismantling a dual school system, does not require any particular racial balance.”

Stating that there was no evidence that the outlying districts had deliberately engaged in segregation, the Court emphasized the importance of local control over the operation of schools. The decision read, in part:

The inter-district remedy could extensively disrupt and alter the structure of public education in Michigan, since that remedy would require, in effect, consolidation of 54 independent school districts historically administered as separate governmental units into a vast new super school district, and, since—entirely apart from the logistical problems attending large-scale transportation of students—the consolidation would generate other problems in the administration, financing, and operation of this new school system.

It was a controversial and complex decision. The five justices in the majority placed high importance on maintaining local control over schools; however, as the four justices in the minority feared, exempting suburban districts from the desegregation process made possible the continued “white flight” from cities to the suburbs.

Busing remained controversial throughout the country—and in fact continues to be a topic of discussion today, as school systems debate the important balance between shortening students’ commutes and maintaining racial, ethnic, and economic diversity.

To listen to the oral argument and opinion announcement, check out this page from The Oyez Project.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court opinion, check out this page from the Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

To learn more, check out Joyce Baugh’s The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation (University Press of Kansas, 2011).

To learn more about Governor Milliken, check out Dave Dempsey’s William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

To learn more about how student busing played out in another large city, check out Ronald Formisiano’s Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s (UNC Press 2004).

For discussions about racial integration and educational policy, check out Integrating Schools in a Changing Society: New Politics and Legal Options for a Multiracial Generation (UNC Press 2011, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Elizabeth DeBray).

On This Day: The Detroit Riot of 1967

On July 23, 1967—45 years ago today—Detroit, Michigan, erupted into bloody violence. The Detroit Riot of 1967, one of the most violent race riots in American history, would continue for five days and would ultimately leave more than 40 individuals dead.

Racial tensions were already high in Detroit; although white residents had benefited from expanded economic opportunities and increased quality of life, conditions for African Americans remained poor, and police abuse was common. Detroit was no stranger to racial violence; 24 years earlier another riot had left 34 individuals dead.

On the night of July 23, police officers raided a drinking club where a large group of African Americans were celebrating the homecoming of two Vietnam veterans. After police arrested 82 people, a small group of onlookers who had been kicked out of the club broke the windows of a nearby clothing store. Looting and fires quickly spread across the city; within 48 hours the National Guard had been mobilized, and soon after, U.S. Army troops joined them.

It took five days and 17,000 law enforcement officers and federal troops to quell the violence. Ultimately, more than 40 people, mostly African Americans, died during the riot—many at the hands of police and National Guardsmen. Hundreds more were injured, and property damage was valued at $50 million.

The Detroit Riot was characterized by the same shocking and indiscriminate violence as the Newark Riot, which had ended less than a week before the Detroit Riot began. As in Newark, most of those killed were shot by police and National Guardsmen. And, also as in Newark, residents were killed in their own homes—a four-year-old girl was killed by National Guard gunfire when her father lit a cigarette near the window and a 23-year-old man was shot while sitting in his own yard.

As the violence was settling down in Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the 11-member Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of that summer’s riots and provide recommendations for the future. Seven months later, the Commission released its report, stating that the riots resulted from frustration over the lack of economic opportunity. Citing governmental failure to provide housing, education, and social services, the Commission became known for its warning that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

To learn more, and to view video footage, photographs, and newspaper excerpts, check out this page from PBS. Rutgers University also provides a thorough summary, as well as biographies of the victims and videotaped interviews with witnesses.

Sidney Fine’s Violence in the Model City: The Cavanagh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967 (Michigan State University Press) provides a detailed study of this event.

Toward the end of the riot, three teenage men (ages 17, 18, and 19) were killed by police in a hotel. To learn more, check out John Hersey’s The Algiers Motel Incident (Johns Hopkins University Press).

To learn more about race relations in Detroit, check out Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton University Press).

For a study of urban poverty from the 1960s onwards, check out John Boger and Judith Wegner’s edited volume Race, Poverty, and American Cities (UNC Press, 1996).

Remembering the Port Chicago Mutiny

On July 17, 1944—68 years ago today—the segregated Port Chicago naval munitions base off San Francisco Bay suffered a massive explosion which killed 320 men and led to the largest mutiny trial in American naval history—a trial with strong civil rights implications.

African Americans had long been segregated in the U.S. armed forces, forced into menial positions and excluded from officer status. At Port Chicago, 1,400 enlisted African Americans—who had not received any training in handling ammunition—loaded bullets, bombs, and depth charges onto ships. Forced to work at great speed by the white officers, the men were in constant danger.

On July 17th, a ship holding thousands of tons of ammunition exploded. Two hundred and two African Americans and 118 white men died that day, and many more were injured.

Following the disaster, the white officers were honored as heroes and given leave, while hundreds of surviving African Americans were sent back to the dangerous work loading ammunition on another ship. They refused, but, in a blatant display of racial discrimination, fifty were charged and convicted of mutiny and sentenced to long prison terms.

Attorney Thurgood Marshall, who was present during the trial, appealed the case; however, the convictions held.

It became increasingly difficult for the Navy to justify these severe sentences, and ultimately the men were released after serving reduced sentences; however, the convictions were not overturned. One of the three surviving men was pardoned in 1999, but to this day efforts to posthumously exonerate the other 49 have not been successful.

The mutiny trial made the Navy’s deeply ingrained racial inequality starkly apparent, highlighting the exclusion of African Americans from officer status and the hostility and danger they faced. It came at a time when the “Double V” campaign began to call for victory not only over enemies abroad but also over racial prejudice on the home front.

By the summer of 1945, the Navy had begun to desegregate; in 1948, the armed services were formally integrated when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981.

To learn more about the Port Chicago mutiny—and to view pictures and read a list of the men killed during the explosion—check out this summary from the American Merchant Marine at War site. The Equal Justice Society also provides a summary, as does the National Park Service.

Today, Port Chicago is a designated National Memorial, established as part of the National Park Service in 2009.  The 68th annual commemoration will be held on Saturday, July 21st.

To learn more, check out Robert L. Allen’s The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny Trial in U.S. Naval History (Heyday, 2006; first published in 1989).

To learn more about the integration of the armed forces, check out this page from Digital History, hosted by the University of Houston.

To learn more about African Americans’ service in the U.S. armed forces, check out Kimberley Phillips’ War! What Is It Good for?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq (UNC Press, 2011).

A U-Turn on Civil Rights

Anthony Amsterdam, the lawyer and influential death penalty advocate, recently said that “a cardinal feature of the death penalty in the United States has always been its racially biased use.” In fact, its racially biased use has been the cardinal feature of the death penalty in the United States.

This is no less true in North Carolina, a state with a reputation for the kind of business-minded practical politics that should preclude the existence of a punishment system founded on racial prejudice. But if the state’s reputation rested on its death penalty system alone, it would be very different, and much dimmer. That reputation enjoyed a boost not long ago when the state legislature passed the Racial Justice Act, a measure that addressed the operation of racial bias in the death penalty process by allowing death row inmates to seek to demonstrate bias in their cases. If they could do so, they would face life imprisonment rather than lethal injection.

In April, Michael Robinson, who is black, successfully demonstrated the role of race in his death sentence and had the sentence rescinded. Judge Gregory Weeks’s decision left no room for debate: the death penalty system that produced Robinson’s death sentence was deeply corrupted by racial bias, particularly at the jury selection level. There was no credible argument to the contrary. (More on the decision here.) Essential to Weeks’s decision were statistics that demonstrated the role of racial bias in jury selection.

Continue reading ‘A U-Turn on Civil Rights’

Remembering Ida B. Wells-Barnett

On July 16, 1862—150 years ago today—one of the most well known civil rights and women’s rights activists in American history was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Within thirty years, this young African American woman, Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), would be known across the country and world as the seemingly unafraid journalist leading a fierce anti-lynching crusade.

Born to slaves (freed in 1863), and orphaned at age 16, Wells attended a freedmen’s school in Mississippi before beginning her teaching career as a teenager. By age 22, she had moved to Memphis, Tennessee, attending Fisk University during the summers and teaching during the year.

One might say progressive work was in her blood; her parents were very active in the Republican Party during Reconstruction, and Wells certainly followed in their footsteps. In the mid-1880s—seven decades before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat—Wells was forcibly removed from a train seat. Although she won her case in the local circuit court, the Tennessee Supreme Court ultimately overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling against Wells.

Writing under the pseudonym “Iola,” Wells began to publish newspaper articles calling for an end to racial discrimination and injustice. After three of her friends were brutally lynched in 1892, she began her anti-lynching campaign, publishing articles, lecturing, and organizing anti-lynching societies. It was a dangerous path to choose; soon after she began writing and organizing, she started to receive threats—and, in fact, her newspaper office was destroyed by a mob.

Hostility and threats did not stop her, though. She traveled the country and world, fighting against lynching, and arguing for racial equality, suffrage, and women’s rights. Indeed, she established several women’s organizations, and, when she married attorney and newspaper editor Ferdinand Barnett in 1895, she exhibited her feminism, choosing to keep her own last name alongside that of her husband, thus becoming Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

Widely published in newspapers, Wells-Barnett also completed several pamphlets, including Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, and A Red Record, 1892-1894. She remained an active writer and speaker for the rest of her life, helping to found the NAACP and publishing articles advocating racial and gender equality (see, for example, her article about the East St. Louis Massacre of 1917).

Wells-Barnett’s autobiography, Crusade for Justice, was published in 1970, nearly forty years after her death. Numerous collections of her writing are also available (see, for example, Oxford University Press’ The Selected Works of Ida B. Wells-Barnett).

The Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation will hold a birthday celebration July 13-15 at the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Also in honor of the 150th anniversary of her birth, the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee commissioned a renowned Chicago sculptor to create a monument, to be installed in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, where she lived for 36 years.

To learn more about Wells-Barnett, check out this summary from Encyclopedia Britannica’s Guide to Black History and this page from PBS. Tennessee History for Kids also provides a nice summary and several pictures.   A youthful portrait at the Library of Congress shows her determination.

To learn more, check out Patricia Schechter’s Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930 (UNC Press, 2001). Wells-Barnett’s life and contributions are also discussed in Cecelia Tichi’s Civic Passions: Seven Who Launched Progressive America (and What They Teach Us) (UNC Press, 2009).

Oral Historians Must Hand Over Oral Histories

From the Chronicle of Higher Education: Boston College must release interviews with former IRA members conducted by oral historians who assured their subjects the interviews would be confidential. From the ruling: “The choice to investigate criminal activity belongs to the government and is not subject to veto by academic researchers.”

The decision has apparent implications for any oral historian promising confidentiality to their interviewee. That implication being, you can’t.

On This Day: The Newark Riot

On July 12, 1967—45 years ago today—Newark, New Jersey, dissolved into a bloody riot that would, over the next six days, leave 26 individuals dead, hundreds injured, and between $10 and $15 million in property damage.

Newark was already home to a great deal of racial tension. Neighborhood composition had changed quickly, and unemployment and poverty plagued residents. African Americans were politically marginalized and suffered police brutality on a regular basis.

Within this climate, violence erupted after a cab driver who was arrested for allegedly driving around a double-parked police car was severely beaten by police officers. When rumor spread that the cab driver had died in police custody, an angry crowd threw bricks and bottles at the precinct. Police reacted with speed, force, and brutality.

The riot was characterized by shocking and indiscriminate violence; for instance, a woman named Eloise Spellman was shot while peering out of an apartment window ten stories up. (Click here to learn more about the victims.) Excessive looting and arson led to millions of dollars in property damage.

Three nights into the riot, New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes declared a state of emergency.

The violence settled down on July 17th, after which National Guardsmen and state troopers moved out of Newark. In the end, 24 African Americans, one white police detective, and one white fireman were killed—most of them by police or National Guard troops aiming at suspected snipers. More than 1,500 individuals were arrested.

Coming two years after the infamous Watts Riot of 1965, the Newark riot was followed by more violence as racial tension led to additional riots in other cities—including in Detroit less than two weeks later.

To learn more, check out this detailed summary from Rutgers University. This site also includes video clips of oral history interviews with people who witnessed the violence.

Another website contains day-by-day summaries of the riot, excerpted from Tom Hayden’s 1967 publication Rebellion in Newark.

To read a collection of Newark Evening News articles printed between July 13 and July 16, check out this page from the Newark Public Library.

This 2006 USA Today article about a museum exhibition about the event includes interviews with survivors of the riot.

Four years after the riot, journalist Ronald Porambo, who was in Newark during the violence, published No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark.

To learn more about Newark’s racial history, check out Kevin Mumford’s Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America (NYU Press, 2008).