Tag Archive for 'mob violence'

On This Day: The Elaine Massacre

On October 1, 1919—93 years ago today—Elaine, Arkansas, descended into Arkansas’ deadliest racial confrontation to date.

On September 30, 1919, roughly one hundred African American sharecroppers met as part of the Progressive Farmers Household Union of America to discuss whites’ unfair settlements for their cotton crops—payments that kept them in deep poverty and perpetual debt. Armed men guarded the church where the meeting took place, but a shootout between these guards and three individuals (two white) led to the death of a white railroad special agent.

Sheriffs the next morning arrested African Americans suspected of being involved in the fatal shooting. Hundreds or possibly a thousand armed white people from surrounding areas, claiming fear of an “insurrection,” traveled to Elaine, shooting and terrorizing African American residents.

By October 2, hundreds of troops arrived in Elaine to maintain order. The troops, though, forced African Americans into stockades for questioning. Powerful whites formed a “Committee of Seven” to investigate the violence—a committee which, not surprisingly given the strong racial prejudice of the time, blamed African Americans for starting an “insurrection.” (To read newspaper articles blaming African Americans for being the instigators, click here, here, and here.)

Ultimately, five white men and dozens of African Americans were killed. Seven hundred African Americans were arrested, dozens were imprisoned, and 67 were indicted. Twelve of these men were charged with murder and faced a trial in front of an all-white jury.

Bowing to public opinion—and encouraged by threats to lynch the twelve defendants of they were acquitted—the all-white jury convicted all twelve men of first-degree murder and sentenced them to death.

After NAACP lawyer Walter White came to the men’s defense, the Supreme Court of the United States in Moore v. Dempsey ultimately ruled that the mob scenes outside the courthouse had made it impossible for the men to face a fair trial, and thus violated the right to due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. More than five years after their arrest, the men were finally set free.

In an era when African American defendants did not often receive equal treatment within the court system (or outside of it, for that matter), the Supreme Court’s ruling represented a decisive victory. However, the violence and indiscriminate murder of dozens of African Americans that first week of October still stands as a horrifying reminder of the violence and prejudice African Americans faced for decades.

For more information about the Elaine Massacre and the ensuing trial, and to view documents and photographs, check out this page from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Readers will also be interested in Grif Stockley’s Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919 (University of Arkansas Press 2001).

To learn more about the Supreme Court case, Moore v. Dempsey, check out this blog post.

This massacre was one of several race riots of 1919. To learn more about the so-called “red summer” check out Robert Whitaker’s On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 and the Struggle for Justice That Remade a Nation (Random House 2009). Other works on riots of the time include Lee Williams and Lee Williams II’s Anatomy of Four Race Riots: Racial Conflict in Knoxville, Elaine (Arkansas), Tulsa, and Chicago, 1919-1921 (University Press of Mississippi 2008) and Ann Collins’ All Hell Broke Loose: American Race Riots from the Progressive Era through World War II (Praeger 2012).

Nan Woodruff’s American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Delta (UNC Press 2012) also includes information on the Elaine Massacre. To read an excerpt, check out this post from the UNC Press blog.

To learn more about Walter White, check out Kenneth Janken’s Walter White: Mr. NAACP (UNC Press 2006).

On This Day: The Atlanta Race Riot

On September 22, 1906—106 years ago today—Atlanta, Georgia, dissolved into horrifying and unrestrained violence which after a few days would leave dozens of African Americans dead and many more wounded.

Although Atlanta had developed a reputation for relative racial harmony, extensive population growth over the previous two decades led to competition and tension between whites and African Americans. White supremacists instituted Jim Crow laws to keep the races segregated both in public accommodations and in residential neighborhoods.

As publicity abounded in the months leading up to the 1906 gubernatorial election, racial tensions flared between those advocating African American disfranchisement and those pushing for equality. White supremacists used the media as a vehicle of racial hatred, spreading lies about African Americans—especially rumors about African American violence against whites.

Thus it perhaps was not surprising that after rumors raged of four alleged sexual assaults by African American men on white women, white mobs hit the streets on the night of September 22, beating hundreds of African Americans and destroying their businesses.

State militia and police officers were called in, but were not immediately effective at quelling the violence. African Americans were forced to defend their homes and businesses, and many innocent African American individuals were killed.

On September 24, when police officers learned of a meeting of African Americans in a town just outside Atlanta, they raided the meeting, claiming fear of a counterattack. A shootout resulted in the death of one police officer; heavily armed militia arrested hundreds of African Americans.

Fearing the destruction of the city’s formerly positive reputation, local officials and public figures called for an end to the riot, beginning a dialogue with African American elites.

Estimates show that as many as 10,000 whites rioted against African Americans, leaving at least 25 African Americans dead—but most likely many more than that. The biracial meetings that developed as a result of the riot served as a model for white-African American relations.

Discussed in middle and high schools, the riot stands today—more than a century later—as a bitter reminder of the racial hostility and violence African Americans faced for decades.

To learn more, check out this summary from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, this page from PBS, and this article from NPR.

This article from the Atlanta Constitution demonstrates the blame white supremacists placed on African Americans. This New York Times article discusses the aftermath of the riot, stating that militia disarmed African Americans (most of whom, presumably, were armed simply to protect themselves and their families from white mob violence).

To learn more, check out David Godshalk’s Veiled Visions: The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot and the Reshaping of American Race Relations (UNC Press 2005), Gregory Mixon’s The Atlanta Riot: Race, Class, and Violence in a New South City (University Press of Florida 2005), and Rebecca Burns’ Rage in the Gate City: The Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot (University of Georgia Press 2009).

To learn more about Atlanta’s race relations, check out Ronald Bayor’s Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta (UNC Press 1996).

Walter White, who would serve as NAACP secretary for more than two decades, witnessed the riot as a 13-year-old child. He described the riot in his autobiography, A Man Called White. To learn more about White, check out Kenneth Janken’s Walter White: Mr. NAACP (UNC Press 2006).

Remembering Ossian Sweet

On September 8, 1925—87 years ago today—African American Ossian Sweet and his family moved into a house in a previously all-white neighborhood in Detroit. Within one day, the Sweets’ lives would be changed forever.

A doctor who studied at Howard University and in Vienna and Paris, Ossian Sweet spent a year saving money for a home. In 1925, he put a down payment on a house on Garland Street, in a neighborhood which at that time housed no African Americans.

Members of the community were determined to keep African Americans out of the neighborhood. Knowing he would face hostility and possibly violence, Sweet purchased guns and asked friends and relatives to stay with him for a few days after he moved in on September 8.

Although police officers were called in to keep watch over the neighborhood, mobs began throwing rocks and bottles at the house on September 9. Around 10 p.m., shots were fired from the house, killing one member of the mob and injuring a second. All eleven people in the house were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Clarence Darrow took on the defendants’ case by request of the NAACP, arguing self-defense in front of an all-white, all-male jury. In his closing argument, Darrow stated, “Gentlemen, here is a jury of 12 white men, and you are holding in your hands the lives and destinies of just about the same number of black people. It is not fair, but you are doing it, and you have got to see that it is fair.”

Ultimately, the case ended in a hung jury. Sweet’s brother, Henry, was retried and acquitted, and thus ended the legal battle.

Despite Sweet’s success in blocking murder charges, he was unable to return to his house for several years—and by the time he returned, he had already lost his wife and young daughter to tuberculosis. After renting it to a white couple, he finally moved back in in 1930, remaining until 1946. In 1960, Sweet committed suicide.

Studied in classrooms to this day, the Sweet trial represented a landmark in the fight against the discrimination African Americans faced both in their daily lives and in court. In his 1932 autobiography The Story of My Life, Darrow later wrote, “The verdict meant simply that the doctrine that a man’s house is his castle applied to the black man as well as to the white man. If not the first time that a white jury had vindicated this principle, it was the first that ever came to my notice.”

Today, the house is commemorated with a State of Michigan historic marker.

To learn more, check out this detailed website from the University of Missouri at Kansas City’s School of Law, which includes the text of Darrow’s closing argument, several illustrations, a chronology, and more.

To learn about this and other important cases argued by Clarence Darrow, check out Donald McRae’s The Great Trials of Clarence Darrow: The Landmark Cases of Leopold and Loeb, John T. Scopes, and Ossian Sweet (Harper Perennial 2010).

To learn more about the lives of African Americans in Detroit during the 1920s, check out Beth Tompkins Bates’ The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford (forthcoming from UNC Press, September 24, 2012).

On This Day: The Coushatta Massacre

On August 25, 1874—138 years ago today—white residents of Louisiana murdered an African American man named Thomas Floyd, setting in motion violence that would leave at least ten Republicans dead.

In the years following the Civil War, a Union army veteran who had captained an African American regiment was elected to the Louisiana State Senate as a Republican. He also appointed a few of his relatives to local positions. A few years later, Confederate veterans—many of whom had participated in the Colfax Massacre of 1873—formed the White League, publicly and violently agitating against Republican governance and vowing to restore white supremacy.

After whites murdered African American Republican Thomas Floyd in Brownsville on August 25, tensions in the region mounted. The White League arrested several white Republicans and twenty African Americans, accusing them of planning a “Negro rebellion.” The whites’ rumors of uprising spread, attracting hundreds of heavily armed whites from nearby areas to Coushatta within two days.

After being held hostage for days, the white prisoners agreed to resign and to leave the state. While traveling under guard, the prisoners were attacked by heavily armed whites determined to kill the men.  All six were killed.

The violence was not confined to this group; whites in Coushatta and the surrounding area beat, burned, and hanged several African Americans. By the end of the massacre, at least four African Americans and the six white officeholders were dead. Although a handful of men were arrested, no one was ever convicted for the murders.

The violence shocked the nation, highlighting all too vividly the turbulent nature of the Reconstruction-era South. Violence persisted across Louisiana as white supremacists continued their effort to unseat Republicans and install Democrats into positions of power. Although President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to Louisiana, the White League was eventually successful in overthrowing the Republican government, installing a Democratic majority and instilling practices of white supremacy.

Louisiana was one of several Southern states affected by the Compromise of 1877, which effectively ended Reconstruction by removing federal troops from Southern states.

To learn more about the Coushatta Massacre, check out this entry from the Encyclopedia of Louisiana, which also provides related illustrations. This page from PBS also provides a summary.

To learn more about the former Confederates’ reign of terror in Louisiana, check out Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2007).

To learn more about Marshall Twitchell, check out Ted Tunnell’s Edge of the Sword: The Ordeal of Carpetbagger Marshall H. Twitchell in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Louisiana State University Press 2004).

To see a Harper’s Weekly illustration of the aftermath of the Colfax Massacre, click here.

To learn more about the so-called Redeemers, check out this page from the University of Houston’s Digital History database.

On This Day: The Springfield Riot

On August 14, 1908—104 years ago today—Springfield, Illinois dissolved into intensive mob violence that by the following night would leave at least seven individuals dead and many businesses and homes destroyed.

Racial tensions flared in Springfield when a white woman falsely accused a African American man of rape. Law enforcement moved this man—as well as another African American man accused of killing a white railroad engineer—out of town before an angry white mob could touch them.

When the members of the white mob realized the prisoners were gone, they began a full-scale riot, moving through Springfield burning businesses and homes owned by African Americans. Springfield was an ironic site for a race riot; it was the hometown of President Abraham Lincoln—the man who freed the slaves. White rioters allegedly shouted, “Lincoln freed you, now we’ll show you where you belong!”

Fearing for their lives, roughly 3,000 African Americans fled the city. Illinois Governor Charles S. Deneen called in the National Guard, but it took until late on August 15 for the violence to die down. Troops began to leave the city on August 19.

In the end, two African Americans were lynched and five whites were killed. More than forty African American families were displaced after their homes were burnt.

The violence shocked the nation, demonstrating that discrimination and violence against African Americans was not confined to the South. Six months later, prominent civil rights leaders came together to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Ultimately, the African American man accused of murdering a white railroad engineer was found guilty and hanged. The other prisoner, who had been accused of raping a white woman, was freed after the woman confessed that she had lied.

Although mob leaders were arrested for rioting, only one was ever convicted—and he was only sentenced to thirty days in jail. One woman, Kate Howard, who was indicted for multiple charges in connection with the riot, committed suicide.

More than a century later, two large bronze commemorative sculptures were unveiled in Union Square Park in downtown Springfield.

To learn more, and to see a photograph of militia camps during the riots, check out this page from the Library of Congress. The University of Illinois at Springfield also hosts this website, which provides audio clips of oral histories with survivors.

Click here to listen to an NPR story from the hundredth anniversary of the riot.

A detailed summary can be found through the Northern Illinois University Library.

To learn more, check out Roberta Senechal de la Roche’s In Lincoln’s Shadow: The 1908 Race Riot in Springfield, Illinois (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008).

To learn more about postbellum racial violence, check out Kidada Williams’ They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I (NYU Press, 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 Hamburg Massacre

On July 8th, 1876—136 years ago today—six African American men and one white man in Hamburg, South Carolina, were killed in a violent confrontation between a white mob and an African American militia.

A decade after the close of the Civil War, Reconstruction Era South Carolina was the scene of strong racial hostility and political and cultural tension.

After a group of African American militia members gathered in Hamburg on July 4th to celebrate the nation’s centennial, white farmers ordered them to move aside for their carriage. Exactly what transpired during this confrontation is unknown, but the next day a white farmer requested that a state justice arrest the leader of the militia for obstructing “my road.”

When the African American militia once again gathered on July 8th, a larger group of white men met the group, demanding that its members disband and hand over their guns. Outnumbered, the African Americans tried to escape, but two dozen were captured and six were killed. One white man was also killed. As was the case with many such riots, looting and property damage also added to the destruction.

The riot was covered in major media outlets, capturing nationwide attention. (Click here to see a political cartoon published in Harpers Weekly in August 1876.) Although several white men were indicted, no one was ever convicted for involvement in the violence or murders.

The event also broadened divisions between South Carolina’s political parties; in the gubernatorial election that year, both parties claimed victory, and two legislatures functioned within the state for some time. The South Carolina Supreme Court declared democratic candidate Wade Hampton III the winner, and the removal of federal troops in 1877 by President Rutherford Hayes (signaling the end of Reconstruction) allowed the Democrats to seize power from former governor Daniel Chamberlain. To learn more about Hampton, check out Rod Andrew, Jr.’s Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer (UNC Press, 2008).

In 1916, a monument was dedicated honoring Thomas McKie Meriwether, the lone white man killed in the confrontation. However, the murdered African Americans were only recently recognized in such a way (click here to read a newspaper story about the commemorative marker unveiled in 2011).

To learn more about the Hamburg Massacre, check out this summary from the University of Richmond’s History Engine. The New York Times also provides a good summary on the same page as the reprinted political cartoon from Harper’s Weekly.

To read Governor Chamberlain’s August 6th letter regarding the conditions that led to the violence—and suggested measures to prevent similar occurrences—check out this article from the New York Times.

This 2008 article from the Aiken Standard notes the injustice of dedicating a monument to the lone white man killed but not to the African Americans killed that day. Eventually, a marker was produced by a committee formed by the North Augusta Heritage Council.

For more on violence during this era, check out Stephen Budiansky’s The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War (Plume, 2008).

To learn more about this Era in South Carolina, check out Walter Allen’s 1888 publication Governor Chamberlain’s Administration in South Carolina: a Chapter of Reconstruction in the Southern States, which is available digitally through Google Books.

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 East St. Louis Riot

On July 2, 1917—95 years ago today—East St. Louis, Illinois, erupted into bloody violence, as one of the worst race riots in U.S. history began.

Racial tension was already high in East St. Louis, which had attracted roughly 10,000 new African Americans in the past year. Established trade unions resented the newcomers as “unfair” competition, and a mob assaulted African Americans at the end of May, necessitating National Guard protection in the city. After a rumor spread that a black man had killed a white man, the city on July 2nd erupted into a full-scale riot characterized by drive-by shootings, beatings, and arson.

Military rule was eventually established—followed by hundreds of arrests—but not in time to save the many innocent African Americans who fell victim to the angry mob.

No one is sure exactly how many African Americans died in the riot; estimates range from 40 to 200 individuals. Nine whites were killed. Property damage was of course extensive, and thousands of African Americans also left the city altogether, fearing for their safety.

National public opinion immediately surged against law enforcement officers, who did little to stop the violence. The event also sparked mobilization within the NAACP, which on July 28th held a silent parade down Fifth Avenue in New York, protesting racial violence.

Federal investigations began almost immediately, and a grand jury formed in the wake of the attacks eventually indicted St. Louis’s mayor, as well as dozens of other individuals. Ultimately, though, only a handful of whites were sent to prison—and on light sentences.

A year later, President Woodrow Wilson denounced lynching.

For more information, click here, here, or here.

To read the New York Times article published July 3rd, click here. To read an article published in the Crisis, click here. This page from St. Louis Public Radio also provides substantial material.

To see digitized documents relating to the riot, click here.

To view the grand jury testimony from August 1917, click here.

To read Marcus Garvey’s speech about the violence, click here.

To learn more, check out Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century (The Negro Fellowship Herald Press, 1917); Elliott Rudwick’s Race Riot of East St. Louis, July 2, 1917 (University of Illinois Press, 1982); Charles Lumpkins’ American Pogrom: The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics (Ohio University Press, 2008); and Harper Barnes’ Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot that Sparked the Civil Rights Movement (Walker & Company, 2008).

On This Day: First Baptist Church Under Siege

On May 21, 1961—51 years ago today—Freedom Riders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and 1,500 men, women, and children who had gathered at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, faced mob violence at the hands of several thousand white segregationists.

The Freedom Rides had only just begun on May 4th, but the activists had already faced violence in several Southern towns. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., traveled to Montgomery in support of the freedom riders, planning to address a gathering of movement supporters at the Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church that evening.

Threats were certainly expected. The initial group of U.S. Marshals sent to guard the church proved too small in number to hold off the angry white mob—which had already begun to set fire to vehicles parked outside and had threatened to set fire to the church. After King called Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who in turn called Alabama’s governor, federal troops ultimately broke up the mob—but only after the men, women, and children had been trapped in the church for nearly the entire night.

In the face of a full-scale riot outside—with fires burning and rocks and bricks flying through the windows—the group inside the church remained firm in their commitment to nonviolence. They sat in the church all night until federal troops were able to escort them safely home.

Their courage and commitment in the face of mob violence provided further momentum to the desegregation movement. Soon afterwards, the Justice Department petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban discrimination on buses and at bus terminals; in September, the orders were issued, and in November the Freedom Rides ended in victory.

To see photos taken inside the church that night, click here, here, and here.

To read the US Marshal Service’s summary of the event, click here.

To see the planned program for the gathering, click here, or navigate from the previous link.

To see news footage of participants singing a hymn amidst the rioting, click here.

To learn more about the Freedom Riders, click here; for a timeline, click here.

For more about this movement, check out Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford University Press 2007), on which PBS’s documentary, Freedom Riders, is based.

To learn more about protests against transportation discrimination, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press 2010).

Freedom Riders Faced Stones and Fire

On May 14th, 1961—Mother’s day 51 years ago—a Greyhound bus carrying 9 Freedom Riders and 5 other individuals was stoned and burned outside of Anniston, Alabama.

The violence came only ten days after buses departed Washington, D.C., and headed to the segregated south to deliberately challenge Jim Crow laws, in particular strict prohibitions against integrated bus travel.

On May 14th, the Freedom Riders’ bus was forced to stop due to a flat tire. While the driver changed the tire, white men threw a firebomb through a broken window, forcing the passengers to disembark before the vehicle was consumed by fire.

Another group of Freedom Riders faced violence in Birmingham that very same day—and this was just the beginning of the violence these young civil rights activists would face. In the coming months, African American and white riders would be taunted and beaten. (Click here to read about James Zwerg, one young activist who fell victim to an angry white mob).

In the face of hostility, discrimination, and mob violence—in Anniston, in Birmingham, and during later protests—the freedom riders pushed on, determined to bring an end to segregation and inequality. Sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Freedom Rides would ultimately involve more than 400 African American and white individuals, who would prevail in the face of adversity. By the time the rides ended in November 1961 (following the Interstate Commerce Commission’s order to end segregation on interstate transportation), the participants had made a lasting impact on America.

To learn more about the May 14th violence and Anniston’s racial history, check out Phil Noble’s Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town (New South Books, 2003).

For a photograph of the burning bus at Anniston, as well as additional information, click here.

For more information on the Freedom Riders, and for additional resources, click here.

To see a timeline of the movement, click here.

The National Geographic’s children’s book, Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement, outlines the convergent paths of two young men who braved the journey.

To learn more about protests against transportation discrimination, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press 2010).