Tag Archive for 'race riot'

On This Day: The Wilmington Race Riot

On November 10, 1898—114 years ago today—Wilmington, North Carolina, descended into racial and political violence that would leave many African Americans dead and the political and demographic landscape severely altered.

The riot occurred in the aftermath of the 1898 elections, when Fusionists and white supremacist Democrats faced off in a tense election. The Fusion coalition, made up of individuals from the Populist and Republican parties, had gained power in 1894, and sought to reverse disfranchisement practices commonly used against African Americans following the end of the Reconstruction era. Wilmington, at the time, was a majority-African American city, but white supremacists sought to suppress African American voting through violence, intimidation, and fraud.

They were successful; Democrats won control of Wilmington and most of the state. However, not satisfied merely with their victory, white supremacists formed a Committee of Twenty-Five and demanded that the Committee of Colored Citizens evict Alexander Manly, editor of the Wilmington Daily Record (an African-American owned newspaper) no later than November 10. Two months earlier, Manly had published an editorial, written either by himself or an associate editor, discussing white men’s hypocrisy in the frequent lynching of black men accused of raping white women while at the same time “debauching” African American women.

When the Committee of Twenty-Five’s demands were not met, more than 1500 Democratic white supremacists took matters into their own hands. They burnt down Manly’s newspaper building, killed many African Americans, and destroyed the majority-African American Brooklyn neighborhood.

Although federal Naval Reserves and the Wilmington Light Infantry were sent to quell the violence, they ended up killing several African Americans themselves. Some whites were wounded, but none were reported killed; African American casualty estimates, however, ranged from 8 to 100. Ultimately, more than 2,000 African Americans left Wilmington permanently, significantly altering the city’s demographics from majority African-American to majority-white. The political landscape changed dramatically too, as white supremacist Democrats seized control.

The Democratic white supremacists’ violent ascent to power foreshadowed changes to come across North Carolina, which would soon pass its first Jim Crow laws, including a constitutional amendment requiring poll taxes and literacy tests as a means to disfranchise African Americans. Democrats won in a landslide again in 1900; African Americans would have to wait and struggle for decades before legislation such as the Voting rights Act of 1965 finally began to roll back disfranchisement measures.

More than a century later, the riot stands as a haunting reminder of the intimidation and danger African Americans faced for decades in the South. A commission established in 2000 by the North Carolina General Assembly conducted a formal investigation. To read the committee’s 2006 report, which outlines a conspiracy among white supremacist Democrats and several news organizations, click here. The 1898 Foundation in 2008 unveiled a monument and memorial park commemorating those who were killed that day.

To learn more, check out David Cecelski and Timothy Tyson’s edited volume, Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (UNC Press 1998).

Online sources include NCPedia, the Wilmington Star News, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission, and this post from the UNC Press blog. This page from Learn NC includes a summary and a map.

To read Alexander Manly’s editorial, which would later fuel white supremacists’ anger, check out this link from the North Carolina Collection.

To read early perspectives on the riot, check out this page from Documenting the American South.

The Wilmington Riot was later followed by other race riots, such as the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906, the Elaine Massacre of 1919, and the Rosewood Massacre of 1923. To learn more about other race riots, check out Ann Collins’ All Hell Broke Loose: American Race Riots from the Progressive Era through World War II (Praeger 2012).

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 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).

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 Watts Riot Begins

On August 11, 1965—47 years ago today—Los Angeles dissolved into what is perhaps the most famous display of racial hatred and violence in America’s history.

Only 13 months earlier, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had greatly expanded the rights and protections of all Americans, regardless of race or gender. Tensions remained high, though, as segregationists sought ways around this law (and other similar legislation). In California, Proposition 14 nullified the state’s 1963 fair housing law, amending the state constitution to allow individuals to decline to sell, lease, or rent property pursuant to their preferences.

On August 11, a police officer arrested Marquette Frye for drunk driving. While the officer was questioning him, Frye’s brother Ronald (who had been in the car at the time) led his mother to the scene. Alarmed by her son’s forcible arrest, Mrs. Rena Frye put up a fight, tearing one officer’s shirt. Both the mother and the two sons were arrested—and police hit them with their batons.

A growing (and angry) crowd of hundreds of onlookers dissolved into violence after the police officers left, stoning cars, beating people, and looting stores.

The National Guard was called in and a curfew was ordered, but the chaos lasted several days, finally ending on August 17—for the most part. (The next night, police entered a Nation of Islam mosque and fired extensively into the building, causing many injuries.)

By the time the violence was quelled, at least 34 people lay dead, 1000 had been wounded, and more than 600 buildings had been damaged or destroyed through looting and arson.

When peace was finally restored, California Governor Pat Brown created a commission to study the riots; the McCone Commission’s report ultimately stated that the riots had been caused by deep and engrained social problems: poverty, inequality, racial discrimination, and the passage of Proposition 14.

Despite this report, little was done to remedy the poor conditions under which Los Angeles’ African American residents lived. The riot lives on today in American history as a horrifying reminder of the violence such treatment can lead to. It was neither the first nor the last race riot in Los Angeles—a fact which illustrates all too well that the path to equality and justice is long.

To learn more, and to view news footage, check out this page from PBS. The Civil Rights Digital Library includes a synopsis and archival material.

To read the summary from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, click here.

For a comprehensive study of the riot and its aftermath, check out Gerald Horne’s Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s (Da Capo Press, 1997).

To view the August 12, 1965, article in the New York Times, click here.

The August 27, 1965 edition of LIFE Magazine focused heavily on the Watts Riots.

To read the McCone Commission’s report, click here.

In this 2005 Los Angeles Times article, reporters Valerie Reitman and Mitchell Landsberg interview nine survivors.

To learn more about urban race riots, check out Janet Abu-Lughod’s Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles (Oxford University Press, 2012). Readers will also be interested in John Charles Boger and Judith Welch Wegner’s edited collection, Race, Poverty, and American Cities (UNC Press 1996).

This was not the first time Los Angeles had faced rioting, nor would it be the last. The 1943 zoot suit riots involved violence by white sailors and Marines against Latino youths. And in 1992, 58 individuals were killed after the controversial beating of Rodney King sparked a week-long riot.

To learn more about the 1943 riot, check out Eduardo Obregon Pagan’s Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, and Riot in Wartime L.A. (UNC Press, 2003). Rodney King, in conjunction with Lawrence Spagnola, recently published a memoir about the 1992 riot: The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.

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).

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).

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: The Los Angeles Riots of 1992

On April 29, 1992—only twenty years ago today—Los Angeles saw the beginning of what would become a nearly week-long riot—the worst the city had seen since the 1965 Watts riots left 38 dead.

The 1992 riot—which left 58 individuals dead, more than 2,000 injured, 16,000 arrested, and $1 billion in property damage—was a response to the jury’s verdict in the case surrounding the controversial beating of Rodney King.

King, who had been drinking, engaged in a high-speed chase with Los Angeles police on the night of March 3, 1991. An amateur cameraman captured a video which showed four police officers beating, clubbing, and kicking King for over a minute while other officers watched; the video was shown repeatedly on television and came to symbolize racism and police brutality. The officers argued that they had acted in self-defense against an allegedly aggressive Rodney King.

On April 29, a jury (with no black jurors) acquitted the four white officers accused of beating King. The verdict immediately sparked anger and violence, including fires, looting, and beatings.

Los Angeles’s mayor, Tom Bradley, expressed concern over the verdict: “Today the system failed us. Today the jury told the world what we all saw with our own eyes wasn’t a crime … The jury’s verdict will never outlive the images of the savage beating.”

In the wake of widespread violence, a curfew was imposed and numerous arrests were made. Many rioters who were arrested were later released when police officers were unable to identify individuals within the large crowds brought in. The National Guard eventually restored order; schools and businesses reopened in early May.

President Bush toured the destruction several days later; members of both political parties urged him to improve economic conditions for poor African Americans.

A year after the riot, the four previously acquitted officers went to trial for a second time, facing federal charges of violating King’s civil rights. Two were found guilty and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail; two were cleared. Each of the four either quit or was fired from the LAPD.

King was eventually awarded $3.8 million in damages. He has since faced several arrests and continues to battle alcoholism. His beating, the officers’ trials, and the days-long riot stand today as a reminder that racial violence is still very much a part of America’s story—and his oft-repeated question “Can’t we all get along?” still rings true, twenty years later.

For more information, check out this BBC story.

James Johnson Jr. and Walter Farrell Jr.’s essay “The Fire This Time: The Genesis of the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992”—found in the edited volume Race, Poverty, and American Cities (UNC Press 1996)—explores the underlying causes of the uprising.

The Associated Press recently published a short news video about the events: click here.

Click here to read excerpts from President Bush’s speech during the LA riots.

For an interesting opinion about the (lack of) literature concerning the 1992 riots, check out David Ulin’s column in the Los Angeles Times.

Rodney King, in conjunction with Lawrence Spagnola, recently published a memoir about the event: The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. For information on his book tour, click here.