Tag Archive for 'racial violence'

On This Day: The Bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

On September 15, 1963—49 years ago today—four young girls were killed by the blast of a KKK bomb while attending Sunday school at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist church.

Racial tensions were already high in Birmingham, where only five days earlier federal intervention had forced public schools to finally comply with integration orders. After extensive demonstrations and protests (through, for example, the Birmingham Campaign and the Children’s Crusade), civil rights activists had finally begun to see progress. However, any hope engendered by successful desegregation efforts was crushed after Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were killed.

The largest African American church in the city, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was known as the meeting place for prominent civil rights leaders. A white supremacist placed dynamite under the church; the explosion shortly before the 11 A.M. service injured 20 individuals and killed the four girls, three of whom were fourteen years old, and one of whom was eleven years old.

The murder of these young girls shocked and horrified citizens across the country. More than 8,000 people attended the funeral; Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the eulogy. As grief and anger fueled an increased push against racial discrimination and violence, the four children came to symbolize a painful chapter in America’s history.

The four young girls are remembered as innocent victims whose murder served as a catalyst for much-needed societal changes—changes which they unfortunately did not live to witness. When the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial was formally dedicated last year, young actress Amandla Stenberg gave a speech in remembrance of these four girls, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that, “They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives.” (To see Stenberg’s speech, fast-forward to 4:00 in this video.)

Despite public outrage, it would be more than 38 years before a conviction was handed down. Finally, on May 23, 2002, Bobby Frank Cherry was sentenced to life in prison for the murders. His appeal was denied and he died in prison.

To learn more about this horrific event, check out this page from NPR.

To view photographs of the destruction, check out this page from the Birmingham Post-Herald.

The Birmingham Public Library hosts an expansive digital collection focused on the bombing, complete with photographs, newspaper clippings, and other documents.

Carolyn McKinstry, a friend of the four girls and a witness to the bombing, wrote a book about it: While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement (Tyndale House Publishers 2011).

For a photographic account designed for children, check out Larry Dane Brimner’s Birmingham Sunday (Boyd Mills Press 2010).

To read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eulogy, check out this page from the King Center.

To read a collection of New York Times articles regarding the eventual conviction, click here.

For more on Birmingham’s significance in the civil rights struggle, check out Glenn Eskew’s But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (UNC Press 1997) and Horace Huntley and John W. McKerley’s edited oral history volume Foot Soldiers for Democracy: The Men, Women, and Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement (University of Illinois Press 2009).

Remembering Emmett Till

On August 28, 1955—57 years ago today—fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi.

Till, who was from Chicago, was visiting his relatives in Mississippi. On August 24, while in a grocery story with other young boys, Till either spoke with or whistled at the 21-year-old wife of the proprietor. It is unclear exactly what transpired during that interaction, but the white woman, Carolyn Bryant, told her husband and others that Till had grabbed her around the waist and used foul language.

Several nights later, after Bryant’s husband, Roy, returned to town, he, his half-brother J.W. Milam, and possibly others, kidnapped Till, brutally beat and mangled him, shot him, and dumped his body in a river, weighed down by a heavy cotton gin fan.

Three days later, Till’s body was discovered, unrecognizable after the violence he had faced.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, shocked the nation by holding an open-casket public funeral service. Images of the young boy’s mutilated body circulated heavily in the press, engendering public outcry amongst both African Americans and whites.

The images made it difficult to ignore the hostility and violence African Americans in Mississippi faced every day. However, other papers—specifically in Mississippi—presented a different story, highlighting Carolyn Bryant’s virtue and spreading fictitious rumors of an uprising by enraged African Americans.

The sheriff who had initially identified the body as Till’s backpedaled, raising doubts that Till had even been killed—let alone by Bryant and Milam.

After a heavily publicized trial, both murderers were acquitted. Jury deliberations lasted just over an hour, with one member of the all-white jury reporting “if we hadn’t stopped to drink a pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.”

Just a few months later, Bryant and Milam confessed in an article in Look magazine to kidnapping and murdering Till, but by now, they were protected against double jeopardy and could not be convicted.

In 2005, during a reopened case, Till’s body was exhumed and autopsied, confirming his identity.

In 2007, more than half a century after Till’s death, the first in a series of historical markers about the murder and trial was unveiled in Sumner, Mississippi, with an audience of several hundred people.

The brutal murder is still remembered today as a graphic example of the discrimination and violence African Americans were subjected to for years. Till’s name again hit the news earlier this year, when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s death was compared with Till’s several decades earlier.

The case was later chronicled in the PBS film The Murder of Emmett Till. The PBS website associated with the film offers a summary, a timeline, primary documents (including Till’s last letter to his mother), and more.

To learn more, and to view documents and multimedia, click here.

For more information, check out Christopher Metress’s The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative (University of Virginia Press 2002), and Stephen Whitfield’s A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till (Johns Hopkins University Press 1991).

Till’s cousin, Simeon Wright, witnessed both the encounter in the grocery store and the kidnapping. To learn more, check out his memoir, Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till (Chicago Review Press 2010).

Chris Crowe published a young adult novel based on these events: Mississippi Trial, 1955 (Penguin 2003).

To see the FBI records about the Emmett Till case, including a transcript of the trial, click here.

CCC Progress update: digitization complete for N.C. Council on Human Relations Records

Example content: "Federal Fair Employment Law: summary and analysis of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act"

TRLN’s “Content, Context, & Capacity” grant has recently finished digitizing a portion of the North Carolina Council on Human Relations Records and digital content is now freely available online through the collection finding aid. The North Carolina Council on Human Relations (NCCHR) was an interracial organization seeking solutions to racial problems and concerns in North Carolina between 1954 and 1969. Research and communication were the primary methods employed by the organization to further its goals, and the results of these efforts make up the material preserved in this collection. Through the CCC grant, more than 280 folders of the collection were digitized including reports, correspondence, proposals, newsletters, and speeches relating to the work of NCCHR. This collection represents a variety of rich and diverse material, including reports on the racial violence at a Greensboro High School in 1969, articles and bulletins produced and collected by an anti-capital punishment group in North Carolina, and a speech delivered by President Lyndon B. Johnson at Howard University in June of 1965. Digital content can be accessed through the collection finding aid.

By Emily Bowden, CCC Graduate Research Assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill

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.

Remembering the Philadelphia Transit Strike of 1944

On August 1, 1944—68 years ago today—thousands of Philadelphia Transit Company employees kicked off a week-long protest, effectively paralyzing the city’s transit system and significantly affecting wartime production.

Throughout World War II, the transit company had refused to promote African American employees to higher level, skilled jobs.  After the War Manpower Commission ruled that the company was prohibited from practicing hiring discrimination, eight African American employees were named trolley car drivers, angering racist employees and officials.

Beginning at 4 a.m. on August 1, 1944, workers began to strike against the promotion of the eight African American employees. Within five hours, the strike included 4,500 workers, and all of the city’s 2,600 trolleys, buses, and trains were at a standstill.

The NAACP immediately took the lead in ending the strike, and directed many community organizations—both white and African American—to promote fair treatment and control racial tension. Police officers were on call to prevent a riot, but isolated incidents of racial violence did occur in sections of the city.

Not only did the strike make commuter travel virtually impossible, but it also affected the war effort. At the time, Philadelphia was one of the country’s largest war production cities, and every minute of the strike represented a loss of time and production. President Roosevelt on August 3 authorized the Army to take control of the transit system, and on August 5 sent 5,000 heavily armed soldiers to quell the strike. The Major General given control by Roosevelt stated that he would enlist striking workers into the Army, threatening to send them to the war front if they didn’t return to work.

The largest strike of the World War II era, the Philadelphia Transit Strike finally ended on Monday, August 7, 1944, by which time 90 percent of all scheduled transit runs were in operation, thanks to the efforts of the government and armed forces, as well as the collaboration between the NAACP and other community leaders, both white and African American.

The strike, organized to prevent African American advancement, had the opposite effect, as African American employees finally began to receive their due. By August 9, the eight newly promoted African American trolley drivers were in training, and by September, all of them had begun to drive trolleys. A month later, they were joined by eight additional African American drivers, and within a year 900 African American drivers and conductors worked for the company. The strike is still remembered today as a significant milestone in the fight against discrimination and inequality.

To learn more, check out this page from Swarthmore’s Global Nonviolent Action Database, as well as this article from The American Postal Worker magazine. Readers with access to JSTOR can also check out Allan Winkler’s 1972 article The Philadelphia Transit Strike of 1944, published in the Journal of American History.

The Justice Department convened a grand jury almost immediately to determine the motives behind the strike; the jury in October indicted 30 employees, and a few of the leaders were charged in federal court. However, the government dropped charges in March 1945.

This wasn’t the city’s only strike: others took place in 1910 and 2009. (Click here to see a 2009 article from the Associated Press.)

To learn more about Philadelphia’s race relations, check out James Wolfinger’s Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love (UNC Press, 2007).

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 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).