Tag Archive for 'violence'

Remembering Octavius Catto

On October 10, 1871—141 years ago today—a 32-year-old African American educator and prominent civil rights activist was murdered during election day violence in Philadelphia.

Racial tensions, which were already high aftermath of the American Civil War, flared during the 1871 election, when mostly Republican African American voters faced threats and violence at the hands of white voters who sought to maintain Democratic control and prevent African Americans from voting, despite the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Although city police were supposed to prevent violence, in some sections of the city they too took part in efforts to block African American citizens from casting their ballots. When Octavius Catto headed to the polls that day (carrying a revolver for protection), a white man fatally shot him three times in the street.

Although the identity of the killer was well known, he was never convicted of the crime; it was quite common at this time for white men to go unpunished for violence against African Americans. Catto was one of several individuals killed that day.

It would be over a century before efforts were made to commemorate Catto’s life. In 2006, the O.V. Catto Memorial announced a fundraising campaign for a memorial statute; in 2011, the city of Philadelphia pledged $500,000 to the proposed memorial.

To learn more, check out Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin’s Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America (Temple University Press 2010). (Visit the book’s webpage here.)

This article from Pennsylvania History provides a lot of information about Catto. This page from the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries provides photographs and documents.

For more information, check out Henry Griffin’s The Trial of Frank Kelly, for The Assassination and Murder of Octavius V. Catto, On October 10, 1871, part of Gale’s The Making of Modern Law collection.

To see the New York Times release of election results, click here.

To see photographs from the 2007 dedication of a headstone at Catto’s burial site, click here.

At the time of Catto’s murder, the Fifteenth Amendment had just given African Americans the right to vote. Only a few years later, legislation would be put into effect to disfranchise African Americans. For more on disfranchisement, click here, or check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press 2001).

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).

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 Newark Riot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

Remembering Medgar Evers

On June 12, 1963—49 years ago today—white separatist Byron De La Beckwith shot and killed civil rights worker Medgar Evers, horrifying the American public and galvanizing the civil rights movement.

As the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi, Medgar Evers was a vocal opponent of racial discrimination and a frequent victim of threats and violence. On June 12, he was shot in the back while walking from his car to the door of his house, where his wife and children were waiting for him. He died less than an hour later.

Although De La Beckwith was quickly apprehended, he was tried and acquitted twice in 1964, with hung juries both timesall-white juries, of course. More than two decades passed before further attempts at conviction were made. After the Jackson Clarion-Ledger uncovered documents that indicated official misconduct during the trial, Assistant District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter decided to retry the case—with a mixed-race jury this time.

Three decades after the crime, De La Beckwith was finally convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001.

A former soldier, Evers made lasting contributions to the civil rights movement, organizing sit-ins and voter registration campaigns and fighting for the enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education. His violent death shocked the nation, forcing Americans to recognize the hostility and violence faced by Southern African Americans and further mobilizing the struggle for equality.

To learn more, click here.

Click here to watch a video of UNC’s Minrose Gwin discussing her scholarly project, Mourning Medgar Evers.

To learn more about Medgar Evers, click here. Numerous books also discuss his life, work, and death, including Michael Vinson Williams’ Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (University of Arkansas Press, 2011) and Adam Nossiter’s Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar Evers (Da Capo Press, 2002).

DeLaughter later published a book about the 1994 trial: Never Too Late: A Prosecutor’s Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case (Scribner 2001).

There are also dozens of books available which provide insight into the struggles African Americans faced in Mississippi during this period. UNC Press offerings include Françoise Hamlin’s Crossroads at Clarksdale (2012) and Emilye Crosby’s A Little Taste of Freedom (2005).

James Meredith and the March Against Fear

On June 6, 1966—46 years ago today—James Meredith was shot and wounded on the second day of his 220-mile March Against Fear.

Meredith, best known for integrating the University of Mississippi four years earlier,  chose to march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to dispel fears of life in Mississippi and to encourage other African Americans to register to vote.  Although he planned the journey as a solitary march, a few companions joined him, as did three police cars.

That was not enough to protect him, though. Aubrey Norvell shot Meredith, who was taken to the hospital for surgery. Suddenly, in the face of violence, a march that had received little attention from larger civil rights organizations garnered interest. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., CORE’s Floyd McKissick, and SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, after visiting Meredith at the hospital, elected to continue the march in his absence. It would be 20 days before Meredith was able to rejoin the march, which ended Sunday, June 26, 21 days after Meredith began the journey.

An estimated 16,000 African Americans and several hundred whites showed up in Jackson that day to see Meredith complete the journey. In his speech, Meredith called for the elimination of “the fear that grips the Negro in America to his very bones, not only in Mississippi, but in every section of this country, because every inch of the country is controlled by the system of white supremacy.” (For more about this speech, click here.)

Aubrey Norvell pled guilty to the shooting, and was sentenced to five years in prison (three of which were suspended). He was released from Parchman Penitentiary in June 1968.

A Duke University student last month fashioned his own march against North Carolina’s Amendment One; he compared the protest with Meredith’s March Against Fear.

For more information about the March Against Fear, click here.

To read news articles published during the march, click here, here, and here.

To watch a video clip of Meredith’s speech on June 26, click here.

To learn more about James Meredith, click here, or check out Charles W. Eagles’ The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss (UNC Press, 2009).

On This Day: The Courage of Deputies Moore and Rogers

On June 2, 1965—47 years ago today—in a horrifying display of the ongoing racial tension in the area, one of the two first African American deputy sheriffs of Washington Parish, Louisiana, was shot and killed while on patrol.

Deputy O’Neal Moore and Deputy David “Creed” Rogers had been on the force for one year and one day when they—the two first African American sheriffs on the force—were ambushed by a group of white men driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal. Gunfire killed Moore instantly; Rogers was shot in the shoulder and lost an eye, but survived.

Although suspects were arrested, no charges were filed, and the case lay dormant for decades. It has been reopened three times, beginning in 1990. Prime suspect Ernest Ray McElveen, a known white supremacist, died in 2003 without ever being tried; while law enforcement officers believe there were two other men involved who may still be alive, they have so far been unable to move ahead with the case.

The shocking display of racial hatred brought to the nation’s attention the discrimination and violence African Americans faced in their daily life in Louisiana and other parts of the South, further mobilizing civil rights activists to fight for equality (and, on a more basic level, safety). Moore’s courage in remaining on the force amidst threats of violence for a full year before he was killed remains an inspiration to this day. (And in fact, Rogers completed a full career in law enforcement, despite his partner’s murder.) It is unclear whether law enforcement will ever be able to move forward with the case, but the murder remains a shocking reminder of America’s long struggle with racial violence.

To read a summary of the ambush and its aftermath, including information provided by Moore’s widow, click here.

To learn more, click here.

To learn more about the civil rights struggle in Louisiana, check out Adam Fairclough’s Race and Democracy: the Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972 (University of Georgia Press, 2008).

The Ku Klux Klan, which was both strong and ruthless in Louisiana at the time of Moore’s death, met resistance from the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of African American men who formed an armed self-defense organization to protect civil rights workers from  police violence. Moore’s widow has stated that the Deacons provided protection and support following her husband’s murder. To learn more about this group, check out Lance Hill’s The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement (UNC Press, 2004)

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).

Remembering the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

On May 17, 1957—55 years ago today—thousands of civil rights demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to urge the federal government to fulfill the promises laid out in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, exactly three years earlier.

The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom brought together 25,000 protesters for a day of songs and speeches, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s moving “Give Us the Ballot” speech (listen and read here).

In the years following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, segregationists had proved unwilling to comply with integration orders—despite the Supreme Court’s insistence in Brown II (1955) that school administrators end segregation “with all deliberate speed.”

On February 14, 1957, civil rights activists urged President Eisenhower to condemn segregationists’ refusal to comply with the integration orders—and the violence that segregationists propagated against African Americans throughout the South. In a letter, the activists warned that if the government did not take a public stand against segregation, activists would congregate in D.C. for a day of prayers, songs, and speeches meant to draw Americans’ attention to the violence and inequality prevalent in the South.

Although the event did not draw as many protesters as the organizers had expected, it was heavily covered in the national press. Ultimately it increased both King’s prominence and Americans’ consciousness of the violence and inequality that were still so common across the South three years after Brown v. Board of Education. It motivated activists to continue to fight for an end to segregation and violence, and foreshadowed the 1963 March on Washington and King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

For more information, click here.

To see a newspaper article printed the day after the civil rights protesters wrote to President Eisenhower, click here.

To see a newspaper article printed on the day of the protest, click here.

HarperOne’s collection of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., includes the “Give Us the Ballot” speech, among others.

For more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., click here.