Knoxville, Tennessee (1919)


Years following the Civil War that Knoxville, Tennessee had been able to boast about harmonious racial relations before the riot of 1919.


People to know.

Bertie Lindsey- A white woman, 27 years old, who was murdered around 2:30 AM the morning of August 30, 1919.

Maurice Mays – Proprietor of Stroller’s Cafe, well-known black community member known to be involved with women of both races, former deputy sheriff, and accused of murdering Bertie Lindsey.

John McMillan- Mayor of Knoxville and likely father of Maurice Mays. McMillan had provided Mays the capital to go into business and had supported him financially as a boy when necessary.

Andy White – Knoxville police patrolman who was engaged in a contentious relationship to Maurice Mays. White had vowed to “put [Mays] in either the penitentiary or the electric chair.”

Ora Smyth- Bertie’s cousin who had been staying with her during this time. Smyth is the woman who identified the Mays as the perpetrator of this crime.


On August 29, Maurice Mays and William Mays, his foster father, spent much of the day distributing poll tax receipts through the black community along with campaign cards for Mayor John McMillan. Maurice Mays had rented a horse and wagon for this purpose and returned them at about 8:00 PM. Afterwards. Mays continued endorsing Mays on foot. Around midnight, he got into a car with a friend and drove around. Mays was dropped off near his home and walked the rest of the way home.

According to Ora Smythe, she was awakened at around 2:30 in the morning to find a black male intruder in the home where she was staying with her cousin. After her cousin Bertie, didn’t obey the commands of this intruder, he fatally shot her.


Miles between Maurice Mays’ home and the murder scene.

1 hour after the murder occurred, Knoxville police officers arrived at Maurice Mays’ home.

Maurice Mays, when asked, agreed to allow officers to search his home. Mays had a revolver in his top drawer. Andy White and two other officers claimed that the gun smelled as if it had been recently discharged. William Mays, Maurice’s foster father and Jim Smith, a 12-year officer, did not detect a smell coming from the gun.


In the course of the crime scene investigation, footprints were found near the murder scene in a muddy and wet alley. Little to no mud was found at Mays’ home, and his clothing was clean and dry.

Mays was arrested, and transported toward the crime scene.

Ora Smyth was brought to Mays. Crying, with hair hanging over her face, and physically supported by two policemen, Ora Smyth identified Mays as the man who had committed the crime. Mays protested, begging the officers to let Smyth get a better look at him. Officer White responded, “Damn you, she’s seen you all she wants to!”

Another witness had seen a black man walking near the crime scene around the time of the murder. He was described as a shorter man who was thickly built.

Maurice Mays was 5′ 8″ and weighed around 120 pounds.

Mays was placed in the patrol wagon and taken to jail.


By morning, the Knoxville Journal and Tribune had published a special edition about the murder, telling readers that Bertie Lindsey had been slain in her own home by a Negro.

By 8:00 AM,  Police Chief Ed Haynes decided to transfer Mays to the county jail in light of the attention and crowds that these events garnered.

Mays was smuggled out disguised as a woman, wearing a veil, dress and wig. He was safely transported to Chattanooga.


By noon, the Knoxville Sentinel came out with a story that detailed the murder and the following arrest. Talk of mob violence followed, as did talk of a plans for “necktie party,” a euphemism for lynching, that night.

By 6:00 PM, a large, angry crowd had gathered near the jail. Crowd members thought that Mays was in the jail, though officials had told the crowd otherwise. The crowd demanded that a group of citizens be allowed to search the jail for Mr. Mays. Jail and police staff agreed to this search. While the search yielded no results, the crowd remained unsatisfied. A few similar searches followed.

By 7:30 PM, the crowd began to issue explicit threats against the jail.

Eventually, police and jail staff realized that the crowd was beyond what they could control, and they went into the jail, turned off the lights, and bolted the jail’s riot doors.


Minutes it took for the crowd to shatter the jail’s windows by throwing rocks. The crowd then used among other things, a telephone pole and a railroad cross tie as battering rams against the jail’s doors and the bars that protected a ground level window. Eventually, using dynamite, the crowd was able to rip the bars from the window. The crowd poured into the jail and thoroughly searched for Mays. Inside the jail, the crowd found confiscated alcohol, and began drinking.

The mob stole weapons from the jails armory, the safe was broken and emptied. The crowd shot out lights, ripped pipes from the walls, destroyed toilets, and eventually freed white inmates from the jail, including four convicted murderers.

As evening fell, tensions continued to mount. Many black citizens bought ammunition from a local hardware store. Eventually, the store stopped selling it that evening. Armed black citizens stationed themselves around the black part of town vowing to “not let a white face cross Central Avenue.” During this time, some fair-skinned black people were mistaken for white and assaulted before they could correct the mistake.

5 to 1

The ratio between the mob and the National Guardsmen sent to help restore order.

Eventually people began breaking into stores to steal weapons.


Amount of damage in dollars as a result of these raids.

Many black citizens resorted to barricading themselves inside their homes, hiding in forests and in cemeteries, and hiding in the homes or businesses of their white friends. Black people who fled to the train depots were met by armed whites. Some of these blacks attempting to flee the area were shot and/or robbed.

Around 3:15 AM, more National Guardsmen arrived, and were able to secure parts of the city.


The next day, Sunday, many black church services were cancelled. Black congregations were urged to “remain quiet and do nothing which would excuse an outbreak of any kind.”

Attendance at white churches was sparse that day. Here, pastors discouraged mob law and prayed “that the Lord will restrain the evil passion of men so that we may live together in peace.”


Many black people left Knoxville in the days that followed. It is unknown how many returned.

Newspapers reported that 2 people were killed in the riot, and that 14 were injured. However, based on eye-witnesses accounts it is likely that this number is quite low. Additionally, there was no count of those being treated for injuries resulting from the riot. Hospitals hadn’t kept records for those treated, nor had private doctors. Some estimate that there were 25-30 killed. Others call it between 30 and 40. Still other estimates went into the hundreds.

A white storekeeper had been forced by National Guardsmen to drive his wagon through the site where the riot had occurred while they loaded it with bodies. Both wagons and trucks, reportedly, were used to haul corpses to the Tennessee River where they were dumped.

John McMillan lost the mayoral election.


55 white citizens were eventually arrested for participating in the riot. 22 of them were tried together on charges related to their activities at the jail. Charges were dropped against 3 individuals. The jury deadlocked on 5 individuals. 14 of these people were acquitted, bringing the total convictions for participating in this riot to 0.

Maurice Mays was tried for twice for Bertie Lindsey’s murder. In the first trial, the all-white jury found him guilty after deliberating fewer than 20 minutes, and the judge sentenced him to death. However, a recent change to the law mandated that the jury was to decide the penalty in capital trials. As a result, the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered that Mays was to receive a new trial. At the second trial, the all-white jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.


On March 15, 1922, Maurice Mays died in the electric chair.

Of his last words were these, “I am dying to satisfy a few Republican politicians. I am innocent as the sun that shines. I hope that the politicians are satisfied. Governor Taylor has been told that he would lose 20,000 votes if he interceded for me.”

A year later, John McMillan committed suicide.



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Birmingham, Alabama (1963)


Bombs that provoked rioting in Birmingham Alabama on May 11, 1963.

At 10:45 PM, a uniformed police officer exited a Birmingham police vehicle, squad car 22, and left a package near the front steps of Pastor A.D. King’s home. A witness, Roosevelt Tatum, stated that the officer returned to his car and then threw something out of the car window. Tatum was knocked over when this package exploded. The noise drew a crowd. The crowd became noisy. A.D. King attempted to calm the crowd, achieving little success. Emergency vehicles were not well-received by the crowd.

The Gaston Motel, a black-owned business that had reluctantly provided resources to the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights was bombed at 11:58 PM.  The bomb hit the motel near where Southern Christian Leadership Conference strategists had been meeting for several weeks. Luckily, no one was injured as a direct result of this bombing.


Days between the bombings and an announcement of the “Birmingham Truce Agreement.” This agreement included partial desegregation in Birmingham, economic advancement for black workers, and a committee on employment and racial problems in the area.


Specific points in the agreement

  1. Within 3 days after close of demonstrations, fitting rooms will be desegregated.
  2. Within 30 days after the city government is established by court order, signs on wash rooms, rest rooms and drinking fountains will be removed.
  3. Within 60 days after the city government is established by court order, a program of lunchroom counter desegregation will be commenced.
  4. When the city government is established by court order, a program of upgrading Negro employment will be continued and there will be meetings with responsible local leadership to consider further steps.

Within 60 days from the court order determining Birmingham’s city government, the employment program was to include at least one sales person or cashier.

Within 15 days from the cessation of demonstrations, a Committee on Racial Problems and Employment composed of members of the Senior Citizens’ Committee was to be established, with a membership made public and the publicly announced purpose of establishing liaison with members of the Negro community to carry out a program of up-grading and improving employment opportunities with the Negro citizens of the Birmingham community.


Despite this tense local environment and intelligence that warned that the Ku Klux Klan planned to bomb the area, Alabama’s governor, George Wallace ordered the removal of state troopers who had been stationed in the area. His public safety director, Al Lingo, who didn’t have a law enforcement background, but a cabinet-making one,  maintained that he could handle this KKK threat.


Approximate distance in miles between Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama where a group of Ku Klux Klan members met the night of May 11. Imperial Wizard Bobby Shelton addressed a demoralized crowd. This audience felt that their way of life was in danger, that the grip on white supremacy and the social and political rules that accompany it was loosening. Shelton encouraged them to resist the momentum toward desegregation.


Hours between the dismissal of the Ku Klux Klan meeting and the detonation of the bombs.


Some local black people blamed the police for the bombing of the King residence, that night’s first bombing. Following the explosion a crowd gathered. Some of them began to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

Others, frustrated by the nonviolence approach within the Civil Rights Movement, began to throw rocks and other small objects. A white police officer was stabbed that evening by three black citizens.


When the Gaston Motel was bombed, more people began to mobilize. This was a Saturday night bombing. As such, many citizens had been out on the town and drinking.


Approximate size of the crowd that had gathered near the bombing sites. The crowd blocked police access to the area with their bodies and with the objects that they threw at the police vehicles.


Fire trucks, too, were immobilized. An Italian grocery store caught fire, a fire which consumed the block where it had stood.

Birmingham police dealt with the crowd by driving down the street in an armored vehicle spraying tear gas. A U.S. army tank also appeared on the scene.


The time that state troopers arrived with ho guns and troops on mounted horses. These troops suppressed any black citizens who remained on the streets, as well as white journalists in the area, who were marched at gunpoint out of the area.


Wounded individuals treated by hospitals.


Tension had been building in Birmingham for some time, and Birmingham had national attention. As a result, President John Kennedy had to decide what to do, balancing the southern desire that the federal government stay out of local affairs with the perception in other parts of the country.

Before this riot, Kennedy had said that there was no federal authority for action in Birmingham.


Approximate number of integrated picketers in front of the Department of Justice building in Washington DC in association with the events of Birmingham.

Because, in this case, blacks were the rioters, he felt that federal involvement would play better than it would in cases where blacks had been the victims of civil disorder.eighteenthousandSoldiers who were placed on alert status in order to respond to a crisis in Birmingham as a part of Kennedy’s response to these events, Operation Oak Tree. This was the first time that troops were available not to enforce a federal initiative, but to respond to public unrest.




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Longview, Texas (1919)

One man was killed during the riot activities in Longview, Texas.



Significantly different stories involving the death of Lemuel Walters. This death is one of the chief factors leading up to the riot.

  • One version of the story involves Walter, a black man, being discovered in the bedroom of a white woman in a neighboring town. He was arrested and jailed. According to law enforcement, he was place on a Louisiana-bound train the evening of June 17, but was discovered the next morning dead, riddled with bullets, next to the railroad tracks. His death, in this version, is a mystery.
  • According to 4 (3 black, 1 white) inmates in the jail where Walters was taken, 10 white men who had keys to the cells had come and taken Walters from the jail. After a prominent black citizen, Samuel L.  Jones, heard of this story and approached county judge Erskine H. Bramlette asking for his help to pursue an investigation, these inmates were all relocated to other jails.



The Chicago Defender was most popular black newspaper during this time, and boldly promoted racial equality. The Chicago Defender also encouraged southern blacks to leave the south and relocate to northern cities. This paper had both national distribution and covered issues of importance across the south. The paper regularly published, in graphic detail, the unfortunate circumstances that blacks had experienced because of their race.

The Chicago Defender, then, published an article describing Mr. Walter’s death. According to this article, Walter’s only crime was being involved with a white woman. The said that the woman had said that had she lived in the north that she would have married Walter. Also, it reported that she was so distraught after his murder that she was under the care of a physician. Finally, the article asserted that the sheriff had welcomed the white mob that took and murdered Mr. Walter.

Though the woman involved was not explicitly named in the article, her family members recognized this story and  were incensed. They felt that this article dishonored their family.


S. L. Jones was a known contributor to The Chicago Defender, and blamed for this article.  As a result, the woman’s brothers met him across from the court house and beat him severely with a wrench. Dr. Calvin Davis, a local black doctor and Mr. Jones’ friend, arrived shortly thereafter and took Jones to his office for treatment.

From this point, anger spread both in black and white communities as whites learned about the article, and as blacks learned about the beating.

Gregg County Judge Bramlette and Longview’s  Mayor Gabriel A. Bodenheim, upon learning of this tension, discouraged whites from additional actions against Jones.



However, that evening groups of both races moved through the area looking for members of the other race. At about 1:00 AM, a group of whites drove to Jones’ home. When they began to walk toward his house, they were surprised by gunfire from blacks inside the home. Those of the men who had guns returned fire.




White men injured in this skirmish. 3 of these men were injured superficially by birdshot. One of them, who had taken cover under a nearby house, was discovered and beaten severely, suffering a fractured skull.


The group fled. Some of them broke into the local hardware store to get guns and ammunition. They rang the fire alarm bell in order to summon others.



At about 4:00 in the morning, a second group traveled to Jones’s home. They discovered the home was deserted. They set it on fire. Then the group set fire to a black dance hall that they suspected, correctly, housed ammunition. They set fire to Dr. Davis’s house, and the homes of other black citizens. When home owners protested, those property owners were beaten.


In the morning, county officials realized that they needed outside assistance and contacted Governor William P. Hobby.



Number of Texas rangers sent to the area to help.

Understanding that this wasn’t enough, Judge Bramlette called the Governor Hobby again, asking for help.


Number of soldiers dispatched to Longview.

Matters were complicated by the one death that resulted from this riot.

Marion Bush was Dr. Davis’ father-in-law. The  sheriff approached him at his home offering to take him to the jail for his own protection. After some discussion, Bush agreed to go, however, he asked for a few moments to gather his hat. When he returned, he had a gun and had changed his mind, stating that he was not going. He also took a shot at the sheriff, and the sheriff’s counterpart. He missed both men. He fled, heading west along the railroad tracks.

The sheriff called a farmer that he knew, asking him to stop Bush.

He did just that, killing him with shots to the chest and neck.


Local officials feared additional outbreaks of violence, and asked the Governor for more help. The Governor responded by proclaiming martial law over the county. He ordered an additional 150 men to Longview for protective service. He placed Brigadier General R. H. McDill in command of all soldiers and rangers.

McDill instated a 10:30 PM to 6:00 AM curfew in Longview, prohibited groups of three or more from gathering on the streets, ordered the telephone operators to prohibit long-distance calls, and ordered all Longview and Kilgore (a neighboring area) to turn in their personal firearms at designated places by Sunday evening.


Number of firearms eventually turned in.

A citizens’ committee drafted a list of resolutions stating its position on the events in Longview. Among them:

  • disapproval of the shots fired by blacks from Mr. Jones’ home
  • disapproval of the article thought to be authored by Mr. Jones
  • opposition to the burning of black property
  • intention to prevent additional proper damage
  • approval of swift action by Governor Hobby
  • support of rangers and militia who had been sent to the area
  • delegation of Judge Bramlette, Sheriff Meredeth, and Mayor Bodenheim the authority to act with and advise the military officers


Names of white men who took part in the attack on Jones’ house that were discovered by investigations conducted. These men were arrested and charged with attempted murder. They were released on a $1000 bond each.


Names of white men who took part in burning black homes and the dance hall. These men were arrested and charged with arson. They were released on a $1000 bond each.


Names of black men who took part in the shooting from Jones’ house. These men were arrested and charged with assault with attempt to murder. They were placed temporarily in the county jail.

Both Jones and Davis left town and never returned.


Local leadership decided to explain the actions of the soldiers, officers and National Guardsmen  as well as the arrests to the community.

For the duration of the martial law period, no additional acts of violence were reported.

The black people who had been arrested were sent out of the county before martial law was lifted in order to protect them. They were accompanied by a general and a captain.


White men who were tried for their part in the riot activities.


Black men who were tried for their part in the riot activities.


Additional news-worthy incidents that happened as a result of the riot.


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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1834)

carouselOn Tuesday, August 12, 1834 a white mob consisting of several hundred people attacked a building in Philadelphia which housed the Flying Horses, a popular carousel that served both blacks and whites in the area. The mob destroyed the building and fought against any black people (and presumably others) who offered resistance in this attack.


Estimated people involved in this conflict. After the building that housed the Flying Horses was destroyed, this group moved out of the city and into a nearby district, Moyamensing. Moyamensing formed the core of black residents in the area. Here ensued destruction and pillaging.


The rioters were chiefly young men, some of them Irish, some with criminal records, who occupied some of the lowest paying jobs in the area and lived in close proximity to the Flying Horses.



In the depressed economy of 1834, blacks and the portion of the population who engaged in rioting were often in competition with each other for the scarce, low-paying  jobs that were available. This job competition contributed to tension between the groups.fourthousanddollars


Estimated damage caused as a result of the riot in 1834 dollars. Within the context of this poor area of Philadelphia, this damage was significant.


Special constables sworn in to restore peace once the rioting took hold.



Relevant events that occurred in the days leading up to the riot.

  • On August 8, a group of blacks attacked some members of the Fairmount Engine Company and took possession of some of their equipment.
  • On August 9, the son of one of Philadelphia’s prominent black families was attacked by a group of 50-60 young whites.
  • August 11, an altercation between a group of whites and a group of blacks happened at the Flying Horse.


Days of rioting that took place.



Rioters focused primarily on property. Homes were looted and destroyed. Also, churches were targeted. The justification for destroying the churches was grounded in complaints about the sounds associated with black worship services. Some community members found these sounds a nuisance and unnecessarily loud, or “disorderly and noisy.”


Whites who lived in the area where the rioting took place identified their property by placing candles in their windows to prevent it from being destroyed.

60Number of rioters who were arrested. Ten of these rioters were appeared in court.


Number of rioters who were fined, jailed or otherwise punished for their involvement with this riot.


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The N-word


I am no fool.

I knew that I would have to confront the n-word during some point in this project.

I just didn’t know that I would have to deal with it so early. There I was researching riot #1 when it first jumped out. Just like that.

I thought about putting this topic about it off for later, waiting, letting time help me figure out what to do here, what to say, but then I decided to just grab the bull by the horns. But then I got caught up in some other riots. Each time, I found the n-word. Again, this isn’t surprising at all, but it is a different experience to read it so many times in such a short period of time.

Because I am very uncomfortable with that particular word, I will not use it in the project. I will choose euphemism, making use of ellipses and square brackets. This way, I am able to communicate what I have read while indicating that I have made an edit to the text. There is one exception, though. Book titles. If the word is in the title of a book, I think that I’ll leave it if I feel the need to allude to said book.

Nobody said that this project was going to be comfortable.

This isn’t a decision that I flipped a coin and made. Historians typically don’t avoid the word. After all  if you’re studying history, you spend time with the words that were used. Primary documents include all of the things that time has deemed inappropriate, hateful, evil, wrong or what have you. It is a part of what you’re studying. So, in a sense, I’m breaking with some of the very traditions I’m turning to in order to frame the project.

I did my homework first, looking for books on the word. I was looking for an understanding of the word that went deeper than the one that I already had.

I began to read.

I long have understood that it is a racial slur, that has had a long history in the United States. It has also taken on some other uses, not without controversy. I hoped that this reading would help me to compose a concise post here about why I was making the decision I am here. What I learned instead is that it would require substantial research to get to that point. Considering the already daunting scope of this project that I’m not going to follow those numerous trails.

Besides, if the research that I’ve done so far says anything about the research that I’ll do during this project, I have the feeling that I’m about to be schooled on about 200 years of that explosive word’s usage.


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Miami, Florida (1980)


On the evening of May 16, 1979 Arthur McDuffie was riding his motorcycle when the police attempted to pull him over. A chase ensued at high speeds through a residential area. Eventually, McDuffie surrendered. Then he was beaten by police officers. He slipped into a coma and died a few days later.

Immediately following the incident, police officers took steps to cover up what happened. Officers ran over the motorcycle that McDuffie had been riding to make it look like McDuffie’s injuries were a result of him losing control of his bike.

The officer who had been dispatched to conduct a routine investigation of the scene found that upon his arrival that the scene had been “destroyed,” meaning that the scene had been cleaned up. This made it impossible for him to actually investigate.


Nevertheless, the county medical examiner was suspicious. He did not find the injuries that McDuffie sustained to be consistent with the story that the officers had told through the paperwork that they had submitted and statements they had made. The medical examiner thought that McDuffie appeared to have been beaten by a pipe, night stick, or heavy duty flashlight.


Officers suspended in connection with the McDuffie case.

Because of the media attention paid to the case, the police officers’ defense attorneys asked that the trial be moved out of Dade County. The trial took place in Tampa.

zeroNumber of black jurors in this case. The defense team used their peremptory challenges to ensure that no blacks would serve on this jury.

3Officers who were granted immunity for their testimony in the case.


Incidents of racial violence that might be described as mini riots that had occurred in Dade County, Florida in the 1970s.


Incidents that some black residents were aware of in the months leading up to the riot.

  • As a part of a drug raid Nathaniel Lafleur, a black  junior high school teacher’s home was entered.  In the process of this raid, Lafleur was pistol whipped and had a pistol held to his head. Police threw a bucket of water over him during this encounter, and roughed him up a bit. This search lasted over two hours. Ultimately, Lafleur was charged with resisting arrest and battery of a police officer. A loaded pistol was confiscated. No drugs were found.  His hospital visit following the incident suggested that he had suffered kidney damage during the encounter. The police had been mistaken, and had entered the wrong house.
  • Randy Heath, a young black man was driving with his sister when he made the decision to stop the car and relieve himself outdoors. As he stood next to a building, off-duty police officer Larry Shockley ordered Heath to put his hands against the wall. Shockley eventually stated that he had placed his cocked pistol behind Heath’s head, and that the gun accidentally went off, killing Heath. Heath was cited for negligence in mishandling his weapon, but the grand jury found no evidence for any criminal wrongdoing.
  • Willie T. Jones, a member of the Florida Highway Patrol stopped an eleven-year-old black girl who was walking home from school. He told her that she fit the description of a girl who had been seen stealing candy and ordered her into the back of his car where he fondled her. She reported this to her family. She was able to identify the officer who had molested her. He pleaded no contest to charges against him  and was allowed to resign from the force, and ordered to both attend counseling and to pay for any counseling that the young girl needed. Within months, it was determined that he no longer needed counseling. Then, he ceased paying for the girl’s counseling. At that point, the girl’s family went public with this incident, which they had avoided in an attempt to protect the girl. The case against Mr. Jones was reexamined. A federal grand jury indicted him for illegally arresting and sexually abusing the girl. Before Jones could be arrested, however, he fled the county.
  • Johnny Jones, Dade County’s first black superintendent, was charged with attempting to steal expensive plumbing fixtures for his own vacation home. Immediately following Jones’ indictment, Jones was removed from his position  When the case went to trial, the prosecution used their peremptory challenges to ensure that the jurors in this case were all white. Jones was found guilty of second degree grand theft. Many local blacks felt that his race determined the outcome of these events.

4Weeks of testimony presented in the trial associated with the Arthur McDuffie killing.



Time in hours it took for jurors to reach their decision. All officers were acquitted of all charges.

The evening of the verdict, rioting began. Liberty City, the black neighborhood where much of the rioting took place was a popular route through which many people drove to get from one side of Miami to the other. This neighborhood became a very dangerous place to be for white motorists during the rioting. Police, then, barricaded the entrances to the neighborhood trying to keep whites out in an attempt to protect them.


People killed during this riot, including one police officer who died of a heart attack as he performed his duties during this riot. Unlike in some of the urban riots that preceded this one, causing direct injury to individuals rather than property or other symbols of perceived injustice was present. Four whites were taken from their vehicles and beaten to death. Two whites were stoned to death, trapped in their cars. One white person was killed because someone set the car he was in on fire while he was in it. 1 light-skinned immigrant from Guyana, who may have been mistaken for a Cuban, was also burned to death.

During this time, the presence of Cubans in the area was a source of tension for some blacks. These people felt that their opportunities for jobs and advancement were eclipsed by the arrival of Cuban immigrants. Many of the Cubans who had come to Florida came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, meaning that in some cases the new inhabitants had a skill/experience advantage over much of the population in Liberty City, where the rioting occurred.


Minimum number of cars that were vandalized by police, spray painted with the words “looter” or “thief.” 5 officers were suspended because of this activity. Some of the cars that they vandalized were full of looted goods.


Square miles covered by a curfew intended to help cool down riotous activity.


Jobs lost as a result of this riot.


Estimated property loss for businesses during this riot.


Felony misdemeanor charges pursued because of this riot. Three jail terms resulted.


Businesses reported as looted and burned during this disturbance.


Amount that each of Arthur McDuffie’s children received as a part of a $1.1 million settlement with the Dade county commissioners in exchange for the family dropping a $25 million civil lawsuit against the county. McDuffie’s mother received $67,500. The family’s legal team received $483,833.






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Digging In



One of the major challenges of this project is deciding how far to delve into the facts of each riot.

The random number generator did me a favor with the first couple of riots. It’s just a bigger challenge to find information about some of these riots than it is to find information about others. Researching the Opelousos riot required me to read somebody’s masters thesis.

Currently, however, I am researching a more recent riot. There is so much information that I could take advantage of in this case.

The whole point of this project is to understand the conditions and the specific events that lead up to mass racial violence.

The other side of it, though, is that I need this project to be one that has a light at the end of the tunnel. Which brings me back to the question of how much research should I do? Where do I draw the line?

Already I have made a couple of Interlibrary Loan requests to get materials. I’ve solicited a special library for a piece of material. I’ve been making liberal use of the New York Times Historical Database. This weekend I realized that I could actually see the local newspapers that covered the riot that I’m researching. I can’t find it for the day after the riot, but I can for the several days following.

Many of these events could occupy months or even years of study. But, that is not the point of this project.

This question, of how far to dig in, I suspect will be a primary one here in the beginning of this pursuit.

In the meanwhile, I’ll resume reading The Miami Riot of 1980.

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Harlem, New York (1935)

16Age of Lino Rivera, the black Puerto Rican young man at the center of this event. On March 19, 1935, Mr. Rivera shoplifted a pen knife from a five and dime store. He was chased and caught by store employees.


Rivera didn’t take being caught calmly. He severely bit the hands of store employees who detained him. Their injuries were bad enough that they required medical attention.

A quick-thinking store manager decided that no good could come from  pressing charges against Rivera. Due to the number of people in the store, and the increasing energy of the group, Rivera was hustled out of a back door of the store where there wasn’t a crowd.



Rumors and coincidences that contributed to this event.

  • A woman shouting that Rivera was being beaten in the store.
  • An ambulance that showed up in order to address the wounds of the store employee who had been bitten seemed to support the rumor that the young man was had been beaten.
  • A hearse, which was reporting to a nearby address, was seen by the crowd, fueling the belief that the boy had been beaten to death.
  • The crowd thought that a boy of 10 or 12, depending on the version of the rumor, was beaten or beaten to death, depending on the version of the story, for stealing candy.


The crowd that had gathered in the store demanded that the boy be produced, proving that he had not been harmed. However, because Mr. Rivera had been let go, this was impossible. In response to this perceived injustice, shoppers began to turn over tables and otherwise destroy the store.


Number of blacks who had gathered around the store by late afternoon. During this time, there were confrontations between blacks and whites, and also between police and rioters. During this time, communist groups came to the area in an attempt to encourage solidarity between blacks and whites, suggesting instead that united they turn their anger toward the local merchants and toward the city’s leaders.


Number of police officers working the streets in response to this incident.


People who died as a result of this riot, depending on which sources you consult.


Arrests made by 2:30 AM on March 20 in connection with this event.



Plate glass windows smashed during this event.


Businesses destroyed during this riot.


Main underlying reasons cited as the cause of this event as in the report created by a commission that had been created to investigate the riot’s causes, “The Negro in Harlem: A Report on Social and Economic Conditions Responsible for the Outbreak of March 19, 1935.”

  • injustices of discrimination in employment
  • aggressions of the police
  • racial segregation

This riot is called by some the first of the “modern” riots,  the mob violence directed chiefly at property rather than individuals. This riot was also called by others the end of the Harlem Renaissance.



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Opelousas, Louisiana (1868)


September 29, 1868.

Emerson Bentley was a teacher and newspaper editor. He was the English editor of the St. Landry Progress, a Republican paper. This paper supported universal suffrage and equal rights for the recently freed black population. The white population of St. Landry Parish was overwhelmingly Democratic; as a result Bentley, his writing and even his teaching was a source of tension in the area.


Number of people who regularly came to the clubhouse attached to the St. Landry Progress office for Republican Party weekly meetings.


Estimated membership in to the Knights of the White Camelia group, a secret society similar to the Ku Klux Klan, as estimated by the Opelousas Courier, the parish’s Democratic newspaper. The stated goals of the Knights of the White Camelia were to preserve the “white man’s government” and to protect the region against “the uprising of the blacks” if necessary.


Major fears of the Democratic party in the summer before the event in Opelousas.

  • White Radical Republicans through “incendiary speech” and late night meetings, would provoke freedmen into riotous behavior.
  • The freedmen would burn down the town and kill the white residents within.

50Police pistols or revolvers that were said to be contained in a shipment of arms reported to arrive in St. Landry via a boat from New Orleans. These arms were allegedly to prepare white residents for an impending black uprising.

overathousandNumber of people who were rumored to attend a Republican meeting on September 13 in Washington, Louisiana (6 miles from Opelousas). In response, parish whites armed themselves believing that blacks intended to burn Washington to the ground and murder the inhabitants.

zeroViolence that occurred during this meeting.


Armed whites reported to be hidden in the woods ready to take action if necessary.


In the next few days, local Democratic leaders expressed to Emerson Bentley that their armed presence at the Republican meeting was preventative in nature, and that was how it should be reported in the St.Landry Progress, or else Bentley “would be held personally responsible.”


Main terms in a peace treaty signed on September 19 between Democrats and Republicans following the meeting in Washington.

  • Democrat and Republican meetings would allow all parish citizens to be included.
  • No “incendiary” comments were allowed whether in newspapers or in speeches.
  • Firearms were not allowed in any meetings or processions.
  • Alcohol was not to be served at meetings or at locations near the meetings.

However, that day Bentley’s article about the events of September 13 appeared in the St. Landry Progress, and Democrats felt that it violated the terms of the peace treaty.



Men who went to see Emerson Bentley on September 28 at the school where he taught. They stated that Bentley broke the terms of the peace treaty with his article and demanded a retraction. Bentley signed the retraction, understanding that he was outnumbered, but the three men also beat him, hitting him approximately 30 times.

The children at the school fled the schoolhouse, and believed that Bentley was dead, a rumor that spread throughout the community.


Weeks it took for Bentley to escape Opelousas. This escape involved hiding behind the St. Landry Progress office, hiding in weeds, enduring a period of more that 33 hours without food or drink. He was chased by a body of armed men and hid in a series of safehouses. Finally, he made his way to Plaquemines Parish and from there was able to board a steamer to New Orleans.

With no evidence of Bentley’s body around, rumors of his murder continued to spread. Local Democratic leaders armed themselves with the goal of preventing any Republicans from organizing. In fear of a black insurrection, groups of armed men went from house to house searching for black people whom they arrested or worse.


Number of armed black men that one group of armed Democrats found. The Democrats ordered the black men to surrender their arms and to come with them. The black leader refused and gave the order to open fire. In this skirmish, one black man died, one horse died, and several parties on both sides were injured. 8 blacks were captured and taken to the local courthouse and later jailed.


Organized armed blacks found after this skirmish.


Number of whites who had gathered in Opelousas prepared for armed conflict.

By September 29, most black homes were abandoned. Their residents had either been taken away or had fled the area.


Number of blacks who had been rounded up  and sent to prison in this time.


Of the aforementioned prisoners who were ultimately separated from this group of 29 and survived. The remaining prisoners were removed from their cells at night and shot in small groups in the woods where their bodies were left for several days, then shoddily buried, buzzards feeding on the body parts that were never fully covered.

fireThe materials used to produce the St. Landry Progress were destroyed and/or set on fire, quieting the Republican voice in the region. Also, the school were Bentley had taught was destroyed.

After September 28, no black person could travel into Opelousas without a red ribbon tied around their arm, a symbol that they had converted to the Democratic party. Blacks also filed protection papers which declared them to be members of a Democratic club which entitled them to the “friendship, confidence, and protection of all good Democrats.”



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Phoenix, South Carolina (1898)


November 1898.



Black to white ratio in the general area of Greenwood County, South Carolina.


Years since changes to the South Carolina constitution that raised the voting requirements. One needed to be able to answer any questions about constitutional provisions asked and one needed to pass a literacy test. Anyone whose grandfather had been able to vote, however, did not need to pass the new qualifications.


The Tolbert family was a Republican family which was virtually unheard of in white post-Reconstruction South Carolina. While the Tolberts had served their time during the Civil War in the Confederate army, they had disagreed with secession and had been known to vote for President Grant in the 1868 election. Additionally, this family owned considerable land, paid higher wages than other landowners did, and even had black tenant farmers in a community where some whites were unable to achieve the means to farm. These factors meant that the Tolberts were well-known (infamous?). This also meant that the Tolberts, at times, suffered threats and property damage, including arson, at the hands of other community members.

One of them, Robert R. Tolbert  was running for a seat in Congress during this election. Other Tolberts planned to, on election day, station themselves at polling spots and take affidavits from black would-be voters who were not allowed to vote in the election. At this time, blacks tended to vote overwhelmingly Republican. The intention here was to use the affidavits in order to challenge Robert Tolbert’s expected defeat.


Types of affidavits being collected.

  • One for illiterate people.
  • One for those who had not been allowed to register.
  • One for those who, though registered, had not been allowed to cast a vote.



Judges from a nearby polling place who traveled to Phoenix in order to persuade Thomas Tolbert to leave the polling place and stop taking affidavits: J. I. “Bose” Ethridge and Robert Cheatham.


A scuffle ensued. During this scuffle, Thomas Tolbert was hit in the head. Another man, fell off of the porch. Shots were fired. During this scuffle, J. I. “Bose” Ethridge was murdered, and Thomas Tolbert repeatedly shot.


Accounts of who likely shot those first shots:

  • Will White, one of the black men who was on the porch of the store with Thomas Tolbert on election day.
  • Joe Circuit, one of the black men who was on the porch of the store with Thomas Tolbert on election day.
  • Robert Cheatham, one of the white judges who came to the scene to persuade Thomas Tolbert to stop taking affidavits.

questionRumors that influenced the outcomes of this event.

  • There were hundreds of armed blacks who were hiding out intending to murder the local whites.
  • Joe Circuit, the man who by some accounts fired into the crowd on election day, was going to be appointed to some office.


White men who were shot at from the surrounding woods as they rode home from Phoenix, South Carolina on election night. Many local whites believed that the shooters were part of a group of armed blacks who were preparing for battle with the local whites.


Black men lynched near Rehoboth church, the church where the Tolberts worshipped, in retaliation for the murder of Mr. Ethridge.


Estimated count of other blacks who were killed in the following weeks.


People who were charged for the aforementioned deaths.


Places where telephone lines were cut the evening that the above events transpired, which hampered the communication that had been effective in convening a mob.

The next morning there was a mob of between 600 and 1,000 men looking to kill Thomas Tolbert and blacks from the area who were associated with the election day events.


Blacks driven from Tolbert farms and other big landowners during this time of turmoil.Eventually, the out-migration of many black people from the area began to impact the local economy. It created a labor shortage. Here, the narrative of the story shifted, many more explicitly blaming the Tolbert family more directly for the violence that had occurred.


The result of the vote that gave birth to this incident. A.C. Latimer, Democrat defeated Robert R. Tolbert for a congressional seat.

People injured during the events of this riot.

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