Ghetto riots (1964–1969)

The term ghetto riots, also termed ghetto rebellions, race riots, or negro riots refers to summer social unrest across the United States in the mid-to-late 1960s, characterized by African American groups using violent tactics.[1][2]

Ghetto riots
Part of political violence in the United States during the Cold War
Man arrested during the Watts riots
Date16 July 1964 – 29 July 1969
Caused by
MethodsWidespread rioting, looting, assault, arson, property damage

The six days of unrest throughout New York City during the Harlem riot of 1964 is viewed as the first of clusters of riots, uncoordinated with each other, evidently unplanned, most often in cities during the summer months. The pattern caused 159 separate incidents of violence and unrest over the long, hot summer of 1967 (the most destructive riots taking place in Detroit and Newark), came to a climax during the national wave of King assassination riots in over 100 American cities in 1968, and relented in 1969.

History edit

Background edit

Before the ghetto riots of the 1960s, African American violent resistance to challenge white dominance was much more limited, including only small slave rebellions and armed defenses in the early 1900s. Most of these actions were defensive in nature rather than retaliatory, it was not until the Harlem riots of 1935 and 1943 that African Americans seemed to take initiative in violent conflicts. By the 1950s and 1960s significant societal changes had taken place which fostered conditions for much more open rebellion.[2] Recent urban decay caused by white flight and middle-class Black flight from city centers also antagonized lower-class minority populations who had struggled to migrate to cities.[3]

Riots edit

The Harlem riot in 1964 is seen as the beginning of a wave of civil unrest that would engulf New York City and begin to be seen in cities throughout the country until calming in 1968 with the last being the King assassination riots. These urban riots were unplanned and mostly attacked property of white owned businesses rather than people, before this most American riots involved brutal attacks against minorities. The riots resulted in over 150 deaths and over 20,000 arrests.[3][4]

Soldiers direct traffic away from an area of South Central Los Angeles burning during the 1965 Watts riot.
The aftermath of a race riot in Washington, D.C., April 1968

The momentum for the advancement of civil rights came to a sudden halt with riots in the Watts district of Los Angeles in 1965. After 34 people were killed and $35 million (equivalent to $338.39 million in 2023) in property was damaged, the public feared an expansion of the violence to other cities, and so the appetite for additional programs in President Lyndon Johnson's agenda was lost.[5][6]

In what is known as the "Long hot summer of 1967," more than 150 riots erupted across the United States.[7] The Boston Globe called it "a revolution of black Americans against white Americans, a violent petition for the redress of long-standing grievances." The Globe asserted that Great Society legislation had affected little fundamental improvement.[8] The Newark riots left 26 dead and 1,500 injured.[8] The Detroit riot resulted in 43 deaths, 2250 injuries, 4,000 arrests, and millions of dollars' worth of property damage. Governor George Romney sent in 7,400 national guard troops to quell fire bombings, looting, and attacks on businesses and police. Johnson finally sent in federal troops with tanks and machine guns.[9] Whites and blacks took part in the riots, but most of the rioters were African Americans who objected to discrimination in housing, employment, and education.[10] At an August 2, 1967 cabinet meeting, Attorney General Ramsey Clark warned that untrained and undisciplined local police forces and National Guardsmen might trigger a "guerrilla war in the streets," as evidenced by the climate of sniper fire in Newark and Detroit.[11][12][13][14]

The April 4, 1968, assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. sparked another wave of violent protests in more than 130 cities across the country.[15] A few days later, in a candid comment made to press secretary George Christian concerning the endemic social unrest in the nation's cities, President Johnson remarked, "What did you expect? I don't know why we're so surprised. When you put your foot on a man's neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what's he going to do? He's going to knock your block off."[16] Congress, meanwhile, passed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which increased funding for law enforcement agencies and authorized wiretapping in certain situations. Johnson considered vetoing the bill, but the apparent popularity of the bill convinced him to sign it.[17] In August 1969, federal officials considered the period of large-scale riots to be over.[18]

Kerner Commission edit

The riots confounded many civil rights activists of both races due to the recent passage of major civil rights legislation. They also caused a backlash among Northern whites, many of whom stopped supporting civil rights causes.[19] President Johnson formed an advisory commission, informally known as the Kerner Commission, on July 28, 1967 to explore the causes behind the recurring outbreaks of urban civil disorder.[20][21] The commission's scope included the 164 disorders occurring in the first nine months of 1967. The president had directed them, in simple words, to document what happened, find out why it happened, and find out how to prevent it.[22]

The commission's 1968 report identified police practices, unemployment and underemployment, and lack of adequate housing as the most significant grievances motivating the rage.[23] It suggested legislative measures to promote racial integration and alleviate poverty and concluded that the nation was "moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal."[24] The president, fixated on the Vietnam War and keenly aware of budgetary constraints, barely acknowledged the report.[9]

Reactions edit

Conservative elements of American society regarded the riots as evidence for the need of law and order. Richard Nixon made social order a prime issue in his campaign for president.[25]

The mayor of Jersey City (Thomas J. Whelan) instead saw the riots as an indicator that more social programs were needed for the city and in 1964 asked for federal funds to provide "new recreational, housing, educational and sanitary facilities for low‐income groups".[26]

Federal grants for "urban renewal and antipoverty efforts", as in New Haven, were also discussed in relation to the riots.[27] In August 1968, over $4 million were offered by the Justice Department to the states in what was described as "the first Federal money designated to prepare for and help avert rioting in the cities".[28] In April 1969, John Lindsay asked to increase federal funds[29] but as of November 1969 the $200 million promised to restore 20 cities had not yet come to fruition.[30]

Research edit

Cause of riots edit

Many rioters can be seen as disillusioned African Americans whose families may have moved to cities to find better living conditions but after generations remained stuck in urban ghettos with little economic mobility.[31] Local troubles with access to decent housing and work along with other factors like police harassment made urban areas ripe for violence.[3]

Immediate causes were often aggressive confrontations between African Americans and whites or police officers that drew a crowd and began to spiral into violence and chaos.[31]

In July 1963, demonstrations in Brooklyn for better working conditions in the construction industry had reportedly risked escalating to riots.[32]

Dynamics of riots edit

Rioters often acted collectively, destroying property they viewed as being owned by those exploiting them. Police officers often were seen as the greatest antagonists to rioters because their actions and racist language became symbols of the oppressive conditions faced by African Americans.[31]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Louis C Goldberg (1968). "Ghetto Riots and Others: the Faces of Civil Disorder in 1967". Journal of Peace Research. 5 (2): 116–131. doi:10.1177/002234336800500202. S2CID 144309056.
  2. ^ a b David Boesel (1970). "The Liberal Society, Black Youths, and the Ghetto Riots". Psychiatry. 33 (2): 265–281. doi:10.1080/00332747.1970.11023628. PMID 5443881.
  3. ^ a b c Joseph Boskin (1969). "The Revolt of the Urban Ghettos, 1964-1967". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 382: 1–14. doi:10.1177/000271626938200102. JSTOR 1037109. S2CID 145786180.
  4. ^ Janine Lang (2019). ""Riot" Heritage of the Civil Rights Era". doi:10.7916/d8-sjrt-2987. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Dallek 1998, pp. 222–223
  6. ^ "Lyndon B. Johnson: The American Franchise". Charlottesville, Virginia: Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. October 4, 2016. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  7. ^ McLaughlin, Malcolm (2014). The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137269638.
  8. ^ a b Dallek (1998), p. 412.
  9. ^ a b McLaughlin, Malcolm (2014). The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America. New York City: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1–9, 40–41. ISBN 978-1-137-26963-8.
  10. ^ Patterson (1996), pp. 663–665.
  11. ^ Hinton, Elizabeth (2016). From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America. Harvard University Press. p. 108.
  12. ^ Flamm, Michael W. (2017). In the Heat of the Summer: The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 276.
  13. ^ Bigart, Homer (July 16, 1967). "Newark Riot Deaths at 21 As Negro Sniping Widens; Hughes May Seek U.S. Aid". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Roberts, Gene (July 26, 1967). "Troops Battle Detroit Snipers, Firing Machine Guns From Tanks; Lindsay Appeals To East Harlem; Detroit Toll Is 31 Rioters Rout Police-- Guardsmen Released To Aid Other Cities". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Walsh, Michael. "Streets of Fire: Governor Spiro Agnew and the Baltimore City Riots, April 1968". Teaching American History in Maryland. Annapolis, Maryland: Maryland State Archives. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
  16. ^ Kotz, Nick (2005). Judgment days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the laws that changed America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 418. ISBN 0-618-08825-3.
  17. ^ Patterson (1996), p. 651.
  18. ^ Herbers, John (August 24, 1969). "U.S. OFFICIALS SAY BIG RIOTS ARE OVER; Large-City Negro Leaders Now Oppose Violence, but Racial Tensions Remain". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2020. Federal officials believe that the era of large-scale urban rioting of the kind seen in Los Angeles, Detroit and Newark in recent years has come to a close.
  19. ^ Mackenzie and Weisbrot (2008), pp. 337–338
  20. ^ Mackenzie and Weisbrot (2008), p. 335
  21. ^ Toonari. "Kerner Report". Africana Online. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved November 23, 2009.
  22. ^ Johnson, Lyndon B. (July 29, 1967). Woolley, John T.; Peters, Gerhard (eds.). "Remarks Upon Signing Order Establishing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders". The American Presidency Project. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California.
  23. ^ Alice George. "The 1968 Kerner Commission Got It Right, But Nobody Listened".
  24. ^ ""Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal": Excerpts from the Kerner Report". History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web. Source: United States. Kerner Commission, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968). American Social History Productions. Retrieved July 12, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  25. ^ Clay Risen (April 4, 2008). "The legacy of the 1968 riots".
  26. ^ "Jersey City Mayor Calls for U.s. Funds". The New York Times. August 10, 1964. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  27. ^ "NEW HAVEN RIOTS HIT 'MODEL CITY'; Grant for Urban Renewal Is Largest per Capita in U.S." The New York Times. August 21, 1967. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  28. ^ "U.S. Offers States $4.35-Million To Help Avert Rioting in Cities". The New York Times. August 14, 1968. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  29. ^ Carroll, Maurice (April 11, 1969). "Lindsay Presses U.S. on Riot Repairs". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2020. Mayor Lindsay prodded the Nixon Administration yesterday to come up with "far more" than the millions of dollars promised earlier this week to repair riot-wrecked neighborhoods.
  30. ^ Herbers, John (November 18, 1969). "Cities Lag in Riot Clean-Up Despite U.S. Aid Program". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2020. Seven months after President Nixon announced that $200million had been earmarked for a special effort to begin cleaning and refurbishing riot-damaged areas in 20 cities, the target areas appear pretty much as they were then -- firescarred, boarded up buildings and rubble-strewn lots and streets.
  31. ^ a b c Herbert J Gans (1968). "The Ghetto Rebellions and Urban Class Conflict". Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science. 29 (1): 42–51. doi:10.2307/3700905. JSTOR 3700905.
  32. ^ Bigart, Homer (August 1, 1963). "NEAR-RIOT FLARES IN RACE PROTEST AT PROJECT HERE; Pickets Hit and Kick Police in Brooklyn After Blocking Street 22 Arrested MINISTER HALTS CROWD 3 More in Sit-In Are Ousted at City Hall U.S. Report Finds Union Job Bias". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2020. A riot was narrowly averted in Brooklyn yesterday as civil rights demonstrators continued to press for more jobs for Negroes and Puerto Ricans in the construction industry.