On the afternoon of July 27, 1919, Eugene Williams, a black youth, drowned off the 29th Street beach. A stone-throwing melee between blacks and whites on the beach prevented the boy from coming ashore safely. After clinging to a railroad tie for a lengthy period, he drowned when he no longer had the strength to hold on. This was the finding of the Cook County Coroner's Office after an inquest was held into the cause of death. William Tuttle, Jr.'s book, Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919, includes a 1969 interview with an eyewitness. This witness was one of the boys swimming and playing with Eugene Williams in Lake Michigan between 26th Street and the 29th Street Beach. He recalled having rocks thrown at them by a single white male standing on a breakwater 75 feet from their raft. Eugene was struck in the forehead and as his friend attempted to aid him, Eugene panicked and drowned.
The man on the breakwater left, running toward the 29th Street Beach. By this time rioting had already erupted there precipitated by vocal and physical demonstrations against a group of blacks that wanted to use the beach in defiance of its tacit designation as a "white" beach. The rioting escalated when a white police officer refused to arrest the white man, by now identified as the perpetrator of the separate incident near 26th Street. Instead he arrested a black individual. Anger over this, coupled with rumors and innuendoes that spread in both camps regarding Eugene Williams death led to 5 days of rioting in Chicago that ultimately claimed the lives of 23 blacks and 15 whites, with 291 wounded and maimed. The Coroner's Office spent 70-day sessions and 20 night sessions on inquest work and in examining 450 witnesses. Those findings, reported in the Coroner's Report of 1919 are followed by his recommendations to deal with the festering social and economic conditions that were the underlying factors of the riots.
Tulsa Race Riot of 1921
On May 31, 1921, Dick Rowland, a black shoe-shiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a white elevator operator in the Drexel Building. Following Rowland's arrest and the publication of a false newspaper story asserting sexual assault, mobs of blacks and whites gathered near the jail, with the whites intending to lynch Rowland and the blacks to defend him. An alleged eyewitness' account claims that the violence started when a white man was killed while trying to wrest a gun from a black man. This happened in the racially and politically tense atmosphere of northeastern Oklahoma. The area was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity at the time. White mobs invaded the segregated black part of town and destroyed the Greenwood district, known nationally as the "Black Wall Street" for its economic success. Hundreds of people were killed; dozens of businesses, 1,256 homes, many churches and a hospital were destroyed, in an area covering 35 blocks. Estimates of the dead range up to 300. After the governor declared martial law, black people were rounded up by the National Guard and put into the baseball stadium. Several black families fled for more peaceful cities. No one was ever arrested or charged in the mass murder and arson that happened that day, although many white Tulsans to this day know who the perpetrators were and simply refuse to say it. This is because many of those responsible were the pillars of the community.
The Watts Riot
The Watts Riot began on August 11, 1965 in Los Angeles, California when the Los Angeles Police pulled over Frye, whom they suspected of drunk driving. While police questioned Frye and his brother, a group of people began to gather around the scene. A struggle ensued shortly after Frye's mother Rena arrived on the scene, resulting in the arrest of all three family members. Police used their batons to subdue Frye and his brother, angering the growing crowd. Shortly after police left, tensions boiled over and the rioting began. What followed was six days of rioting that claimed the lives of 34 people, injured 1,100 and caused an estimated 100 million dollars in damage.
Detroit Riot of 1967
The Detroit Riot of 1967 began when police vice squad officers executed a raid on an after hours drinking club or "blind pig" in a predominantly black neighborhoods located at Twelfth Street and Clairmount Avenue. They were expecting to round up a few patrons, but instead found 82 people inside holding a party for two returning Vietnam veterans. Yet, the officers attempted to arrest everyone who was on the scene. While the police awaited a "clean-up crew" to transport the arrestees, a crowd gathered around the establishment in protest. After the last police car left, a small group of men who were "confused and upset because they were kicked out of the only place they had to go" lifted up the bars of an adjacent clothing store and broke the windows. From this point of origin, further reports of vandalism diffused. Looting and fires spread through the Northwest side of Detroit, then crossed over to the East Side. Within 48 hours, the National Guard was mobilized, to be followed by the 82nd airborne on the riot's fourth day. As police and military troops sought to regain control of the city, violence escalated. At the conclusion of 5 days of rioting, 43 people lay dead, 1189 injured and over 7000 people had been arrested. The origins of urban unrest in Detroit were rooted in a multitude of political, economic, and social factors including police abuse, lack of affordable housing, urban renewal projects, economic inequality, black militancy, and rapid demographic change.
The Los Angeles Riots of 1992
On April 29, 1992, twelve jurors in Sylmar, California rendered their verdicts in a controversial case involving the 1991 beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers. The case had received heavy media coverage dating from before it even went to trial, when a video of the beating hit the national airwaves. It came as a surprise then, as the verdicts were read: One of the officers was found guilty of excessive force; the other officers were cleared of all charges.
The verdicts were broadcast live, and word spread quickly throughout Los Angeles. At various points throughout the city that afternoon, people began rioting. For the next three days the violence and mayhem continued. Mayor Tom Bradley imposed a curfew, schools and businesses were closed. Governor Pete Wilson dispatched 4,000 National Guard troops to patrol the streets. People stayed home, watching television with the rest of the country as live TV coverage showed fires raging throughout the city, innocent bystanders being assaulted and looters sacking businesses.
On Monday, May 4, schools and businesses reopened and life returned to some semblance of normality. The toll from the worst civil unrest LA had experienced since 1965 was devastating: more than 50 killed, over four thousand injured, 12,000 people arrested, and 1 billion dollars in property damage.