The story

How the Police Shooting of a Black Soldier Triggered the 1943 Harlem Riots


In 1943, the United States, heavily engaged in the fight against Nazism and fascism in World War II, was also dealing with a serious conflict at home. Black Americans across the country faced segregation, discrimination and economic hardship. Though the struggle for equality was heavily concentrated in the Deep South, black people in the North faced debilitating racial oppression as well.

Harlem, a neighborhood celebrated for its conclave of black artists and scholars, had undergone a dramatic demographic shift in the decades leading up to World War II. According to census data, in 1910, black people represented 10 percent of the Central Harlem population, while white people comprised 90 percent. By 1940, after millions of black people had migrated from the South for a better life up North, the numbers had reversed.

Central Harlem’s black population skyrocketed to 89 percent, while the white population dipped to 10 percent. Yet, despite the white flight, the majority of businesses in Harlem remained white-owned and housing and job prospects for black Americans became continuously bleak.

Altercation at the Braddock Hotel Leads to Shooting










On the evening of August 1, 1943, years of racial oppression in Harlem erupted in the lobby of the Braddock Hotel located on West 126 Street. Once a popular destination for black celebrities and musicians in the 1920s, the hotel had declined in stature and developed a reputation for prostitution.

That night, a black woman named Marjorie Polite, checked into the establishment. Unhappy with her room, Polite requested another one, but it too didn’t meet her standards. After she received a refund for her accommodations and checked out, Polite asked for the $1 tip back, which she allegedly had given to the elevator operator. After he refused to return it, Polite began to argue.

James Collins, a white policer officer who patrolled the hotel, reportedly grabbed Polite’s arm and tried to arrest her for disorderly conduct. Florine Roberts, a guest at the hotel who was a domestic worker from Connecticut in town visiting her son, witnessed the confrontation and tried to help Polite. When her son, Robert Bandy, a soldier in the 703 Military Police Unit in Jersey City, arrived at the hotel to take his mother to dinner, he saw the altercation and intervened.

In his book, The Harlem Riot of 1943, Dominic Capeci, a professor emeritus from Missouri State University, describes the evening’s events, including an account of the different versions that Collins and Bandy gave about the altercation. The official police report stated that Bandy threatened and attacked Collins, who in turn shot Bandy in the arm after he attempted to flee. Bandy, however, stated that he intervened when Collins pushed Polite and threw his nightstick, which Bandy caught. When he hesitated to return the weapon, Collins shot him. Police came to the scene and both men were taken to the hospital.

Rumors Sweep Through Harlem

A rumor rapidly spread that a white police officer shot and killed Bandy, when in fact, he was treated for a superficial wound. Crowds of Harlem residents, unaware of the truth, gathered around the neighborhood, enraged that a white patrolman had killed a black soldier.

“The unconfirmed rumors swept like a wildfire across Harlem,” says Michael Flamm, a history professor at Ohio Wesleyan University and author of In the Heat of the Summer: The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime. “They ignited a tinder that was already existing in the community. There was frustration in the sense that black Americans were fighting and dying to win a war against fascism overseas, while racism remained unchecked in the United States.”

Pervasive Inequities Fueled Frustration, Looting

People took to the streets, looting and vandalizing property—similar to the Harlem Riot of 1935, which marked a new form of uprising, in that it wasn’t an interracial fight between opposing groups, but an attack on property and business, says Capeci.

Unlike previous riots of the early 20th century that typically involved violent white mobs descending onto black neighborhoods, the Harlem Riot of 1935 and 1943 marked a turning point when black people expressed their outrage over their conditions by attacking property, another representation of inequality in their community.

“There were black shoppers, but there were no blacks being employed,” says Capeci. “Blacks are basically responding to this build-up of unfairness as they see it. All of these snubs, all of these put downs, all of these mistreatments. You're feeling them in any number of ways, from the job you have, to the income you don't have.”

The amount of damages in the riot was estimated to be upwards of $5 million in today's dollars, the equivalent of hundreds of thousands in 1943, with mostly white-owned businesses destroyed.

“What do these businesses mean?” says Nikki Jones, a professor in African American Studies at University of California, Berkeley. “They could be seen as a symbol of the exploitation, both economic exploitation and social exploitation. Another place in which black people are alienated and excluded.”

New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who had already mandated riot training for city police, in response to the devastating riot that had occurred in Detroit months before, deployed 6,600 police officers to Harlem, who were joined by 8,000 National Guardsmen and some volunteers. The rioting, contained to Harlem alone, lasted for 12 hours. Six black residents were killed by the police and approximately 200 people were injured.

Harlem would experience another riot in 1964.

WATCH: A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day on HISTORY Vault


A Brief History Of Past Protests Against Police Brutality In NYC—And How The NYPD Responded

As Henry Luna watched an entirely peaceful protest in Mott Haven on June 4th spiral into a bloody melee, with NYPD squads in riot gear beating and macing trapped protesters at random, he recalled never having seen anything like the militarized response in the last five years of marching against police brutality.

It almost felt like pent-up anger. it was rage,” said Luna, a 55-year-old organizer with NYC Shut It Down. An officer punched Luna in the head, he said, and he lost a tooth and has hearing loss in one ear. “We’ve been brutalized, but not at this level, this is another level.”

To be sure, the NYPD has arrested protesters en masse in the past, including their sweeping crackdown at the Republican National Convention in 2004 (resulting in an $18 million settlement), and the clearing of Zuccotti Park in 2011 during Occupy Wall Street. But civil liberties advocates say the NYPD's systematic and citywide use of pepper spray and batons during the first ten days of protests against racist police violence represents a new level of brutality not seen in generations.

Chris Dunn, the legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the NYPD’s response to protesters “shocking and unprecedented” in modern times.

“I don’t think in 50 years we had the level of protest we’ve seen in New York City,” he said. “We certainly have not seen the level of police violence directed at protesters.”

But while the police crackdown on protests may be shocking for our recent memory, it follows a long history of violent clashes between NYC police and protesters that extends more than a century.

“The violence is always blamed on looters, it’s always blamed on the people who are attacking property,” said Clarence Taylor, a professor emeritus of history at Baruch College and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. “We feel that we need police to go in there and stop that, but police go beyond that.”

Harlem Riots of 1943

In August of 1943, a white policeman shot a Black World War II veteran. Crowds flooded the streets, hurling stones at police officers and store windows and causing an estimated $5 million in property damage. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia said the riots were “instigated and artificially simulated,” and the Manhattan District Attorney William Dodge blamed radicals, but Harlem leaders disagreed.

"[The] blind smoldering and unorganized resentment against Jim Crow treatment of Negro men in the armed forces,” was to blame, according to the Harlem Councilman at the time, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. “And the unusual high rents and cost of living forced upon the Negroes of Harlem."

La Guardia brought in thousands of police officers, National Guardsmen, and civilian volunteers to quell the mayhem. He implemented a 10:30 p.m. curfew in the neighborhood and lifted the wartime blackout so the NYPD could light up the area’s darkened streets. By the end of the turmoil, five people had been killed by police and hundreds more were injured.

"As you know a great many of the stores had their windows broken, and unfortunately there was a great deal of looting this was done by small bands of hoodlums and rowdies," La Guardia told New Yorkers in a radio broadcast soon after. “We have the situation under complete control, thanks to the very splendid and intelligent work of our police department.” Over 300 were arrested in one night, the mayor said.

Riots of 1964

A little over two decades later, James Powell, a 15-year-old Black teenager, was killed by a white off-duty police lieutenant on the Upper East Side. Again looting and property damage followed, first in Harlem, then in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and South Jamaica, Queens. Rioters on buildings threw bricks and bottles at police officers below. This time, the NYPD responded with gunfire.

“Police ran out of bullets, and they had to wait for a truck to come so they could reload and continue shooting,” Taylor, the history professor, said. Hundreds were injured and one person was killed. Mayor Robert F. Wagner defended the police’s use of force, saying it was done on behalf of the people of Harlem.

I saw the boarded up windows. I saw the crowds, the itinerant gangs, the residents clustered on their stoops looking fearfully out of their windows,” he said. “It is their persons and their property that along with all other persons and property that the police are under obligation to protect with all the force that is necessary and justified.”

But prominent African-American leaders criticized how police handled the situation.

“The police must be discerning,” said James Farmer, the National Director of the Congress of Racial Equality during a WNBC roundtable following the riot. “It is their primary responsibility to protect the innocent, rather [than] to have a blanket oppression against people who happen to be in the streets at the time.”

Farmer had tried to contact Governor Nelson Rockefeller to call in the state’s National Guard, to protect Harlem residents against police, but Rocklefeller, who was vacationing in Wyoming at the time, couldn’t be reached.

Protests of the Late 1990s

Protests against police brutality gripped New York City again in the late ➐s, after an NYPD officer sodomized Abner Louima with a broomstick in 1997. Two years later, four NYPD officers fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 22-year-old in the Bronx who was killed outside his Bronx home. Both incidents prompted large-scale marches and sit-ins.

Led by Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, the demonstrations placed a strict emphasis on nonviolent civil disobedience, largely avoiding property damage and major clashes with the police.

“Thirteen hundred people, that we had get arrested at 1 Police Plaza, all peacefully done, but that made a very powerful message,” said Michael Hardy, general counsel and executive vice president of Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Protests Following Killing of George Floyd

Like New York City mayors before him, Bill de Blasio has stood by the NYPD during the present moment of anger at the NYPD and police brutality. He described their response as “restrained” 37 times over the course of the first week of protests. Even when his own staffers offered eyewitness accounts of peaceful protesters being attacked, de Blasio appeared to side with the NYPD.

“I want minimum intervention, minimum force, lots of restraint,” the mayor said at a June 5th press conference. “That's what we're seeing. And I've heard plenty of examples of police negotiating, communicating, and getting it right. And that's what we want to see in New York City.”

In a video message to NYPD officers published on Twitter and Facebook, NYPD Chief of Department Terrance Monahan offered his own justification for the department’s use of force.

“The attacks on our police officers the stresses that you were under every day to bring order to the streets,” Monahan said. “We did what needed to be done to bring this city back.”

But Hardy, with the National Action Network, pushed back on Monahan’s logic.

“If your reaction to the violence is to be violent, that’s not gonna help solve anything,” Hardy said. “If you’re engaging, in more democratically motivated policing, then you try to come up with tactics that will deescalate and not escalate.”

Andy Lanset, WNYC’s Director of Archives, assisted in production of this report.


1943 HARLEM RIOT KILLED 5, HURT 500 It Began When a Policeman Shot a Negro Soldier

Last night's disorder in Harlem was in some ways reminiscent of the bloody Harlem rioting of Aug. 1, 1943.

The widespread fighting, shooting and looting on that Sunday night were touched off when a Negro soldier was shot in the shoulder by a policeman.

Five persons were killed and 500 were injured. There was an estimated loss of $5 million in property damage.

Although the rioting ranged throughout the western part of the Negro ghetto, it centered near the 123d Street precinct house, where more than 100 persons were booked for looting and vandalism.

For days after the rioting, 6,000 city policemen, military policemen and air raid wardens patrolled the streets of Harlem.

In addition, 1,500 civilian volunteers, most of them Negroes, were armed with nightsticks and assigned to beats. And 8,000 members of the New York State National Guard were under orders to stand by at armories.

All this was done after Mayor La Guardia had broadcast appeals to the people of Harlem for the maintenance of law and order.

For four days after the rioting, a 10:30 P.M. curfew was set for the area between 110th and 155th Streets and Fifth and St. Nicholas Avenues.

The wartime blackout was also lifted for a week, to allow the police to illuminate the area. A prohibition on liquor sales in the area was imposed.

Prior to the 1943 riot, the most serious Harlem riot took place on March 19, 1935. One person was killed and 100 in jured in fighting that flared after reports had been circulated that a 16‐year‐old boy caught stealing a penknife from a store had been brutally beaten by the police.

Crowds took to the streets, throwing stones at policemen and at store windows.

Mayor La Guardia said later that the rioting had been “in₭ stigated and artificially stimulated”by a few irresponsible individuals. District Attorney William C. Dodge said radicals were mainly responsible.

This view was disputed by Harlem community leaders, who held that the riots were a direct outgrowth of the suppression of Negroes.


New York City’s Last Curfew: Harlem in 1943

“If there is anyone who entertained any thought that they could make capital out of this unfortunate incident, I’m sure they will be greatly mistaken,” New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, broadcasted from police headquarters in Harlem on August 1st, 1943.

This was the last time that New York City imposed a curfew on its residents. The restriction, which was imposed solely in Harlem, came after a white NYPD officer shot a black U.S. Army soldier. Unfounded news spread that the soldier, Robert Bandy, was killed by the officer, John Collins. Bandy did not actually die from the gunshot, but the rumors prompted the looting of white-owned businesses and clashes with police, as police killed six people and arrested 600.

More from Rolling Stone

After the murder of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis, seemingly endless protests have spread to major cities and small towns throughout America. Mayors across the country — from Atlanta to Chicago to Los Angeles — have turned to ordering people to stay inside in hopes of quelling the uprisings.

“If you choose to protest today, do it in the daytime hours and then go home,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio — apparently believing the First Amendment applies only during his preferred hours — said Tuesday at a City Hall press conference . Since Friday, New York City’s once-eerily-sparse streets have been filled with protesters, as NYPD vehicles were both set ablaze and plowed into crowds of people.

Following mayoral nemesis Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement of a citywide curfew that started the evening before, which was largely unenforced and had started at 11 p.m., de Blasio said that a curfew would again be imposed but starting at 8 p.m. tonight, and would last through the weekend. The curfew exempts police, first responders, essential workers, people seeking medical attention, and the homeless. Looting that occurred in SoHo , midtown , and the Bronx was cited as the impetus. Coronavirus, on the other hand, never produced the same level of lockdown.

Jumaane Williams, the outspoken public advocate of New York City, addressed reporters outside of the Barclays Center one minute after the curfew began last night. “Instead of saying this is how we’re going to address the pain and anger that everyone has been talking about, we’re gonna give you more police, and we’re gonna put a curfew on this city,” he said.

To better understand how the city that never sleeps got to this point, we are looking to New York’s history with Jacob Morris, director of the Harlem Historical Society . The Harlem riot of 1943 erupted during World War II in the streets of New York, in a neighborhood that Morris described as “the cultural capital of black America.”

Can you explain what happened during the Harlem riot of 1943?
I want you to kind of get a picture of America in 1943. I mean, World War II had started and you had Roosevelt giving speeches about the four freedoms. And black people were listening to all of this, of course. Now, were the blacks in Harlem stupid? Did they think everything was OK? No, they didn’t. So there’s this dispute at this hotel that at one point was upscale, but had become a location for prostitution. And there was a police officer stationed in the lobby because it was a known prostitution location. Somehow there was a dispute with this lady, the exact circumstances of the dispute are somewhat in dispute. But the bottom line was that at some point the police officer attempted to take the lady in question into custody, for disturbing the peace. And along comes this active-duty soldier, who happened to be black, and he and the officer got into it a little bit, and somehow he wound up with the officer’s nightstick. He didn’t give it back fast enough. And the officer shot him in the shoulder, a grazing wound. And they took them both to the hospital. And there a crowd gathers outside the hospital, and somebody says that the police killed this African American soldier.

The soldier, as you note, was not actually killed. So then what happens?
The propagation of incendiary misinformation was that the soldier had been killed by the police. And that started outside the hospital. And then some rocks were thrown from the roof into the crowd gathered outside the hospital. And then the crowd, which was very massive, broke up and started wandering in packs of 50 to 100 people throughout Harlem, and busting up all the white-owned businesses. And that went on for two days.

So then what?
It was thousands and thousands of people involved in the riots. In 1943, of course, blacks were at best second-class citizens in Harlem. They knew this. And here’s young black men fighting for freedom for America overseas, and then they come back and they’re here in the United States and they got shot. So the anger just boiled over. I would point to that sociological parameter as fundamental. Of course, there was the ongoing perception of inequity, and inequality. Economically and socially. That was an ongoing condition, and then for a black soldier to be shot by a police officer, that was the tipping point.

And La Guardia was mayor at the time?
La Guardia was the mayor in 1943. In 1935, he had instituted this commission to see what started the [ Harlem riot of 1935 ], and what they could do for the underlying conditions. But there were still these fundamental inequities that were profoundly perceived by the residents, especially the black residents, of Harlem. La Guardia did send a bunch of prestigious blacks, including Sam Battle , around to try to calm things down. That they managed to actually calm things down in a day and a half was pretty amazing. But there was a lot of damage. 600 people were arrested. A bunch of people died. It was pretty fucked up.

And was the curfew put in place during this day and a half? How did that go down?
Yeah, he put the curfew in place. It went down. They enforced it, so a lot of people got arrested for violating the curfew. They used every possible avenue for disseminating the information. It was a major component for stopping the riots. You had these major black figures circulating throughout going, “OK, let’s stop destroying our own community. So you better stay home or you’re going to get arrested.” One was the positive and one was the negative, and they were synergistic in persuading people to not get into the line of fire.

Was the curfew in place for all of New York, or just Harlem?
It was for Harlem. So the city was able to focus its resources on Harlem. They brought in a couple thousand outside officers to blanket the area. It was a major, major presence, that’s without a doubt. La Guardia was a very hands-on mayor. We should have him now. He was really committed to dealing with inequality and inequities in our society. But, I mean, you know if people think things are inequitable now, they should have been around then. Can you imagine? It was so blatant.

Do you see any similarities between now and then? How would what happened in 1943 be different if everyone had cell phones?
In 1943, the dissemination of a piece of mistaken, incendiary information spread like wildfire and blew up the community. Which means that the tinder was there, the fuel was there. The profound, fundamental unhappiness with the prevailing social, economic, political environment. It was there, and it didn’t take much to blow up. In this particular case today, there was no misinformation. We saw it. I guess that’s the contrast. We actually saw them kill this guy with our own eyes.

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The Harlem Race Riot of 1964

The 1964 Harlem Riot was one of a number of race-based uprisings/ protests that took place in multiple cities across the United States during the 1960s. As elsewhere Harlem blacks reacted to racial discrimination, segregation, police brutality and social injustices that dominated their lives. They resorted to violence to express their disgust with the system.

Ironically the Harlem Riot occurred just two weeks after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. The act, which outlawing discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, and nationality, was the most sweeping measure ever adopted by the nation to guarantee racial justice. The irony lies in the fact that while the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against a U.S. citizen based on race or color, the discriminatory socioeconomic systems and structures long in place in the nation did not change with this new law.

The Harlem uprising began on July 16, 1964 when 15-year-old James Powell was shot and killed by white off-duty police Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan. The Harlem community was infuriated by the murder which it viewed as an unnecessary example of police brutality. Many Harlemites were convinced that Officer Gilligan, a war veteran and experienced police officer, could have found a way to arrest and subdue Powell without using deadly force.

The first two days following the shooting saw peaceful protesting in Harlem and other areas of New York City, New York. However, on July 18, some of the protesters went to the Harlem Police Station, calling for the resignation or termination of Officer Gilligan. Police officers were on guard outside the building, and as tensions grew, some in the crowd began throwing bricks, bottles, and rocks at the officers who waded into the crowd using their nightsticks. When word of the confrontation spread rioting ensued first in Harlem and then spread into Bedford-Stuyvesant, the black and Puerto Rican section of Brooklyn.

The race riot in the two boroughs of New York City lasted six days. It included breaking windows, looting, vandalism, and setting a variety of local businesses on fire. When the rebellion ended on July 22, one black resident was killed. There were more than 100 injuries, 450 arrests, and around $1 million in property damage.

The Harlem uprising was the beginning of a series of violent confrontations with police in more than a dozen cities throughout the North including Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the New Jersey cities of Jersey City, Paterson, and Elizabeth as well as Chicago (Dixmoor) Illinois, making it the most violent in terms of urban rioting since 1919. These rebellions as well as civil rights protests mainly in the South, helped designate the summer of 1964 as the Long, Hot Summer.


New York City’s Last Curfew: Harlem in 1943

On August 2nd, 1943, Mayor La Guardia set a 10:30 p.m. curfew and mobilized a force of 6,000 police and 1,500 civilian volunteers to enforce it and to prevent violence. Here, a man arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct, is being transported from the West 123rd Street Police Station to the Battery Armory at 54th Street and Park Avenue, where he would be booked.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

&ldquoIf there is anyone who entertained any thought that they could make capital out of this unfortunate incident, I&rsquom sure they will be greatly mistaken,&rdquo New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, broadcasted from police headquarters in Harlem on August 1st, 1943.

This was the last time that New York City imposed a curfew on its residents. The restriction, which was imposed solely in Harlem, came after a white NYPD officer shot a black U.S. Army soldier. Unfounded news spread that the soldier, Robert Bandy, was killed by the officer, John Collins. Bandy did not actually die from the gunshot, but the rumors prompted the looting of white-owned businesses and clashes with police, as police killed six people and arrested 600.

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After the murder of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis, seemingly endless protests have spread to major cities and small towns throughout America. Mayors across the country &mdash from Atlanta to Chicago to Los Angeles &mdash have turned to ordering people to stay inside in hopes of quelling the uprisings.

“If you choose to protest today, do it in the daytime hours and then go home,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio &mdash apparently believing the First Amendment applies only during his preferred hours &mdash said Tuesday at a City Hall press conference . Since Friday, New York City&rsquos once-eerily-sparse streets have been filled with protesters, as NYPD vehicles were both set ablaze and plowed into crowds of people.

Following mayoral nemesis Gov. Andrew Cuomo&rsquos announcement of a citywide curfew that started the evening before, which was largely unenforced and had started at 11 p.m., de Blasio said that a curfew would again be imposed but starting at 8 p.m. tonight, and would last through the weekend. The curfew exempts police, first responders, essential workers, people seeking medical attention, and the homeless. Looting that occurred in SoHo , midtown , and the Bronx was cited as the impetus. Coronavirus, on the other hand, never produced the same level of lockdown.

Jumaane Williams, the outspoken public advocate of New York City, addressed reporters outside of the Barclays Center one minute after the curfew began last night. &ldquoInstead of saying this is how we&rsquore going to address the pain and anger that everyone has been talking about, we&rsquore gonna give you more police, and we&rsquore gonna put a curfew on this city,&rdquo he said.

To better understand how the city that never sleeps got to this point, we are looking to New York&rsquos history with Jacob Morris, director of the Harlem Historical Society . The Harlem riot of 1943 erupted during World War II in the streets of New York, in a neighborhood that Morris described as &ldquothe cultural capital of black America.&rdquo

Can you explain what happened during the Harlem riot of 1943?
I want you to kind of get a picture of America in 1943. I mean, World War II had started and you had Roosevelt giving speeches about the four freedoms. And black people were listening to all of this, of course. Now, were the blacks in Harlem stupid? Did they think everything was OK? No, they didn&rsquot. So there&rsquos this dispute at this hotel that at one point was upscale, but had become a location for prostitution. And there was a police officer stationed in the lobby because it was a known prostitution location. Somehow there was a dispute with this lady, the exact circumstances of the dispute are somewhat in dispute. But the bottom line was that at some point the police officer attempted to take the lady in question into custody, for disturbing the peace. And along comes this active-duty soldier, who happened to be black, and he and the officer got into it a little bit, and somehow he wound up with the officer&rsquos nightstick. He didn’t give it back fast enough. And the officer shot him in the shoulder, a grazing wound. And they took them both to the hospital. And there a crowd gathers outside the hospital, and somebody says that the police killed this African American soldier.

The soldier, as you note, was not actually killed. So then what happens?
The propagation of incendiary misinformation was that the soldier had been killed by the police. And that started outside the hospital. And then some rocks were thrown from the roof into the crowd gathered outside the hospital. And then the crowd, which was very massive, broke up and started wandering in packs of 50 to 100 people throughout Harlem, and busting up all the white-owned businesses. And that went on for two days.

So then what?
It was thousands and thousands of people involved in the riots. In 1943, of course, blacks were at best second-class citizens in Harlem. They knew this. And here&rsquos young black men fighting for freedom for America overseas, and then they come back and they&rsquore here in the United States and they got shot. So the anger just boiled over. I would point to that sociological parameter as fundamental. Of course, there was the ongoing perception of inequity, and inequality. Economically and socially. That was an ongoing condition, and then for a black soldier to be shot by a police officer, that was the tipping point.

And La Guardia was mayor at the time?
La Guardia was the mayor in 1943. In 1935, he had instituted this commission to see what started the [ Harlem riot of 1935 ], and what they could do for the underlying conditions. But there were still these fundamental inequities that were profoundly perceived by the residents, especially the black residents, of Harlem. La Guardia did send a bunch of prestigious blacks, including Sam Battle , around to try to calm things down. That they managed to actually calm things down in a day and a half was pretty amazing. But there was a lot of damage. 600 people were arrested. A bunch of people died. It was pretty fucked up.

And was the curfew put in place during this day and a half? How did that go down?
Yeah, he put the curfew in place. It went down. They enforced it, so a lot of people got arrested for violating the curfew. They used every possible avenue for disseminating the information. It was a major component for stopping the riots. You had these major black figures circulating throughout going, “OK, let&rsquos stop destroying our own community. So you better stay home or you&rsquore going to get arrested.” One was the positive and one was the negative, and they were synergistic in persuading people to not get into the line of fire.

Was the curfew in place for all of New York, or just Harlem?
It was for Harlem. So the city was able to focus its resources on Harlem. They brought in a couple thousand outside officers to blanket the area. It was a major, major presence, that&rsquos without a doubt. La Guardia was a very hands-on mayor. We should have him now. He was really committed to dealing with inequality and inequities in our society. But, I mean, you know if people think things are inequitable now, they should have been around then. Can you imagine? It was so blatant.

Do you see any similarities between now and then? How would what happened in 1943 be different if everyone had cell phones?
In 1943, the dissemination of a piece of mistaken, incendiary information spread like wildfire and blew up the community. Which means that the tinder was there, the fuel was there. The profound, fundamental unhappiness with the prevailing social, economic, political environment. It was there, and it didn&rsquot take much to blow up. In this particular case today, there was no misinformation. We saw it. I guess that&rsquos the contrast. We actually saw them kill this guy with our own eyes.


Harlem race riot of 1964

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Harlem race riot of 1964, a six-day period of rioting that started on July 18, 1964, in the Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem after a white off-duty police officer shot and killed an African American teenager. The rioting spread to Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville in Brooklyn and to South Jamaica, Queens, and was the first of a number of race riots in major American cities—including Rochester, New York Jersey City, Paterson, and Elizabeth, New Jersey Dixmoor (near Chicago), Illinois and Philadelphia—in that year alone, not to mention the notorious Watts riots of 1965.

Harlem experienced this, its third race riot, two decades after the riot of 1943. When veteran officer Thomas Gilligan fatally shot 15-year-old James Powell, violent protests erupted throughout the neighbourhood. A protest organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had originally been planned to address the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, but its focus was quickly shifted to the Powell shooting in particular and police brutality in general. The march began peacefully, but emotions were running high. Some protesters became violent police responded violently and chaos quickly followed. Rioters looted stores, vandalized private property, and struggled against the police who had been called into the neighbourhood to restore order.

The rioting continued for two nights and spread to other African American neighbourhoods and beyond. When the smoke cleared and peace had been restored, 1 person was dead, more than 100 had been injured, and more than 450 had been arrested.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper, Senior Editor.


Black History Month

In recognition of Black History Month we have pulled together some content about some inspirational individuals and…

By 1920, central Harlem was predominantly black. By the 1930s, the black population was growing, fuelled by migration from the West Indies and the southern US. As more black people moved in, white residents left between 1920 and 1930, 118,792 white people left the neighbourhood and 87,417 black people arrived. Some attempted to resist change in ‘their’ neighbourhood, entering into pacts to not sell or rent to black people others attempted to buy property out from under black tenants — prompting the Afro-American Realty Company to reverse the process with properties from which it would evict white residents.

Employment amongst black New Yorkers started to fall during the 1930s — and, with such a large black population, Harlem felt the effects of this strongly. Riots in Harlem in 1935 and 1943 made the situation worse — fear keeping away customers from the entertainment venues which had provided much employment. War brought a brief upturn in prospects, as war often will, but these new jobs vanished after the armistice and decline took hold once more.

With New York’s black population growing at a time when many city landlords would refuse black tenants, rents at Harlem rose faster than those in the city as whole, but precious little of this found its way into building maintenance — a 1950 census found that almost half of housing in Harlem was unsound. The high rents encouraged blockbusting , where speculators would buy one house in a block, renting to black tenants with much publicity and alarm amongst owners of neighbouring properties. These owners could often be relied upon to bail out quickly, allowing the blockbuster to acquire their properties cheaply these, too, would be rented to black families.

With a relatively poor section of society being asked to pay relatively high rents, the consequence was a sardine-can like squeezing of people into buildings. While Manhattan in 2000 had a population density of 70,000 per square mile, Harlem in the mid 1920s crammed 215,000 souls into each square mile. It would only be the abandonment of buildings too expensive to keep habitable, or impossible to make a profit from while paying city fines and taxes, that would see density drop back to more normal levels in the 1970s. The outcome was municipality taking ownership of two-thirds of the real estate, and many empty blocks and buildings making the neighbourhood less attractive still to investors.


America's Long History of Racial Rage

The rage across the country over the decision not to indict the officer in Ferguson is real. Unfortunately, it’s also not new.

Sharon Adarlo

Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The clouds of tear gas. Lines of police in full riot gear. The smell of acrid smoke from burning buildings and cars. And a crowd in the throes of deep mourning and rage.

When the announcement came down that Darren Wilson, the white police officer who had shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown, was not going to be indicted on Monday, it sparked protests and looting in Ferguson, Mo., a Saint Louis suburb where the incident happened, and set off a wave of mass demonstrations across the country and even as far away as London.

Sympathetic crowds marched down busy streets in Los Angeles, tied up traffic on trains in Oakland, and crowded a downtown Seattle shopping mall as they chanted, “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” And the Macy’s in Manhattan was a brief flashpoint of activity as protesters demonstrated in front of the store.

“The bottom line is that people were blind angry and enraged,” said Michael T. McPhearson, co-chairman of the Don’t Shoot Coalition, a Saint Louis-based organization that formed after Brown’s death, and executive director of Veterans for Peace. McPhearson, a former U.S. Army captain, had taken part in protests in Ferguson after the announcement was made that a grand jury would not put Wilson on trial for the August killing of Brown, a death that blew off the lid on the simmering racial tensions between the white-dominated police force and a majority black town that felt like it was under siege.

The rage soon spread across the country. Looters and vandals damaged more than a dozen stores and businesses in Oakland, Calif., news reports said. Protesters chained themselves to trains on the BART on Friday, which resulted in a standstill for more than an hour, according to CBS. On Saturday, activists on Twitter were calling for action at local retail stores.

In London earlier this week, more than 1,000 people marched and protested at the U.S. Embassy, according to CNN. A diverse crowd held up signs that read, “Black Lives Matter” and “Am I Next?” They held aloft candles and sang chants. They were not just motivated by the events across the pond, but a few of the protesters were trying to shine a light on police brutality in the United Kingdom, too. Among the protesters were relatives of Mark Duggan, who was shot and killed in 2011 by police and whose death had set off riots across England.

Seattle saw a spate of demonstrations on Black Friday as about 150 to 200 activists sought to disrupt the busiest shopping day of the year by lying on the floor inside Westlake Center in a “die-in” demonstration, which forced the mall to close three hours early, according to The Seattle Times. Protesters also chanted at the tree lighting at the Westlake Center. Five people were arrested in total during the protests. The Black Friday demonstrations were part of a nation wide boycott and mass action to bring awareness to Ferguson. Activists used #BlackoutBlackFriday and #NotOneDime to organize online.

In Manhattan, protesters also targeted Black Friday by marching through Midtown and into Times Square, according to DNAInfo. They blocked traffic on 6th Avenue and chanted in front of Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square with a few even entering the store to the surprise of shoppers and retail workers. Reuters wrote that about 200 had shown up in all in front of the store. Some protesters held up signs and yelled, “Hands up. Don’t shop,” in a twist of the most visible chant used during the Ferguson demonstrations: “Hands up. Don’t shoot.”

Nell Painter, a notable historian on black history and race, said these demonstrations are in a long line of civil unrest that has happened every time an unarmed black person, especially a man, has been gunned down or beaten by police.

“The crucial point is that these kinds of attack have a long history and it keeps happening,” she said.

Painter brought up the infamous case of Rodney King, who was beaten at the hands of Los Angeles Police, and Sean Bell, who was killed in a hail of bullets by New York City police before his wedding in 2006. She also cited Trayvon Martin as similar incident, which sparked protests.

In less recent history, Painter pointed out the Harlem Riots of 1943, when a white police officer shot a black man in the shoulder inside a hotel lobby, according to records from Baruch College in New York City. Over two days in August, rioters and looters rampaged through stores and threw stones. This was similar to the Watts Riots in 1965 in Los Angeles when a struggle involving a drunk black man at a police station caused a week of rioting and looting with 34 people dying, thousands of arrests, and about $40 million in property damage, according to Stanford University.

“You can call them urban uprisings. They inevitably follow police brutality. That’s been constant,” said Painter.

On the flipside, Painter said, many race riots in the earlier parts of the 20th Century before the 1940s were started by whites who attacked black communities. Examples include the Tulsa race riot in 1921 when mobs of white men brutally attacked a black neighborhood, destroyed more than 1,000 homes, and left 100 to 300 people dead, according to the New York Times.

And even earlier, whites in New York City targeted black people, businesses, and organizations sympathetic to them in 1863 when the Union Army started calling up men in a draft for the Civil War, according to the Washington Post. A notably large Irish contingent took part in the infamous draft riots because they did not want to compete for jobs with blacks. The ensuing riots were estimated to have killed about 500.

In the aftermath of the Ferguson announcement, looters and rioters rampaged through parts of town and left about 15 to 20 buildings damaged by fire and some cars suffering from vandalism in areas near the shooting, said McPhearson.

“I have to put this on the prosecutor’s office,” he said about the long lag time between the news that a grand jury had reached a decision on Monday morning and the evening speech by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch. The news should have been handed out during the daytime, McPhearson said, when protests would have been were more peaceful. Instead, crowds were witness to Brown’s mother crying and wailing as she found out at the same time as everybody else did that Wilson would not go to trial, as captured in video.

“There are many things that could have been done in better ways,” said McPhearson. “You have to wonder what he (McCulloch) was thinking.”


How the Police Shooting of a Black Soldier Triggered the 1943 Harlem Riots - HISTORY

The Harlem Riots of 1943, which took place on August 1-2, began with a white policeman's attempt to arrest a black woman for disorderly conduct, and his shooting of an interceding black soldier. The Riot resulted in six deaths, over a thousand arrested and injured, and property damages estimated at five millions dollars. Racial discrimination in the armed forces and police brutality against blacks were the underlying causes of the disturbances. Blacks were also frustrated by the lack of equal opportunity to economic advantages brought about by the war effort. The looting and destruction which occurred during the two day riot was an expression of racial conflict and antagonism to discriminatory practices and policies attributed to whites in general. The Harlem Riot of 1943 Reports include draft and final copies of typed reports prepared by Hylan Lewis and Herbert Heyman for the Office of War Information regarding the 1943 Harlem Riot, and a separate report entitled: "Negro Civilian Attitudes and the Morale of Negro Troops." The reports contain statements relative to the actual incident that led to the riot and an analysis of the various factors that contributed to the explosion, including the economic situation in Harlem and the discriminatory treatment of black soldiers in Southern camps and throughout the Army.

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