Rioting in Beaumont, Texas! (1943)

The Pittsburgh Press (June 16, 1943)

Texas manhunt paralyzes city


Beaumont, Texas –
One white man was killed today when rioting broke out anew between mobs of white men and Negroes. The riots started last night.

Beaumont, Texas (UP) –
Texas State Guardsmen stood watch with fixed bayonets and submachine guns today over approximately 75 white men who had been arrested following hours of rioting that had brought war industries to a standstill and had driven all Negroes from the streets in terror.

The outburst followed the assault of a young white mother by a Negro yard worker. Throughout the night, small gangs of white war workers, many of whom had dropped their tools to join the manhunt, had raced through the Negro section in search for the assailant.

The hunt came to a climax at noon when approximately 100 men, most of them shipyard workers, gathered on the first floor of the 14-story courthouse building, demanding of the sheriff that he either turn over to them the alleged Negro assailant or take them along on the search for him.

Big-hatted Sheriff Bill Richardson brought a semblance of order out of the courthouse mob by offering to fight the men one at a time and telling them to go home or back “to building ships.”

Most of the men were from the Beaumont shipyards and had walked away from their job when the search for the Negro began last night, a search which ran into street fighting and rioting and burning in the Negro section of the city.

The sheriff added:

Let me tell you, I’m going to keep order and law in this country.

Someone shouted that Richardson’s statement was “just politics.”

Sheriff Richardson replied that the mob had already hindered the capture of the Negro by last night’s fighting which he said gave the Negro a 15-hour start.

Tenseness relaxes

He said:

You fellows took up all the time of the peace officers needed to keep order.

Tenseness seemed to relax after the sheriff had spoken to the crowd. The mob dispersed, although Guardsmen remained at police headquarters. Meanwhile, police and sheriff’s deputies were searching the surrounding country and watching highways and roads leading out of Beaumont for the Negro.

As the situation grew more tense, following night-long rioting, police had sent to nearby Port Arthur and Orange for ammunition replenishments as they called on the Texas Rangers, Texas Highway Police, Office of Civilian Defense Auxiliary Police and Texas State Guardsmen for help.

Cafés are closed

Chief of Police Ross Dickey described the situation as tense.

There were no Negros at all in the downtown section and few white persons were venturing into the stories. All cafés downtown were closed.

Fire Chief Steve O’Connor announced that the fire department had answered 16 alarms in the Negro section since midnight.

Mr. O’Connor said there was extensive property damage along Gladys St., main Negro thoroughfare, and reported that a large, two-story funeral home had been badly damaged and looted. A Negro liquor store had also been cleaned out, he said.

Hospitals filled

No deaths were reported from hospitals where the injured, both white and Negro, had been taken. One hospital was filled with injured Negroes, one of whom was in critical condition.

Meanwhile, Negroes either stayed off the streets or traveled with police protection. Laundries and restaurants, dependent on Negro help, remained closed. Highway patrolmen escorted several hundred Negro workers from the Pennsylvania Shipyards and took them to the Negro districts.

Mother makes complaint

Feeling had spread 26 miles to the south, at Orange, where one of the shipyards there excluded Negroes from work today. Orange State Guardsmen were sent earlier to Beaumont to help restore order.

Rioting started after a young white mother, the wife of a shipyard worker whose name was withheld, reported she had been attacked by a Negro youth to whom she had given work and food. She said the Negro came to her house asking for food, saying he had been rejected by the Army and that he had no money.

She told police that later in the day, after she had put her three small children to bed for their naps, the Negro came in the house and attacked her.

The second attack

It was the second attack by a Negro on a white woman in Beaumont in 10 days.

A Negro was shot to death by police after he had allegedly attacked a young telephone operator who was going from her work to her home late at night.

Police Chief Dickey said no trace of the accused Negro attacker of yesterday had been found.

The white men did not form one large mob, but broke up into smaller groups, the police chief said.

The small mobs of men were joined by scores of workers from the shipyards here as many of them put down their tools, left their jobs and started looking for Negroes.

Governor orders all help needed

Houston, Texas (UP) –
Governor Coke Stevenson, in Houston today en route to Newport News, Virginia, for the launching of the cruiser USS Houston, instructed Homer Garrison, chief of the department of public safety, to get every man into Beaumont needed to control the situation there.

Governor Stevenson was informed of the trouble when he arrived here from Austin and instructed Mr. Garrison to call him en route to St. Louis and from St. Louis to Washington if the situation grows worse.

Beaumont ruled out of bounds

Dallas, Texas (UP) –
Maj. Gen. Richard S. Donovan, commanding general of the 8th Service Command, today declared Beaumont, scene of rioting between Negroes and whites, out of bounds for all military personnel.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 17, 1943)

Troops quiet Texas rioters

Martial law rules Beaumont after 24-hour terror

Beaumont, Texas (UP) –
State militia, who spread their blankets on the city hall lawn last night with their submachine guns close at hand, restored order to this Gulf Coast shipbuilding center today after 24 hours of race-rioting in which a white man and a Negro were killed.

Acting Governor A. M. Aikin Jr. placed the city under martial law last night after 60 Negroes had been hospitalized and 100 homes and shops in the Negro district had been destroyed in the rioting, which broke out after a young white woman told police she had been attacked by a Negro.

Curfew is set

More than 1,000 State Guardsmen came to the aid of Texas Rangers and local peace officers with the imposition of martial law. While state troops slept restlessly on the city hall lawn, ready for any eventuality, other detachments patrolled deserted streets.

An 8:30 p.m. CWT curfew ordered last night kept everyone but war workers off the streets and prevented a recurrence of the violence of the night before, when mobs of white men invaded the Negro district, burned homes, dragged Negroes from their automobiles and set fire to the cars.

Shipyards resume

Production at the shipyards, which had been disrupted in the rioting, was restored almost to normal during the night, although no Negro employees had been called back to work.

The dead white man was Ellis Cleveland Brown, 55. He died yesterday of a skull fracture after a group of Negroes slugged him while he was walking down the street. John Johnson, a Negro, died of gunshot wounds last night.

About 125 members of the mobs which invaded the Negro district were held in jail. Under martial law, they cannot be released under bond. Both city and county jails were kept under heavy guard and a barbed-wire barrier was erected around police headquarters.

Search goes on

The Negro who assaulted the white woman had not been apprehended. The rioting began when mobs of white men formed to look for him and went to the jails to demand his release in the belief he had been arrested.

Many observers believed the violence resulted from growing animosity between Negroes and whites thrown together as the war-boom town grew faster than social adjustments could be made. Minor disturbances a few weeks ago prompted authorities to place separate busses in services for Negroes and whites.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (June 18, 1943)

Texas city quiet; 200 men questioned

Beaumont, Texas (UP) –
Peace returned to Beaumont’s bloody race riot streets today following a night-long session of a military court of inquiry. More than 200 men were questioned.

Most of the shipbuilding town’s white citizens had returned to work as order was restored by martial law and the Negro population contemplated a “Juneteenth” without celebration.

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, celebration day commemorating emancipation of the slaves. All festivities, however, have been cancelled.

Names of the men involved in the riots, many of them shipyard workers, will be turned over to the State Selective Service. Some of the men with occupational deferments may lose their draft status.

1 Like

The Free Lance-Star (June 21, 1943)

Martial law at Beaumont ended

Beaumont, Texas (AP) –
Martial law invoked Wednesday by Acting Governor A. M. Aikin Jr., following racial rioting that resulted in two deaths, was lifted Sunday and 1,600 Texas State Guardsmen left for their homes.

1 Like

The Afro-American (June 26, 1943)

Nazi pogroms tame to Texas rioters

Sailor in uniform leads mob that burns, pillages stores, clubs citizens
By Ralph Matthews, editors of the Washington Afro-American

Beaumont, Texas –
A weekend of terror, worse than anything visited upon the Jews by Nazi fanatics at the height of their pogroms, was experienced by the colored population of this swollen war industry town last week.

Two men are dead, scores are injured and the homes and businesses of thrifty people for blocks on end have been burned and pillaged.

Property estimated at thousands of dollars on two whole streets which constituted the colored business sections in two sections of the city was destroyed.

Marauders, several hundred strong, prowled the streets with guns, clubs and torches, setting fire to buildings after looting them of all portable goods, beating and clubbing innocent people luckless enough to be caught on the streets.

Fifth column – hate

Although much credence is given in the white press to the charge that the riot was instigated by Axis agents, it is now known that the only fifth column at work in Beaumont was the fifth column of pure, unadulterated prejudice and jealousy over workers who have been putting their war earnings to good use, improving their businesses and their economic progress being made by the colored homes.

Many cases are advanced for the riot. The report that a white woman was raped, while the spark which set off the trouble, has been admitted even by the authorities to have been wholly false after two physicians who examined the alleged victim reported they could find no signs of an attack having been committed.

No rape committed

Army authorities who set up martial law over the city were so convinced no rape had been committed, that they advised enforcement officers in different sections of the state who were bringing every vagrant to Beaumont for investigation to cease their search and save the city expense.

In the meantime, court martial proceedings examined more than 300 hoodlums picked up during the night of rioting, carrying firearms and loaded with loot from colored homes. They were let off with a legal tap on the wrist.

Up to Sunday, only ten of the 300 were being held for court action and the remainder had either been dismissed or had been fined $25 for carrying weapons.

Cold-blooded murder

Authorities promised to make a thorough probe of the cold-blooded murder of 54-year-old John Johnson, who was shot to death on the platform of an ice company where he was performing his night chores with no knowledge that the mobsters were abroad.

On Saturday, while his wife, Mrs. Beaulah Johnson, of 580 Emmett St., the mother of a 3-year-old child, sought help to bury her husband, police visited the undertaking establishment where the body was already embalmed and extracted the bullets which had caused his death in the hope of comparing it with the revolvers taken from the rioters.

Committee named

A committee of substantial white citizens, manufacturers and businessmen called a meeting Monday morning at which they planned to take inventory of damage done and reestablish the victims in business. A colored committee (consisting of Dr. L. S. Melton, dentist; Prof. A. L. Price, public school principal, and Sol White, pharmacist) has been appointed to confer with the group.

Mr. White, a native of Beaumont and a large property holder, whose late father was credited with being one of the wealthiest men in the city, had two drugstores burned and looted and several homes which he rented destroyed.

Texas riot at a glance

Homes and businesses of innocent people for blocks on end have been burned and pillaged.

Whites were embittered because colored shipyard workers earned enough to permit their wives to remain at home rather than go out to service.

A mob stole ration goods from a leading restaurant and burned it down. The proprietor hid the colored workers.

The mob which attacked one home was armed with guns, clubs and torches and included women and was led by a sailor in uniform.

The day of the riot was set for June 19 on which day Texas colored people usually celebrate the emancipation celebration.

1 Like

Editorial: The lesson of Beaumont, Texas

The attack upon the Beaumont, Texas, colored section by white mobs last week was incited by the rumor that a colored man raped a white woman.

Subsequently, no colored attacker has been found and physicians’ reports show that no woman was raped.

The cause of the attack upon hundreds of innocent colored people is not important. Some Southern communities need no incentive to mob action. All they want is an excuse.

In this case, a funeral parlor, the town’s best building, was cleaned out, a colored liquor store was looted, a colored café and autos of colored people were burned, scores of persons were beaten and sent to the hospitals.

In a situation like this, in the South, it is idle to appeal either to state or federal authorities for assistance. It usually comes too late.

Colored communities must be prepared to protect themselves. Frederick Douglass said that the slave that resisted vigorously was almost never whipped.

If mobsters attacking colored homes get a hot reception once, they will not repeat that visit.

P.S. For three days, Beaumont shipbuilding yards were virtually at a standstill.

1 Like

The article says:

When did Frederick Douglass say this?

1 Like

I couldn’t find the exact quote, but perhaps this quote is close?

Covey at length let me go, puffing and blowing at a great rate, saying that if I had not resisted, he would not have whipped me half so much. The truth was, that he had not whipped me at all.

1 Like