The Pittsburgh Press (August 2, 1943)
6 die, 200 hurt as riot flares in Harlem area
Trouble starts over arrest of drunken woman; mayor in plea
New York (UP) –
Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia clamped a 10:30 p.m. curfew today on Harlem, scene of bloody rioting last night and this morning.
New York (UP) –
Six thousand policemen guarded tenement-lined streets of West Harlem today where more than 12 hours of rioting was dying down to sporadic outbreaks.
It was feared, however, that some incident might fan the riot embers into fresh terror.
Police listed six deaths and nearly 200 injured in street brawls, stabbings and lootings that followed the quick spread of news that a Negro soldier had been shot by a white policeman.
Traffic was ordered rerouted around the area, liquor stores were closed, and policemen reporting to the 8 a.m. tour of duty were instructed to wear air-raid helmets to protect them from stones and other missiles.
Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, in an appeal carried over seven radio stations, said the disorders were “not a race riot, because no groups of our citizens were in conflict.”
Virtually the only white men in the area were the uniformed policemen, sweating and pushing against the crowds which often extended from wall to wall in the crowded streets.
Of the nearly 200 persons injured, 155 were civilians and 40 were policemen, including two captains of police. By afternoon, 363 persons, nearly all Negroes, had been arrested. Most of those injured were Negroes.
Mayor La Guardia told the residents of Harlem over the radio that purchase of food in the area would be difficult “because so many stores have been damaged by looting.” He said the riot was “just a thoughtless, criminal act of hoodlums, reckless, irresponsible people.”
NAACP leader speaks
The mayor then introduced Walter White, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who declared that:
The decent people of Harlem would support the mayor in restoring order.
The trouble, Mr. White said, “could be traced indirectly to mistreatment of Negro soldiers.”
The false rumor that a policeman had killed a Negro soldier in the presence of his mother, spread like wildfire. The mistreatment of Negro soldiers, particularly in the South, is a terribly sore point with Negroes. Thus, the beginning of the trouble. Had it been a Negro civilian, however prominent, who was shot, there would have been no riot.
How it started
After the riot started, Mr. White said:
Looters seized the occasion to pillage and destroy.
The rioting started shortly after 9 p.m. in front of a hotel, closed after a police raid under police guard to prevent reopening.
Patrolman James Collins attempted to arrest a drunken woman who insisted upon entering.
Pvt. Robert Bandy, 26, Negro, a military policeman, intervened. He wrested Collins’ nightstick out of his hand and struck him over the head with it.
Ambulance draws crowd
Collins drew his revolver and shot Bandy in the shoulder. The arrival of an ambulance attracted as much attention in the thickly-populated street as the shot had. Within an hour, a vast crowd jammed the street from building front to building front and soon bottles were crashing through the shop windows.
More than 1,000 Negroes were soon packed in the street in front of the hospital, screaming their desire for vengeance upon the policeman who had shot the Negro soldier. They were animated by entirely false reports both as to the circumstances of the shooting and the condition of the soldier.
At the same time, another crowd gathered in front of the 125th Street Police Station, shouting threats and insults. For a short while, the station was barricaded. The rioting then slowly spread through an approximately 10-square-block area centering in the 120s between Eighth and Lenox Avenues.
Mayor makes appeal
Mayor La Guardia, in a radio appeal to the crowds shortly after midnight, described the rioting as follows:
An arrest was made in a hotel lobby, a hotel incidentally that has given… the police a great deal of trouble. There seems to have been interference with the arrest and a soldier attacked… the arresting officer. A crowd gathered around and the soldier took the stick from the officer and struck him across the head, whereupon the officer pulled his gun and wounded the soldier… Everything was quiet for some time, and then small groups walking around more in the spirit of mischief than anything else, broke some of the store windows.
Of course, in cases like this, there have been exaggerated statements made to the people exciting them. These statements were made, of course, without any source of information, and the statements are not true. The facts are just as I have given them to you.
MPs are sent in
Military authorities sent in a truckload of military policemen to herd soldiers on leave out of the district.
Three fire alarms occurred within four minutes in the riot area late in the morning.
At one of the fires, the ceiling of a store collapsed, trapping three men inside. Harassed policemen and firemen were trying to clear the area, although it was not thought the fire was directly connected with the riot.
Damage from broken plate-glass windows and from looting of stores ran into thousands of dollars. Articles of clothing, food and furniture abandoned by the looters upon the approach of police littered sidewalks and streets throughout the area. A crowd of Negroes overturned an auto parked on Lenox Avenue and set fire to it.