Longview Race Riot
|Date||July 10–12, 1919|
|Location||Longview, Texas, United States|
|Also known as||Longview Race Riot of 1919|
The Longview Race Riot refers to a series of violent incidents in Longview, Texas, between July 10 and July 12, 1919, during the Red Summer. Although only one man was killed as result of the violence, the riot is notable for the prompt and responsible reactions by local and state authorities, who moved quickly to quell the unrest by organizing an occupation of the town by the Texas National Guard and Texas Rangers.
Longview is located approximately 125 miles east of Dallas, and had a population 5,700 in 1919, of which 1,790, or thirty-one percent, was African American. Longview is the seat of Gregg County, which, in 1919, had a population of 16,700, of which 8,160, or forty-eight percent, was black. The area was still very rural, according to the East Texas Historical Journal, which may be at least part of the reason why the bloodshed in Longview wasn't as drastic as in Chicago, or Washington, D.C. However, the low mortality rate as result of the Longview riot cannot be entirely attributed to the ruralness of the area: For example, during the riot in Elaine, Arkansas, which had a population of 2,500 in 1919, as many as 100 people may have been killed. The primary reason for the low mortality in Longview was the "prompt and responsible actions" taken by Mayor G. A. Bodenheim, Gregg County Judge E.M. Bramlette, and other local officials.
According to the East Texas Historical Journal, various reasons contributed to the racial tension in Longview. African American literature, which circulated in the county, encouraged blacks to "push for better treatment." The most influential African American literature to circulate in Longview was The Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper with nationwide coverage and circulation. The local reporter and newspaper distributor was a man named Samuel L. Jones, who was also a school teacher. At the time, Jones and a thirty-four-year-old black physician, Dr. Calvin P. Davis, were leaders in Longview's African American community. Not long before the riot, the two had urged local black farmers to avoid white cotton brokers and sell directly to buyers in Galveston. Another source of tension was the murder of Lemuel Walters on June 17, 1919. Earlier that month, Walters had been whipped by two white men from Kilgore, allegedly for making "indecent advances" towards their sister. He was then placed in jail, but a lynch mob abducted him on June 17 and killed him.
The immediate cause of the riot was an article published in The Chicago Defender on July 5, 1919, about Walter's death, from the African American perspective. The article said that "Walters' only crime was that he was loved by a white woman," and it quoted her as saying that she "would have married him if they had lived in the North." The newspaper continued on, saying "[s]he was so distraught over his death that she required a physician's care." Furthermore, the article said that the sheriff who was guarding Walters let the lynch mob take him, without offering any sort of resistance. The article did not mention the woman's name, but readers - such as friends and family - knew who it was anyway. They thought that it was "scurrilous," and thus damaging to the young woman's reputation.
- Samuel L. Jones
Jones was held responsible for publishing the scandalous newspaper article, so the young woman's brothers decided to "beat him up" on Thursday, July 10, 1919. The two brothers found Jones on Melvin Street, across the road from the courthouse, and gave him a "severe beating." Calvin P. Davis arrived in his car shortly thereafter, and took Jones back to his office for treatment. Meanwhile, "tension and anger" spread across town as whites learned of the article, and as blacks gathered at Melvin Street to hear about the beating. When Judge Bramlette and Mayor Bodenheim became aware of the situation, they and a local attorney, Ras Young, urged the mob to leave Jones alone. The officials must have felt that their response was adequate, and therefore were optimistic that the worst was over with. However, the tension escalated later that night, as "gangs" of both whites and blacks roamed the streets looking for people of the opposite race.
At about midnight on July 10, a group of between twelve and fifteen white men gathered at Bodie Park, located at the southwest corner of Tyler and Fredonia Streets. As they were talking about the events of the day, they decided to walk to Jones' house and "pay him an unfriendly visit." At about 1:00 AM, July 11, 1919, they drove their cars to Jones' house on southwest corner of Harrison and College Streets. Jones and a few others inside the house were prepared for trouble, however. So, as the whites got out of their cars and began making their way to the front door, Jones and the others opened fire on them with small arms. Some of the whites were also armed with guns, and they returned fire as they retreated to cover. In all, over 100 rounds were expended during the skirmish. Three of the whites were slightly wounded by birdshot, and a fourth, who had hid underneath a nearby house when the shooting started, was captured by the blacks and beaten badly.
The remaining whites fled back into downtown Longview. Most went to the fire station next to Bodie Park, but some of the others broke into the Welch Hardware Store for guns and ammunition. At this point, the mob feared that their companion who had been captured was dead, so they raised the alarm to gather more reinforcements, and then proceeded to advance towards Jones' house. Altogether, there were about 100 white men involved in the second attack, which took place at about 4:00 AM. To their surprise, the mob found Jones' house empty, so they resulted to setting the building on fire. Next they went two blocks further south down Harrison Street to the Quick Hall - an African American dance hall owned by Charlie Medlock - and set it on fire because of suspicions that ammunition was being stored there. Their suspicions were confirmed when a cache of ammunition began exploding "throughout the building." The mob then went to Dr. Davis' deserted house, which was located at the southeast corner of the Harrison and Nelson Street intersection, and burned it. They also set fire to his car that was parked along the street, causing it to explode. From the Davis home, the mob went east on Nelson Street three blocks to the homes of Ben Sanders and Charlie Medlock, which were located near the Center Street intersection. The mob set both houses on fire, and when the owners protested, they whipped Charlie Medlock and Ben Sanders' wife, Belle.
Not long after that, the sun began to rise, so the mob dispersed. The trouble was not yet over, though. Sheriff D.S. Meredith and Judge Bramlette spoke with Governor William P. Hobby by telephone to request military assistance. Hobby responded by placing the National Guard units in Dallas, Terrell, and Nacogdoches, on high alert, although he only sent eight Texas Rangers to Longview. The Texas Rangers were not going to arrive before Saturday morning on July 12, and Longview authorities expected more trouble on Friday night, so they spoke with Governor Hobby again, who decided on sending some dismounted National Guard soldiers to Longview. The soldiers were members of the 5th, 6th, and 7th Texas Cavalry Regiments, and numbered about 100 men altogether. They erected a large tent on the eastern side of the courthouse square to be used as a command post for the occupation.
- Marion Bush
According to the East Texas Historical Journal, the soldiers might have been able to bring peace to Longview, had it not been for the killing of Marion Bush on Saturday, July 12. Marion Bush was a sixty-year-old African American who had worked with the local Kelly Plow Company for thirty years. He was also a friend of the Davis family, and because of this, Sheriff Meredith felt that he and his family were in danger of the white mobs roaming around the town. On the night of July 12, Sheriff Meredith and a man named Ike Killingsworth went to Bush's house - located on the west side of Court Street, one block south of the Texas and Pacific Railroad tracks - to offer him protection. After a few moments of discussion, Bush told the Sheriff that he would go with him, but asked him to wait so he could go back inside and retrieve his hat. When he returned, Bush was concealing a .45 caliber revolver. He then told the sheriff that he had changed his mind and that he was not going. Bush, without a doubt, remembered the lynching of Lemuel Walters. As he spoke, Bush aimed the revolver at Meredith and fired; then he fired at Killingsworth, missing both men. After that, Bush ran back inside his house and fired again at Meredith, who was trying to take cover underneath the house. A few moments later, Bush ran out the back door and headed west carrying his revolver and a rifle. Meredith opened fire on him as he fled, but the latter got away without injury.
Bush headed west along the railroad tracks, presumably to reach the African American lodge at Camp Switch, which was a train stop about ten miles from Longview. The lodge was known to have guns inside, so Bush probably thought he could find refuge there. After the shootout, Meredith telephoned a farmer named Jim Stephens, who lived about five miles west of Longview, at Willow Springs, and asked him to stop Bush. Sometime later that night, Stephens found Bush and ordered him to stop, but the latter ran into a cornfield. Stephens followed and eventually ended up killing Bush with shots to the chest and to the neck.
When local officials heard of Bush's death, they feared that a new wave of civil unrest would occur, so they telephoned Governor Hobby again, and had him send about 160 more soldiers and Texas Rangers. Hobby went even further, though, by placing Brigadier General Robert H. McDill in command of the soldiers and the rangers, and by declaring martial law. On Sunday, July 13, General McDill issued specific details of the martial law. He divided the town into two districts, giving command of one section to Colonel T.E. Barton, and the other to Colonel H.W. Peck. Colonel H.C. Smith was placed in command of the Texas Rangers. McDill ordered a 10:30 PM to 6:00 AM curfew in Longview, and prohibited groups of three or more people from gathering on the streets. He had the local telephone operators prohibit any long-distance calls, so that no one could request guns from neighboring towns, and he also ordered all citizens of Longview and Kilgore to surrender their weapons. The Longview courthouse was selected as the depository for the weapons. Furthermore, citizens were warned that their homes could be searched, and that the penalty for concealing firearms would be severe. An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 guns were eventually turned in at the courthouse, and they were placed in "scattered locations throughout the building."
General McDill asked the town officials to organize a committee, consisting of local citizens, to work with and advise him and the other military personnel for the duration. It met on Monday, July 14, at Judge Bramlette's office and elected the attorney Ras Young chairman. The committee drafted a list of resolutions about their concerns. For example, they "expressed disapproval" of Jones' newspaper article, and the defense of his home. It also addressed the burning of African American property, and took steps to ensure that it would not happen again. Finally, the committee commended Governor Hobby for dispatching the National Guard and the Texas Rangers in a timely manner. Meanwhile, Captain William M. Hanson and his rangers conducted an investigation of the hostilities. After talking with locals, the rangers discovered the identity of the "ringleader," who told them the identity of sixteen others that had been involved in the first attack on Jones' house. All were arrested for attempted murder on July 14, but quickly released on $1,000 bonds. Further investigation the next day revealed the names of nine other suspects, who were arrested for arson and released on $1,000 bonds.
After finishing his investigation of the white mobs, Captain Hanson began questioning various blacks. Ultimately, Hanson arrested twenty-one black men for assault and attempted murder, all of whom were temporarily placed in the county jail. Neither Jones nor Davis were among those arrested, both having fled town. News of the arrests and information about the presence of National Guard troops and Texas Rangers was delivered to the public by General McDill, who organized an assembly at the courthouse. Brigadier General Jake F. Wolters spoke to the citizens. According to the East Texas Historical Journal, the assembly had a "sobering effect" on the crowd, and there were no other violent acts reported during the remainder of the occupation. There were a couple of fires, but neither were thought to be the work of arsonists.
Eventually, McDill asked the citizens' committee when they thought he should ask Governor Hobby to end the martial law. The committee said that McDill should wait until all of the blacks who had been arrested were sent out of the county, because there were rumors that certain whites would kill some of the blacks as soon as their guns were returned. As a result, the twenty-one blacks were taken to Austin by the National Guard. Travis County officials wanted to have the prisoners incarcerated at the Texas State Penitentiary, at state expense, but that would have been illegal, so the prisoners were sperarated and placed in various county jails, at Gregg County's expense, until they could be tried in a Gregg County court. However, none of the blacks or any of the whites were ever tried. The East Texas Historical Journal says that Gregg County officials must have thought it would help defuse the tension further, and they also wanted to spare Longview years of negative publicity about the riot, which would have been more adundant, had there been a series of long trials afterward, like there was after the Elaine Race Riot. The martial law was lifted at noon on Friday, July 18, and citizens were allowed to begin picking up their guns on the next day.
- "THE LONGVIEW RACE RIOT OF 1919 by Kenneth R. Durham, Jr.". Retrieved 2013-02-23.
- "LONGVIEW RACE RIOT OF 1919". Retrieved 2013-02-23.