The incident began with the alleged jailhouse suicide of Private Robert Hunt, a young African-American soldier on leave in his hometown of Cairo. Police said Hunt hanged himself with his T-shirt, but Cairo's African-American residents challenged that story. The death touched off three days of riots and protests, followed by a seven-year renewal of civil rights activities in the city.
Several shootouts occurred throughout the city and at least six firebombings occurred. Three stores and a warehouse were burned down and a stabbing also occurred.