Mass racial violence in the United States

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Mass racial violence in the United States, also called race riots, can include such disparate events as:


Genocide of the California Indigenous Natives[edit]


In the latter half of the 19th century California state, incited[4][5] aided and financed miners, settlers, ranchers and people's militias to enslave, kidnap, murder, and exterminate a major proportion of displaced Native American Indians. The latter were sometimes contemptuously referred to as "Diggers", for their practice of digging up roots to eat. Many of the same policies of violence were used here against the indigenous population as the United States had done throughout its territory.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12] California statehood, private militias, Federal reservations, and sections of the US Army all participated in a deliberate campaign to wipe out California Indians with the state and federal governments paying millions of dollar to militias who hunted and murdered Indians,[1][2] Federal Reservations deliberately starving Indians to death by reducing caloric distribution to them from 480–910 to 160–390[1] and the U.S. Army killed 1,680 to 3,741 California Indians themselves. California governor Peter Burnett even predicted: "That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate the result with but painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power and wisdom of man to avert."[13][14] Between 1850 and 1852 the state appropriated almost one million dollars for the activities of these militias, and between 1854 and 1859 the state appropriated another $500,000, almost half of which was reimbursed by the federal government.[15] Numerous books have been written on the subject of the California Indian genocide such as Genocide and Vendetta: The Round Valley Wars in Northern California by Lynwood Carranco and Estle Beard, Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846–1873 by Brendan C. Lindsay, and An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873 by Benjamin Madley among others. That last book by Madley caused California governor Jerry Brown to recognize the genocide.[2] Even Guenter Lewy famous for the phrase: "In the end, the sad fate of America's Indians represents not a crime but a tragedy, involving an irreconcilable collision of cultures and values" concedes that what happened in California may constitute genocide: "some of the massacres in California, where both the perpetrators and their supporters openly acknowledged a desire to destroy the Indians as an ethnic entity, might indeed be regarded under the terms of the convention as exhibiting genocidal intent."[3] In a speech before representatives of Native American peoples in June, 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom apologized for the genocide. Newsom said, "That's what it was, a genocide. No other way to describe it. And that's the way it needs to be described in the history books."[16]

By one estimate, at least 4,500 California Indians were killed between 1849 and 1870.[17] Contemporary historian Benjamin Madley has documented the numbers of California Indians killed between 1846 and 1873; he estimates that during this period at least 9,400 to 16,000 California Indians were killed by non-Indians. Most of the deaths took place in what he defined as more than 370 massacres (defined as the "intentional killing of five or more disarmed combatants or largely unarmed noncombatants, including women, children, and prisoners, whether in the context of a battle or otherwise").[18] Professor Ed Castillo, of Sonoma State University, estimates that more were killed: "The handiwork of these well armed death squads combined with the widespread random killing of Indians by individual miners resulted in the death of 100,000 Indians in the first two years of the gold rush."[19]

Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic violence[edit]

Riots defined by "race" have taken place between ethnic groups in the United States since at least the 18th century and they may have also occurred before it. During the early-to-mid- 19th centuries, violent rioting occurred between Protestant "Nativists" and recently arrived Irish Catholic immigrants.

The San Francisco Vigilance Movements of 1851 and 1856 have been described as responses to rampant crime and government corruption. But, since the late 20th century, historians have noted that the vigilantes had a nativist bias; they systematically attacked Irish immigrants, and later they attacked Mexicans and Chileans who came as miners during the California Gold Rush, and Chinese immigrants.[citation needed] During the early 20th century, racial or ethnic violence was directed by whites against Filipinos, Japanese and Armenians in California, who had arrived in waves of immigration.[20]

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian immigrants were subject to racial violence. In 1891, eleven Italians were lynched by a mob of thousands in New Orleans.[21] In the 1890s a total of twenty Italians were lynched in the South.

The Reconstruction era (1863–1877)[edit]

Immediately following the Civil War, political pressure from the North called for a full abolition of slavery. The South's lack of voting power led to the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which in theory gave African-American and other minority males equality and voting rights, along with abolishing slavery. Although the federal government originally kept troops in the South to protect these new freedoms, this time of progress was cut short.[22]

By 1877 the North had lost its political will in the South and while slavery remained abolished, the Black Codes and segregation laws helped erase most of the freedoms passed by the 14th and 15th amendments. Through violent economic tactics and legal technicalities, African-Americans were forced into sharecropping and were gradually removed from the voting process.[22]

The lynching era (1878–1939)[edit]

Lynching, defined as "the killing of an individual or small group of individuals by a 'mob' of people" was a particular form of ritualistic murder, often involving the majority of the local white community. Lynching was sometimes announced in advance and became a spectacle for an audience to witness. Lynchings in the United States dropped in number from the 1880s to the 1920s, but there were still an average of about 30 lynchings per year during the 1920s. A study done of 100 lynchings from 1929 to 1940 discovered that at least one third of the victims were innocent of the crimes of which they were accused.[23]

Racial and ethnic cleansing took place on a large scale in this time period, particularly towards Native Americans, who were forced off their land and relocated to reservations. Along with Native Americans, Chinese Americans in the Pacific Northwest and African Americans throughout the United States were rounded up and expunged from towns under threat of mob rule, often intending to harm their targets.[23]

The civil rights era (1940–1971)[edit]

Though the Roosevelt administration, under tremendous pressure, engaged in anti-racist propaganda and in some cases helped push for African-American employment, African Americans were still experiencing immense violence, particularly in the South. In March 1956, United States Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina created the Southern Manifesto,[24] which promised to fight to keep Jim Crow alive by all legal means.[25]

This continuation of support for Jim Crow and segregation laws led to protests in which many African-Americans were violently injured out in the open at lunchroom counters, buses, polling places and local public areas. These protests did not eviscerate racism, but it forced racism to become used in more coded or metaphorical language instead of being used out in the open.[25]

The modern era (1972–present)[edit]

Today racial violence has changed dramatically, as open violent acts of racism are rare, but acts of police brutality and the mass incarceration of racial minorities continues to be a major issue facing the United States. The War on Drugs[26] has been noted as a direct cause for the dramatic increase in incarceration, which has risen from 300,000 to more than 2,000,000 from 1980 to 2000 in the nation's prison system, though it does not account for the disproportionate African American homicide and crime rate, which peaked before the War on Drugs began.[27]

Nineteenth-century events[edit]

Like lynchings, race massacres often had their roots in economic tensions or in white defense of the racism. In 1887, for example, ten thousand workers at sugar plantations in Louisiana, organized by the Knights of Labor, went on strike for an increase in their pay to $1.25 a day. Most of the workers were black, but some were white, infuriating Governor Samuel Douglas McEnery, who declared that "God Almighty has himself drawn the color line." The militia was called in, but withdrawn to give free rein to a lynch mob in Thibodaux. The mob killed between 20 and 300 blacks. A black newspaper described the scene:

'Six killed and five wounded' is what the daily papers here say, but from an eye witness to the whole transaction we learn that no less than thirty-five Negroes were killed outright. Lame men and blind women shot; children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down! The Negroes offered no resistance; they could not, as the killing was unexpected. Those of them not killed took to the woods, a majority of them finding refuge in this city.[28]

In 1891, a mob lynched Joe Coe, a black worker in Omaha, Nebraska suspected of attacking a young white woman from South Omaha. Approximately 10,000 white people, mostly ethnic immigrants from South Omaha, reportedly swarmed the courthouse, setting it on fire. They took Coe from his jail cell, beating and then lynching him. Reportedly 6,000 people visited Coe's corpse during a public exhibition, at which pieces of the lynching rope were sold as souvenirs. This was a period when even officially sanctioned executions, such as hangings, were regularly conducted in public.[29]

Twentieth-century events[edit]

A white gang looking for blacks during the Chicago race riot of 1919
Buildings burning during the Tulsa race massacre of 1921

Labor and immigrant conflict was a source of tensions that catalyzed as the East St. Louis riot of 1917. White rioters, many of them ethnic immigrants, killed an estimated 100 black residents of East St. Louis, after black residents had killed two white policemen, mistaking the car they were riding in for a previous car of white occupants who drove through a black neighborhood and fired randomly into a crowd of black people. White-on-Black race riots include the Atlanta riots (1906), the Omaha and Chicago riots (1919), part of a series of riots in the volatile post-World War I environment, and the Tulsa massacre (1921).

The Chicago race riot of 1919 grew out of tensions on the Southside, where Irish descendants and African Americans competed for jobs at the stockyards, and where both were crowded into substandard housing. The Irish descendants had been in the city longer, and were organized around athletic and political clubs.

A young black Chicagoan, Eugene Williams, paddled a raft near a Southside Lake Michigan beach into "white territory", and drowned after being hit by a rock thrown by a young white man. Witnesses pointed out the killer to a policeman, who refused to make an arrest. An indignant black mob attacked the officer.[30] Violence broke out across the city. White mobs, many of them organized around Irish athletic clubs, began pulling black people off trolley cars, attacking black businesses, and beating victims. Having learned from the East St. Louis riot, the city closed down the street car system, but the rioting continued. A total of 23 black people and 15 white people were killed.[31]

The 1921 Tulsa race massacre was the result of economic competition, and white resentment of black successes in Greenwood, which was compared to Wall Street and filled with independent businesses. In the immediate event, black people resisted white people who tried to lynch 19-year-old Dick Rowland, who worked at shoeshines. Thirty-nine people (26 black, 13 white) were confirmed killed. An early 21st century investigation of these events has suggested that the number of casualties could be much higher. White mobs set fire to the black Greenwood district, destroying 1,256 homes and as many as 200 businesses. Fires leveled 35 blocks of residential and commercial neighborhood. Black people were rounded up by the Oklahoma National Guard and put into several internment centers, including a baseball stadium. White rioters in airplanes shot at black refugees and dropped improvised kerosene bombs and dynamite on them.[32]

By the 1960s, decades of racial, economic, and political forces, which generated inner city poverty, resulted in race riots within minority areas in cities across the United States. The beating and rumored death of cab driver John Smith by police, sparked the 1967 Newark riots. This event became, per capita, one of the deadliest civil disturbances of the 1960s. The long and short term causes of the Newark riots are explored in depth in the documentary film Revolution '67 and many news reports of the times. The riots in Newark spread across the United States in most major cities and over 100 deaths were reported. Many inner city neighborhoods in these cities were destroyed. The April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee and the June assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles also led to nationwide rioting with similar mass deaths. During the same time period, and since then, violent acts committed against African-American churches and their members have been commonplace.

During the 1980s and '90s a number of riots occurred that were related to longstanding racial tensions between police and minority communities. The 1980 Miami riots were catalyzed by the killing of an African-American motorist by four white Miami-Dade Police officers. They were subsequently acquitted on charges of manslaughter and evidence tampering. Similarly, the six-day 1992 Los Angeles riots erupted after the acquittal of four white LAPD officers who had been filmed beating Rodney King, an African-American motorist. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Harlem-based Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has identified more than 100 instances of mass racial violence in the United States since 1935 and has noted that almost every instance was precipitated by a police incident.[33]

Twenty-first-century events[edit]

The Cincinnati riots of 2001 were caused by the killing of 19-year-old African-American Timothy Thomas by white police officer Stephen Roach, who was subsequently acquitted on charges of negligent homicide.[34] The 2014 Ferguson unrest occurred against a backdrop of racial tension between police and the black community of Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown; similar incidents elsewhere such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin sparked smaller and isolated protests. According to the Associated Press' annual poll of United States news directors and editors, the top news story of 2014 was police killings of unarmed black people, including Brown, as well as the investigations and the protests afterward.[35][36] During the 2017 Unite the Right rally, an attendee drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally, killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer and injuring 19 others, and was indicted on federal hate crime charges.[37]

In 2020, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked racial unrest over systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans. Riots during the summer resulted in destruction of property, monument removals, and incidences of violence by counter-protesters and police across the United States.[38][39] Widespread looting by rioters led to severe financial losses for businesses that had already been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.[40] The Trump administration condemned violence during the movement and responded by demonizing protesters and threatening to quell demonstrations, for which it drew criticism. In June, president Donald Trump threatened to use the military to disperse protesters by invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807.[41] Federal law enforcement agencies were eventually deployed to assist local authorities and protect public property in Washington, D.C.[42]

Timeline of events[edit]

Nativist period 1700s–1860[edit]

For information about riots worldwide, see List of riots.

Civil War period 1861–1865[edit]

Post–Civil War and Reconstruction period: 1865–1877[edit]

Irish and German-American indigent immigrants, temporarily interned at Wards Island by the Commissioners of Emigration, begin rioting following an altercation between two residents, resulting in thirty men seriously wounded and around sixty arrested.[46]
Federal troops, led by Col. Kirk and requested by NC governor Holden, were sent to extinguish racial violence. Holden was eventually impeached because of the offensive.
Violence occurs between striking members of a miners' union in Scranton, Pennsylvania when Welsh miners attack Irish and German-American miners who chose to leave the union and accept the terms offered by local mining companies.[47]

Jim Crow period: 1877–1914[edit]

In one of the largest civil disturbances in the city's history, fighting between Swedish, Hungarian and Polish immigrants resulted in the shooting death of one man and several others were injured before it was broken up by police.[49]
A lynch mob storms a local jail and hangs 11 Italians following the acquittal of several Sicilian immigrants alleged to be involved in the murder of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy.
10,000 white people storm the local courthouse to beat and lynch Joe Coe, alleged to have raped a white girl.
Two groups of Irish and Italian-Americans are arrested by police after fighting following a barroom brawl. After the mob is dispersed by police, five Italians are arrested while two others are sent to a local hospital.[50]
Much of the violence in this national strike was not specifically racial. In Iowa, where employees of Consolidation Coal Company (Iowa) refused to join the strike, armed confrontation between strikers and strike breakers took on racial overtones because the majority of Consolidation's employees were African American. The National Guard was mobilized to avert open warfare.[51][52][53]
A group of Democrats sought to remove African-Americans from the political scene, and went about this by launching a campaign of accusing African-American men of sexually assaulting white women. About five hundred white men attacked and burned Alex Manly's office, a newspaper editor who suggested African-American men and white women had consensual relationships. Fourteen African-Americans were killed.[54]
Angered about hiring of African-American workers, a group of 80-100 Arab laborers attack African Americans near the Freeman & Hammond brick yard, with numerous men injured on both sides.[55]
Anti-Semitic riots initiated by German factory workers and city policemen against thousands of Jews attending Jacob Joseph's funeral
  • 1906: Little Rock, Arkansas
Started after a white police officer in Argenta (North Little Rock) killed a black musician, and another black was killed; racial tensions rose with exchange of gunfire, resulting in half a block of buildings burned down; whites rioted and some blacks fled the city.[56]
In September after two newspapers printed stories about African-American men allegedly assaulting white women anti-African-American, violence broke out. Roughly 10,000 white men and boys took the street, resulting in the deaths of 25 to 100 African-Americans, along with hundreds injured and many businesses destroyed.[54]
A successful Greek immigrant community in South Omaha, Nebraska is burnt to the ground by ethnic whites and its residents are forced to leave town.[58]

War and Inter-War period: 1914–1945[edit]

Political cartoon about the East St. Louis massacres of 1917. The caption reads, "Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?"
Between May 31st and June 1st, a young white woman accused an African American man of grabbing her arm in an elevator. The man Dick Rowland was arrested and police launched an investigation. A mob of armed white men gathered outside the Tulsa County Courthouse, where gunfire ensued. During the violence, 1,250 homes were destroyed and roughly 6,000 African-Americans were imprisoned after the Oklahoma National Guard was called in. The state of Oklahoma reports that twenty-six African-Americans died along with 10 whites.
Lynching of John Carter, a suspect in a murder, was followed by rioting by 5,000 whites in the city, who destroyed a black business area[63]
A wave of civil unrest, violence, and vandalism by local White mobs against Blacks, as well Greek, Jewish, Chinese and Puerto Rican targets in the community.[citation needed]
In late June a fistfight broke out between an African-American man and a white man at an amusement park on Belle Isle. The violence escalated from there and led to three days of intense fighting, in which 6,000 United States Army troops were brought in. This resulted in twenty-five African-Americans dying, along with nine white deaths and a total of seven hundred injured persons.[54]

Civil rights movement: 1955–1973[edit]





The buildings burning during Watts riot
The police make arrests during protest actions.
This predominately African-American neighborhood exploded with violence from August 11th to August 17th after the arrest of 21-year old Marquette Frye, a black motorist who was arrested by a white highway patrolman. During his arrest a crowd had gathered and a fight broke out between the crowd and the police, escalating to the point in which rocks and concrete were thrown at police. 30,000 people were recorded participating in the riots and fights with police, which left thirty four people dead, 1,000 injured and 4,000 arrested.






New Bedford Mass, Riot July 1970 Natives Blacks Cape Verdeans Puerto Ricans




Post-Civil Rights Era: 1974–1989[edit]




  • 1979: Worcester, MA — Great Brook Valley Projects Riots (Puerto Ricans rioted)[68]


  • 1980 Miami riots – following the acquittal of four Miami-Dade Police officers in the death of Arthur McDuffie. McDuffie, an African-American, died from injuries sustained at the hands of four white officers trying to arrest him after a high-speed chase.


  • 1984: Lawrence race riot (Lawrence, Massachusetts), a small scale riot centered at the intersection of Haverhill and railroad streets between working class whites and Hispanics; several buildings were destroyed by Molotov cocktails; August 8, 1984.[69]



  • 1989 Miami riot - was sparked after police officer William Lozano shot Clement Lloyd, who was fleeing another officer and trying to run over Officer Lozano on his motorcycle.

Since 1990[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Madley, Benjamin (August 31, 2016). "Killing of Native Americans in California". C-SPAN. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Wolf, Jessica (August 15, 2017). "Revealing the history of genocide against California's Native Americans". UCLA. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  3. ^ a b Lewis, Guenter. "Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide?". History News Network.
  4. ^ On January 6, 1851 at his State of the State address to the California Senate, 1st Governor Peter Burnett said: "That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert."
  5. ^ Burnett, Peter (6 January 1851). "State of the State Address". California State Library. Retrieved 2019-08-30.
  6. ^ Coffer, William E. (1977). "Genocide of the California Indians, with a Comparative Study of Other Minorities". The Indian Historian. San Francisco, CA. 10 (2): 8–15. PMID 11614644.
  7. ^ Norton, Jack. Genocide in Northwestern California: 'When our worlds cried'. Indian Historian Press, 1979.
  8. ^ Lynwood, Carranco; Beard, Estle (1981). Genocide and Vendetta: The Round Valley Wars of Northern California. University of Oklahoma Press.
  9. ^ Lindsay, Brendan C. (2012). Murder State: California's Native American Genocide, 1846–1873. University of Nebraska Press.
  10. ^ Johnston-Dodds, Kimberly (September 2002). Early California Laws and Policies Related to California Indians (PDF). Sacramento, CA: California State Library, California Research Bureau. ISBN 1-58703-163-9. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 12, 2014. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  11. ^ Trafzer, Clifford E.; Lorimer, Michelle (2014). "Silencing California Indian Genocide in Social Studies Texts". American Behavioral Scientist. 58 (1): 64–82. doi:10.1177/0002764213495032. S2CID 144356070.
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  13. ^ "The Governor's Message (Transmitted January 7, 1851)," Sacramento Transcript, January 10, 1851, 2.
  14. ^ On January 6, 1851 at his State of the State address to the California Senate, 1st Governor Peter Burnett used the following words: "That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert."
  15. ^ "Militia and Indians".
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  49. ^ A Race Riot In Denver.; One Man Killed And A Number Of Heads Broken. New York Times. 12 Apr 1887
  50. ^ Race Riot In Buffalo.; Italians and Irish Fight for an Hour and a Half in the Street. New York Times. 19 Mar. 1894
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Further reading[edit]

  • Bloombaum, M. "The conditions underlying race riots as portrayed by multidimensional scalogram analysis: A reanalysis of Lieberson and Silverman's data" American Sociological Review 1968, 33#1: 76–91.
  • Brophy, A.L. Reconstructing the dreamland: The Tulsa race riot of 1921 (2002)[ISBN missing]
  • Chicago Commission on Race Relations. The Negro in Chicago: A study of race relations and a race riot (1922)[ISBN missing]
  • Dray, Philip. At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, New York: Random House, 2002.[ISBN missing]
  • Gilje, Paul A. Rioting in America (1996), examines 4000 American riots.[ISBN missing]
  • Graham, . Hugh D. and Ted R Gurr, eds. The History of Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (1969) (A Report Submitted to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence)[ISBN missing]
  • Grimshaw, Allen D. "Lawlessness and violence in America and their special manifestations in changing negro-white relationships." Journal of Negro History 44.1 (1959): 52–72. online
  • Grimshaw, Allen, ed. A social history of racial violence (2017).[ISBN missing]
  • Grimshaw, Allen D. "Changing patterns of racial violence in the United States." Notre Dame Law Review. 40 (1964): 534+ online
  • Gottesman, Ronald, ed. Violence in America: An Encyclopedia (3 vol 1999)
  • Hofstadter, Richard, and Michael Wallace, eds. American violence: A documentary history (1970).[ISBN missing]
  • Ifill, Sherrilyn A. On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century (Beacon Press, 2007) ISBN 978-0-8070-0987-1
  • Rable, George C. But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction (1984)[ISBN missing]
  • Rapoport, David C. "Before the bombs there were the mobs: American experiences with terror." Terrorism and Political Violence 20.2 (2008): 167–194. online
  • Sowell, Thomas. Ethnic America: A History. 1981: Basic Books, Inc.[ISBN missing]
  • Williams, John A. "The Long Hot the Summers of Yesteryear," History Teacher 1.3 (1968): 9–23. online
  • Zinn, Howard. Voices of a People's History of the United States. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004.[ISBN missing]

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