Darryl James

*It is significant to illustrate that the first riot on record in America was by white people. It was in 1863 and was called the New York Draft Riot.

This fact is significant because the popular lie that racists love to perpetuate is that African descendants are violent for no reason, but owe the nation and benevolent whites for their freedom.

Contrary to that racist fairy tale, Africans in America have been in the midst of a bloody fight for freedom from slavery to today.

The most significant thing that I want to point out with this series is that African descendants in America fought back against the vicious attacks from rabid racists who were either taking out their frustrations on Blacks, or pretending to defend white women’s honor in some trumped up accusation of a Black man smudging the honor or a white woman.

Not much has changed in more than one hundred years.

Right smack in the middle of the Civil War, while Africans were dying on the battlefield for this country and for the assumption of freedom in victory, they were also the target of vicious racism—even in the “enlightened” North.

In July, 1863, in New York City, a demonstration against the first federal Draft, blossomed into a revolt against President Abraham Lincoln, and before long, against Blacks, as white citizens blamed slaves and ex-slaves for the war and refused to fight for “their cause.”

The city was out of control as the rioters burned draft offices and local business establishments and gathered rage and insanity, melding it into an armed assault against police officers, soldiers and, of course, the Black community.  At the end of the violent uproar, more than one hundred people were killed.

And, even after the Civil War, when Blacks were freed from slavery, rabid racists continued their campaign of hate and evil against Africans in America.

On April 30, 1866, four policemen forced a group of Blacks off of the sidewalk, causing one of them to fall in the street.  One of the policemen tripped over a fallen Black man and drew his gun on him.  The other officers joined, attacking the Blacks.

The next day, a crowd of Blacks, many of them former soldiers in the Civil War returned to the scene.  It is unclear how they interacted with the whites, but a fight ensued.  The Blacks were outgunned and several were jailed.  The only casualty from this fight was a police officer who accidentally discharged his own weapon and died.

John C. Creighton, the city recorder of Memphis then assembled a crowd of whites and urged them to hunt and attack or kill every Black found, including women and children.

In his street-corner speech, Creighton urged that “every one of the citizens should get arms, organize and go through the Black districts,” and that he “was in favor of killing every God damned Nigger. We are not prepared now, but let us prepare and clean out every damned son of a bitch of a Nigger out of town.  Boys, I want you to go ahead and kill every damned one of the Nigger race and burn up the cradle.”

During that night, a mob of white citizens, including policemen, firemen and politicians shot,  raped, robbed and killed any Black person found and burned their houses to the ground.

Three churches and more than fifty houses were burned as part of over one hundred thousand dollars of damage.  More than thirty people lost their lives.

The murderous riots lasted until May 4th, when many of the town’s Blacks had fled the city.

It is important to note that the murderous mood of the white citizens was not only sparked by a city official, but fueled by local papers, which reported frequently that “low whites” should be hostile to Black citizens.

In other words, whites who weren’t doing very well were incited to blame Blacks for their condition.

Sound familiar?

At the turn of the century, William Edward Burghardt Dubois, intellectual and activist, made his famous prophetic statement: “The problem of the twentieth century will be the problem of the color line.”

At the precipice of the turn of the century, the Wilmington, North Carolina Race Riots set the tone for many twentieth century riots in this nation, in that it was based on a direct conflict between whites and Blacks.  This event, in particular was the visible flash point for the white supremacy campaign, and the beginning of the Jim Crow era of segregation.

These riots escalated into a government upheaval in Wilmington marked by the removal and replacement of the mayor and city council.

It is important to note that at this time, Blacks were largely loyal to the Republican Party, which was the party of Abraham Lincoln.  That fact is important because the government insurrection and race war in Wilmington was led by Democrats.

The Wilmington Riots were also important because they signified a growing trend—fear of a Black penis.  The white citizens of Wilmington were brought to rage by the public recognition of the sexual mixing of the races, published in the Wilmington Daily Record, a local black owned newspaper.

Prior to the city elections in November of 1898, Alfred Moore Waddell, a former Confederate officer, blamed the race mixing on the town government and pressed for the overthrow of the current political regime in Wilmington, urging the white citizens to go to any lengths necessary, including murder.

In the early morning, about two thousand white men descended on the office of the paper and burned the building and threatened the entire town with further violence.  The mob, armed to the teeth, ran amok, rioting through Black neighborhoods, burning buildings and beating and killing the Black citizens.

The final death count was nearly thirty people.

The mayor, who was white, resigned, along with both white and black members of the city council. Waddell appointed himself mayor and worked on constitutional reform such as the “Grandfather Clause,” which prevented Black citizens from voting if they could not read or write and if their grandfather could not vote.  Since the majority of the citizens were sons of slaves, or former slaves themselves, that clause denied them the right to vote.

The new century brought with it more racially-tinged violence, particularly from the mouth-breathing cowards who donned white robes and covered their faces with hoods, calling themselves the Ku Lux Klan.

With their identities hidden, the new band of racists could conduct clandestine rides under the cover of night to pursue their evil ignorant dream of racial purity.

But Africans in America were more than victims and in the 20th century, riots ensued as they pushed back against racism.

Next Week: The Red Summer

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.”  James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opened in Los Angeles this Spring and will be running throughout 2011. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at [email protected].