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Historynotes Mo' Black History....the Maafa

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    Never Forget,, ~RE ... Subject: Mo Black History....the Maafa Date: Mon, 1 Mar 1999 08:51:27 -0500 From: Rodney Cash To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 1999
      Never Forget,,


      -------- Original Message --------
      Subject: Mo' Black History....the Maafa
      Date: Mon, 1 Mar 1999 08:51:27 -0500
      From: "Rodney Cash" <Rodney_Cash@...>
      To: historynotes@egroups.com

      In the Race Riot of 1919, a Glimpse of Struggles to Come

      By Peter Perl
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Monday, March 1, 1999; Page A01

      Another in a biweekly series of stories about the people and events that
      shaped Washington in the 20th century.

      Nobody knows precisely how or where it started, but on a steamy Saturday
      night, July 19, 1919, the word began to spread among the saloons and
      pool halls of downtown Washington, where crowds of soldiers, sailors and
      Marines freshly home from the Great War were taking weekend liberty.

      A black suspect, questioned in an attempted sexual assault on a white
      woman, had been released by the Metropolitan Police. The woman was the
      wife of a Navy man. So the booze-fueled mutterings about revenge flowed
      quickly among hundreds of men in uniform, white men who were having
      trouble finding jobs in a crowded, sweltering capital.

      Late that night, they started to move. The mob drew strength from a
      neighborhood off Pennsylvania Avenue NW called "Murder Bay," known for
      brawlers and brothels. The crowd crossed the tree-covered Mall heading
      toward a predominantly poor black section of Southwest. They picked up
      clubs, lead pipes and pieces of lumber as they went.

      Near Ninth and D streets SW, they fell upon an unsuspecting black man
      Charles Linton Ralls, who was out with his wife, Mary. Ralls was chased
      down and beaten severely. The mob then attacked a second black man,
      George Montgomery, 55, who was returning home with groceries. They
      fractured his skull with a brick.

      The rampage by about 400 whites initially drew only scattered resistance
      in the black community, and the police were nowhere to be seen. When the
      Metropolitan Police Department finally arrived in force, its white
      officers arrested more blacks than whites, sending a clear signal about
      their sympathies.

      It was only the beginning. The white mob -- whose actions were triggered
      large part by weeks of sensational newspaper accounts of alleged sex
      crimes by a "negro fiend" -- unleashed a wave of violence that swept
      over the city for four days. Nine people were killed in brutal street
      fighting, and an estimated 30 more would die eventually from their
      wounds. More than 150 men, women and children were clubbed, beaten and
      shot by mobs of both races. Several Marine guards and six D.C. policemen
      were shot, two fatally.

      "A mob of sailors and soldiers jumped on the [street]car and pulled me
      beating me unmercifully from head to foot, leaving me in such a
      condition that I could hardly crawl back home," Francis Thomas, a frail
      black 17-year-old, said in a statement to the NAACP. Thomas said he saw
      three other blacks being beaten, including two women. "Before I became
      unconscious, I could hear them pleading with the Lord to keep them from
      being killed."

      The Washington riot was one of more than 20 that took place that summer.
      rioting in Chicago, Omaha, Knoxville, Tenn., Charleston, S.C., and other
      cities, the bloody interval came to be known as "the Red Summer." Unlike
      virtually all the disturbances that preceded it -- in which
      white-on-black violence dominated -- the Washington riot of 1919 was
      distinguished by strong, organized and armed black resistance,
      foreshadowing the civil rights struggles later in the century.

      Postwar Washington, roughly 75 percent white, was a racial tinderbox.
      was in short supply and jobs so scarce that ex-doughboys in uniform
      panhandled along Pennsylvania Avenue. Unemployed whites bitterly envied
      the relatively few blacks who had been fortunate enough to procure such
      low-level government jobs as messenger and clerk. Many whites also
      resented the black "invasion" of previously segregated neighborhoods
      around Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom and the old downtown.

      Washington's black community was then the largest and most prosperous in
      country, with a small but impressive upper class of teachers, ministers,
      lawyers and businessmen concentrated in the LeDroit Park neighborhood
      near Howard University. But black Washingtonians were increasingly
      resentful of the growing dominance of the Jim Crow system that had been
      imported from the Deep South.

      Racial resentment was particularly intense among Washington's several
      thousand returning black war veterans. They had proudly served their
      country in such units as the District's 1st Separate Battalion, part of
      the segregated Army force that fought in France. These men had been
      forced to fight for the right to serve in combat because the Army at
      first refused to draft blacks for any role other than laborer. They
      returned home hopeful that their military service would earn them fair

      Instead, they saw race relations worsening in an administration
      dominated by
      conservative Southern whites brought here by Woodrow Wilson, a
      Wilson's promise of a "New Freedom" had won him more black voters than
      Democrat before him, but they were cruelly disappointed: Previously
      integrated departments such as the Post Office and the Treasury had now
      set up "Jim Crow corners" with separate washrooms and lunchrooms for
      "colored only." Meanwhile, the Ku Klux Klan was being revived in
      Maryland and Virginia, as racial hatred burst forth with the resurgence
      of lynching of black men and women around the country -- 28 public
      lynchings in the first six months of 1919 alone, including seven black
      veterans killed while still wearing their Army uniforms.

      Washington's newspapers made a tense situation worse, with an
      unrelenting series of sensational stories of alleged sexual assaults by
      an unknown black
      perpetrator upon white women. The headlines dominated the city's four
      papers -- the Evening Star, the Times, the Herald and The Post -- for
      more than a month. A sampling of these July headlines illustrates the
      growing lynch-mob mentality: 13 SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN NEGRO HUNT; POSSES
      Washington's newly formed chapter of the NAACP was so concerned that on
      July 9 -- 10 days before the bloodshed -- it sent a letter to the four
      daily papers saying they were "sowing the seeds of a race riot by their
      inflammatory headlines."

      Violence escalated on the second night, Sunday, July 20, when white mobs
      sensed the 700-member police department was unwilling or unable to stop
      them. Blacks were beaten in front of the White House, at the giant
      Center Market on Seventh Street NW, and throughout the city, where
      roving bands of whites pulled them off streetcars.

      One of black Washington's leading citizens, author and historian Carter
      Woodson, 43, the new dean at Howard University, was caught up in that
      horror. Walking home on Pennsylvania Avenue, Woodson was forced to hide
      in the shadows of a storefront as a white mob approached. "They had
      caught a Negro and deliberately held him as one would a beef for
      slaughter," he recalled, "and when they had conveniently adjusted him
      for lynching, they shot him. I heard him groaning in his struggle as I
      hurried away as fast as I could without running, expecting every moment
      to be lynched myself."

      The Parents League, a black citizens group that had been formed
      primarily to
      improve the "colored schools," printed and distributed about 50,000
      copies of a Notice to the Colored Citizens, a handbill that advised "our
      people, in the
      interest of law and order and to avoid the loss of life and injury, to
      go home before dark and to remain quietly and to protect themselves."

      The city's chief executive, Louis Brownlow, the chairman of the District
      Commissioners, issued an urgent appeal: "The actions of the men who
      innocent Negroes cannot be too strongly condemned, and it is the duty of
      every citizen to express his support of law and order by refraining from
      any inciting conversation or the repetition of inciting rumor and

      But a crucial event had already occurred that morning that would
      Brownlow's good intention. The Washington Post published a front-page
      that would be singled out by the NAACP, and later by historians, as a
      contributing cause of the riot's escalation. Under the words
      "Mobilization for Tonight," The Post erroneously reported that all
      available servicemen had been ordered to report to Pennsylvania Avenue
      and Seventh Street at 9 p.m. for a "clean-up" operation.

      It was never clear how this fictional mobilization call was issued, but
      became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as white rioters gathered and blacks
      arming themselves in defense. Longtime Post reporter Chalmers Roberts,
      in his
      history of The Washington Post, called the paper's riot coverage

      As blacks realized that authorities were not protecting them, many took
      up arms. More than 500 guns were sold by pawnshops and gun dealers that
      Monday, when the worst violence occurred. White mobs were met by black
      mobs up and down the Seventh Street commercial corridor. Black Army
      veterans took out their old guns; sharpshooters climbed to the roof of
      the Howard Theatre; blacks manned barricades at New Jersey Avenue and at
      U Street.

      Black men were driving around the city firing randomly at whites. Blacks
      turned the tables and pulled whites off streetcars. At Seventh and G
      streets NW, a black rioter emptied his revolver into a crowded streetcar
      before taking five bullets from police. At 12th and G NW, a 17-year-old
      black girl barricaded herself in her house and shot and killed an MPD
      detective. In all, 10 whites and five blacks were killed or mortally
      wounded that night.

      James Scott, a World War I veteran, boarded a streetcar at Seventh
      Street and
      Florida Avenue NW late Monday night and quickly noticed he was the only
      man on board. As he headed for a vacant seat, a white soldier barred his
      way and shouted, "Where are you going, nigger?"

      "Lynch him!" yelled another white. "Kill him! . . . Throw him out the
      window," others yelled.

      "I was being grabbed from all sides. I forced my way to the rear door
      and was
      hit by something as I stepped off, which cut my ear and bruised my
      head," Scott recalled in a statement to the NAACP. "As the car moved
      away, the conductor fired three shots at me."

      Finally, on Tuesday, as city leaders and members of Congress realized
      situation was out of hand, President Wilson mobilized about 2,000 troops
      to stop the rioting -- cavalry from Fort Myer, Marines from Quantico,
      Army troops from Camp Meade and sailors from ships in the Potomac. City
      officials and businessmen closed the saloons, movie houses and billiard
      rooms in neighborhoods where violence erupted.

      Despite the federal troops, white mobs gathered again. But a strong
      downpour doused their spirits and heavy rains continued through the
      effectively ending the riot of 1919.

      In the ensuing months, the NAACP and others pushed for hearings into the
      riot. But the episode became a mostly forgotten chapter of Washington
      history, largely because conservative Southern congressmen blocked
      further inquiry.

      Sociologist Arthur Waskow, who interviewed riot survivors in the 1960s,
      said the experience gave them a new self-respect and "a readiness to
      face white society as equals. . . . The Washington riot demonstrated
      that neither the silent mass of 'alley Negroes' nor the articulate
      leaders of the Negro community could be counted on to knuckle under."

      © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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