E-mail This Article To A Friend

Print This Article Page

Article Page url:  http://www.thehistorybox.com/ny_city/riots/sectionIII/printerfriendly/nycity_riots_article7a.htm

The Harlem Riot 1943

EIGHT THOUSAND MEMBERS OF THE NEW YORK STATE GUARD were ordered to stand by in metropolitan armories last night, and 1,500 civilian volunteers, mostly Negroes, were recruited by the city authorities and equipped with nightsticks and armbands to help 6,000 city police, military police.

City Patrol units and air-raid wardens prevent a recurrence of Sunday night's rioting in Harlem. In addition, a 10:30 P.M. partial curfew was imposed on West Harlem, the wartime dim out was lifted so the district could be brightly illuminated, all liquor stores and bars were closed and traffic was halted except for guarded food trucks and trolley cars. With quiet restored last night and with Harlem heavily guarded, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia announced in his fourth broadcast of the day, at 9:55 P.M. that "the situation at this moment is definitely under control."

Work As Usual Urged

The Mayor urged all Harlem residents to go to work as usual this morning. If things continued quiet, he said, his curfew would be lifted soon. In another broadcast at 10:30 P.M. the Mayor announced the curfew had gone into effect and pleaded with all Harlem residents to get off the streets and go home. He then left to make another tour of Harlem's streets, brilliantly lighted because of the lifting of the dim out regulations.

Many persons were on the streets throughout Harlem last night, and many more peered out of their windows, but they maintained quiet and order. No gangs of hoodlums were in evidence. A few small groups that looked as if they might be incipient troublemakers were dispersed by the police. By 11 o'clock the streets were nearly deserted. Only minor disturbances were reported.

The Mayor left for home at 1 o'clock this morning, after an almost unbroken vigil that began Sunday night. The street guards remained on duty, with representatives of the American Red Cross touring the area between 11:30 and 1:30 o'clock to serve them crullers and lemonade.

Among the civilian volunteers who patrolled the Harlem streets with the police were 300 Negro women armed with clubs and wearing armbands to identify them as upholders of law and order.

The police announced that the ban on sales of intoxicants applied in the area from the North River to the East River between 100th and 170th Streets. This included areas not in Harlem, such as the Columbia University section and part of Washington Heights. John F. O'Connell, chairman of the State Liquor Authority, said in his order that sales would be prohibited until further notice. He also announced that delivery of stocks to licensed retail places had been forbidden.

The curfew zone was less extensive, extending from Fifth Avenue, to St. Nicholas Avenue between 110th and 155th streets.

When yesterday's dawn brought an end to the worst part of the most violent disturbances in Harlem's history, five persons had been killed, 400 wounded or injured, and hundreds of stores and shops had been wrecked and looted by gangs of hoodlums and thieves. Property damage was estimated as high as $5,000,000.

500 Persons Arrested

Sporadic pillaging continued all day, but the area was comparatively quiet late yesterday afternoon. By that time nearly 500 persons had been arrested, all Negroes, and 100 of them women, on charges of rioting, looting and assault.

The dead were all Negroes, as were all the injured except about forty policemen, including two captains. The disorder was not a race riot, as virtually the only white persons involved were among the police who attempted to maintain law and order and the storekeepers whose property was stolen.

Starting from a minor incident when a white policeman shot and slightly wounded an off-duty Negro soldier whom he charged with interfering in the arrest of a Negro woman in the lobby of a hotel on West 126th Street, the trouble was stirred up by false rumors that circulated rapidly and extensively, to the effect that the soldier had been killed in the presence of his mother.

Gangs of young hoodlums formed in the streets, first threatening to rush the hospital where the wounded soldier had been taken, then throwing bottles and stones, and finally running wild in an orgy of smashing windows, robbing and setting fire to stores, overturning and burning automobiles, attacking policemen, street fighting, stabbings and shootings.

Many of the rioters were in their late "teens or early twenties, and some wore zoot suits. They appeared to be organized in gangs ranging in size up to forty or fifty persons, some of which included young girls and children. In some cases the girls and children followed the gangs and ran away with loot the older boys and men had thrown into the street.

Prompt and courageous action by Mayor La Guardia, and the police, plus the calm maintained by the white population and most of the Negroes of New York, kept the trouble from developing into a race riot as did the recent disorders in Detroit.

Both riots had similar powder keg backgrounds in the rapid growth and overcrowding of Negro districts in recent years, charges of discrimination in the Army, Navy and war industry, demands for economic and social equality, and the rise of Negro and radical agitators preying on these conditions. Both were marked by the spread of false rumors magnifying relatively minor incidents that served as the sparks for the tinderbox.

There the similarity ended, however. Whereas gangs of white hoodlums organized in Detroit to hunt down individual Negroes who ventured out of the Negro district, thus emulating Negro gangs in Negro districts, nothing like this occurred in New York.

Go To Work As Usual

Negroes from Harlem and other Negro districts traveled to and from their work in other parts of the city yesterday, and carried on their duties without molestation. In midtown Manhattan, Negroes went about their work as usual, although zoot- suiters, usually numerous in the Broadway district, were conspicuous by their absence.

Police Commissioner Valentine said last night the detectives of the sabotage squad were investigating reports they received before the riot that organized gangs of hoodlums from certain Southern cities had been sent here to cause trouble and had been filtering into Harlem for some time. As yet, He asserted, they have not been able to confirm the reports.

Army intelligence officers are understood to be cooperating closely with the police. A number of them were in Harlem last night under the command of Maj. William A. Sullivan, a former New York captain of detectives and a veteran of the First World War, who returned to the Army at the beginning of this war.

The station house looked like an arsenal, with all the equipment, present needed to quell a major riot. Searchlight, loudspeaker and emergency trucks were provided by the police, M.P. Trucks by the Army, and other vehicles by the Police and Fire Departments. Heavily armed white and Negro policemen, soldiers and volunteers filled and surrounded the station house and patrolled the district, which was blocked off on all sides, with almost all traffic rerouted around it.

The police had every conceivable unit on hand, including emergency and riot squads, motor cycle and mounted men, radio car crews and detectives. Patrol wagons, ambulances and Fire Department emergency and salvage squads were present.

All over the district policemen were stationed on street corners, in hallways, on rooftops and in automobiles parked in the streets.

Mayor La Guardia, who characterized the disorders as a "shame" that had been brought down upon the City of New York made five radio broadcasts in which he called upon the law-abiding citizens of Harlem to keep off the streets, promised to protect the lives and property of all citizens, and warned hoodlum and thieves that further crime and violence would be severely dealt with. He also warned residents of other parts of the city to stay out of Harlem for the time being.

Staying on the job virtually all night Sunday and all day yesterday, and canceling a trip to Washington, the Mayor made several visits to Harlem police headquarters at the West 123d Street Station, on the fringe of the trouble area, toured the district, and held frequent conferences with police., Army officials and Negro leaders. He had only one hour's sleep which he took yesterday afternoon.

Although the Army sent in military police and trucks to evacuate all soldiers form the district, the Mayor said yesterday afternoon that the situation was under control and that there was no occasion for a declaration of martial law or for asking the military to intervene. Only through an application by Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, on the ground that the local authorities had lost control of the situation, could the Army intervene.

Governor Dewey, who was at the Roosevelt Hotel last night, kept in close touch with the situation in Harlem, but had not received any request from the Mayor to call on President Roosevelt for the Army or to mobilize the New York (State) Guard.

However, it was learned that at the Governor's direction Maj. Gen. William Ottmann, commander of the Guard, had ordered 8,000 members of the Guard to report immediately for drills in the various armories of the metropolitan area where they can be readily available for riot duty if needed. They are all from this area, including 1,500 who are now in training at Camp Smith, Peekskill, N.Y., but will arrive here today. All 8,000, including a Negro regiment with headquarters at the Fifteenth Regiment Armory at 143d Street and Fifth Avenue, will be in the armories "until further notice." They can move into action from the armories within thirty minutes.

6,000 Police Sent Into Area

The Mayor and Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine mobilized 6,000 policemen (about one-third of the city's force) for Harlem duty by canceling all leaves and days off and calling in foot and mounted patrolmen, motorcycle officers, radio cars and detectives from all the five boroughs. Police poured into the district all day by subway, truck, emergency car and patrol wagon. Maj. Gen. Robert M. Danford, commandant of the City Patrol Corps, also sent extra men to the district. Regular and special police wore air-raid helmets to protect them from missiles.

At an afternoon conference with military authorities the Mayor assured Maj. Gen. Thomas A. Terry, commanding the Second Service Command, and Col. John McNulty, provost marshal in charge of the military police, that the disorders were "all cleaned up."

"I wish I were an optimist," replied General Terry, who added that no soldiers would be allowed in Harlem tonight if they did not have business there. The area, however, has not been officially declared "out of bounds" by the Army. As he left the conference the Mayor declared: "I will not stand for any stealing or looting."

The conference was attended by Justice Jane Bolin, a Negro, of the Domestic Relations Court; Magistrate James S. Watson, a Negro, of the Municipal Term Court; Major Samuel J. Battle, a Negro, of the City Patrol Corps, who was formerly a police lieutenant and is now a member of the City Parole Commission; Police Commissioner Valentine and First Deputy Commissioner Louis F. Costuma.

Mayor la Guardia announced that plans had been made at the conference for representative Harlem citizens to appeal to their fellow-residents of the district to help the authorities maintain law and order. Many such persons toured the district yesterday and last night.

The Mayor also disclosed that Daniel P. Woolley, Markets Commissioner, had sent three large trucks of milk to Harlem to relieve the shortage caused by the rioting. Dealers whose drivers had been attacked and retailers whose stores had been wrecked had suspended operations earlier in the day, not only in milk but in other food supplies, causing an emergency that the Mayor said he would do every thing possible to overcome. He said it might be several days, however, before the food shops dared reopen.

The first arrest of a white man occurred soon after 1 A.M. today at 150 Lenox Avenue. Humbert Burva, 52, a waiter, of 4428 Richardson Avenue, the Bronx, was charged with having received stolen goods. The prisoner denied the charge, saying that he had been paid $1 by a Negro to take some groceries away.

Among loot recovered was a cache found on a rooftop of 268 West 129th street. It included 200 pounds of beef, seven typewriters, two guitars, a violin, bed linen and other articles, the police said. Most Harlem food stores have closed either because their proprietors have no salable merchandise left after the looting or because they fear further violence.

While the official conferences were going on yesterday afternoon, reporters who visited parts of the trouble area found the atmosphere subdued but tense. Sullen-looking Negroes were gathered here and there in small groups, muttering to themselves, but were kept moving by the police. In some spots the streets were crowded with Negroes as on normal days, but these were few. The police were everywhere.

The main shopping thoroughfares, like part of West 125th Street and parts of Seventh and Eighth Avenues, looked as if they had been swept by a hurricane or an invading army. Windows of many of the stores in the area had been smashed, stores were filled with wrecked fixtures, the sidewalks were covered with broken glass, and the gutters were piled with foodstuffs, canned goods, clothing, household furnishings and other articles that the looters had been unable to carry off. Policemen were taking goods to the police stations, and workers were boarding up broken windows.

All sorts of stores had been looted, but particularly pawnshops and jewelry stores, groceries, delicatessens, butcher shops and food stores of all kinds, and of course, saloons and liquor stores.

Loss Put At $5,000,000

Matthew J. Eder, executive secretary of the Uptown Chamber of Commerce, who made a survey of the district during the afternoon, estimated the property damage at $5,000,000, including $1,500,000 for plate glass and window breaking alone. He said many of the storekeepers, especially those in retail liquor and haberdashery, apparently had lost everything, including stock that could not be replaced.

On 125th Street, from St. Nicholas to Fifth Avenue, Mr. Eder counted 400 broken store windows. He said there were forty liquor stores in Harlem and that thirty had been broken into and cleaned off their stock.

Signs such as "Stop, please, colored ownership only," appeared on the windows of many stores, some of which had been wrecked just like those owned by white persons.

The worst damage was done on the main arterial streets, West 125th, West 135th and West 145th Streets, Fifth, Lenox, Seventh and Eighth Avenues, according to the Chamber.

It was learned that the largest single claim was likely to be that of the Jack Sobel Pawn Shop, 145th street and Eighth Avenue, which was looted, wrecked and set on fire. The place was insured for $105,000 with riot coverage included, according to an authoritative source.

The incident that served as the immediate cause of the riot took place at 7:30 P.M. Sunday in the lobby of the Hotel Braddock, 272 West 126th street, near Eighth Avenue, which had been declared a "raided premises" some time ago at the request of the Army, with a policeman assigned there at all times. Six policeman have now been posted there until further notice.

 Sunday night Patrolman James Collins attempted to arrest a woman in the lobby on a charge of disorderly conduct, when, he charged, Private Robert Bandy, 26 years old, of the 730th Military Police Battalion, stationed in Jersey City and off duty, interfered. According to the policeman, Private Bandy seized his nightstick, knocked him down and ran. Then Collins fired one shot, hitting the soldier in the left shoulder. Both were taken to Sydenharn Hospital, where the policeman was treated for cuts on the head.

Private Bandy, who was put under arrest and transferred to the prison ward in Bellevue Hospital, was described by his officers as a "good soldier." He was drafted and inducted into the Army in January, 1942. Born in Alabama, his official Army address is in care of his mother in New Haven, Conn.

The first crowds began to gather outside the hotel and the Sydenham Hospital, but as the false rumors flew about Harlem, the gangs of hoodlums started roaming the district and engaging in their acts of violence.

Many of the injured had been cut by flying glass, bottles and other missiles, and could be sent home after treatment at the hospitals.

[End Of Article]


Article Information:
Article Name: The Harlem Riot 1943
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com | Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina
Source:  BIBLIOGRAPHY:   New York Times August 3, 1943
Article Time & Date Stamp: