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
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
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
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
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
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
merchandise left after the looting or because they fear
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
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]