There is a continual temptation in the heart of man to live within a racialized society as if it were race-neutral, or at least race-less. The truth is that we live in a racialized world, one where we see color, see color as race, and that awareness has conscious and subconscious implications on how we treat one another.
As of late, and by late I mean the last sixty years of North American thought, some people have assumed that race, this dynamic socio-political-classist idea that has dominated the world for the last five hundred years disappeared with the advent and departure of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the passing of certain Civil Rights voting rights acts, and the overall absence of Klansmen roaming the streets.
From the 1970s to date, we have fooled ourselves into believing the myth that race no longer matters, more so, that race no longer exists and therefore no longer plays a role in the formation, evaluation, advancement, or abasement of our society — some racial groups more than others.
The truth is that many communities, white communities, in particular, have been duped into believing that we are now living in a color-blind society, where the betterment of one’s life rests solely on their merits and efforts and little, if at all, on their social-demographic and racial makeup.
The presence and success of Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama are the only signs of Black progress in America needed to prove and support the myth that race, more so racism, is no longer at play in our North American society. The financial and national success of some three dozen or so Black Americans is all that is needed to promote the idea that racism is dead and the presence of virulent discrimination of the past is behind us.
But we know, we understand that race is still very much at play in how our mixed society evaluates people, promotes some, demotes others, incarcerates some, and liberates others, on the conscious and subconscious efforts of people who are still very much plagued by the psychological disease that is racism.
Without color consciousness or race consciousness, we will protect a society where discrimination based on color and race is not discrimination at all. We will stand in awe as one person berates another, calling them racially derogatory terms, but we will not be able to categorize that behavior as racially insensitive.
It is like someone attempting to disregard the presence of the force that pulls objects to the ground when we drop them, stating that objects are not falling, they are simply not rising, because gravity does not exist. Thus, when objects do fall, the person will simply deny the reality of the fact and claim that it isn’t gravity, it must be, simply, the non-rising of objects. A play on words to avoid the reality of the issue that not only does gravity exist, objects do, in fact, fall.
Living in a color-blind society does little for racial reconciliation and betterment. It does in fact thwart our progress as a society.
It is impossible at this point, these many hundreds of years into a racialized world to do away with the concept of race. One person said that race is but the offspring of racism, stating that prejudice and discrimination were present before the actual categorization of the race itself ever came to be. I don’t disagree.
But now it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on race, therefore, doing away with the idea of race, people will discriminate based on it but will be free of any liability to it.
Race exists. Socially. It is a social phenomenon. It is a socially devised category to elevate certain racial groups and devalue others. We have lived so long under these realities that it is impossible now to do away with the conscious reality of race.
And since race is here to stay and discrimination must go we must learn to live in a race-conscious society, devoid of racism. In the same way, we live in an ethnic-conscious society without becoming proponents of ethnocentrism.
Living the myth of color-blindism is like living in a world where the terms misogyny (intense hatred of women) and femicide (murder of women) do not exist, therefore, when women are mistreated for no other reason than they are women and when women are killed for no other reason than they are women, we frown at the sad reality, mourn their passing, arrest the perpetrators but are unable to give a name to the targeted type of mistreatment and crime.
A color-blind society is afraid of its racial diversity, and in many cases, it is afraid of the reality of its racially homogenous makeup. Communities of color know that their demographic is made up of people of color, minorities, and racial minorities who are easily identifiable. But communities strictly made up of white citizens tend to view it as not a community made up of white citizens but simply as a community.
The race factor is removed from its vocabulary although it is present in its subconscious.
This is clear when minority community members have added to this race-neutral or faceless community, there is a stir, unspoken at first, but discussed in other, raceless terms in the future, because the addition adds something, although they cannot name it, a difference, to their previously indifferent community.
The luxury of race blindness or racelessness is one found within the white community alone, as their ancestors exclusively invented the concept of race and distinguished the difference between normalcy, namely, whiteness, from non-whites, namely, Black, yellow, and red peoples. The standard was always raceless as long as raceless meant white, but the moment a minority factor was added to the mix, color had to be included to better explain that difference.
A community is a community since it is white, albeit devoid of its racial categorization. When a community is half or mostly made up of Black or Hispanic people, it then gets categorized as a minority community or a Black community, or a Hispanic or Latino community.
When a business is owned and governed by white people, it is simply a business. But when a business is owned and governed by people of color, it is called a minority-owned business. Race, thus, becomes only evident in the “other” race to say the standard race, the white race, is either non-existent to the majority white group or that it is invisible to them.
The use of “white majority” communities or “white majority-owned business” is unheard of, even in a world where we have the absence and presence of the opposite when it is used to define and categorize non-white color and race groups.
We must not allow another generation to enter a world where color blindness is the standard by which we live because the absence of color and race gives way for discrimination to intensify without its proper terminology.
A color-blind society, one devoid of racial descriptions, allows for people who are very much racist to evolve and thrive even, in their problematic prejudices without repercussions.
Judges who disproportionately sentence Black youth to lengthier prison stays than their white counterparts who commit the same crime can simply state that they do not have a racist bone in their bodies and the discrepancy is just that, a discrepancy.
Law enforcement officers who use excessive force against minority groups during arrests, using their tasers, dogs, and even weapons, at a higher rate against these community members than they do against white community members who commit the same crimes, can state that their decisions are race-less, devoid of prejudice because they do not have a racist bone in their body.
Physicians who believe that Black women have a higher pain threshold than white women will refuse to assist Black women in labor when they complain of added discomfort, pains, and issues. When those Black women die under their care as a result of their negligence they defend their decisions on supposedly clear medical arguments, stating that they did not believe, at the time, that their patient was being forthcoming about their situation and that the decision to refuse help or dismiss concerns was strictly consequential and not racial at all.
Community watchmen can chase down a Black young man in their community, harass him, and upon his defending his person, they can gun him down with extreme prejudice, return home, delay their own arrest with the help of the local district attorney, and deny that, once they are arrested for predating upon a Black man, that their racialized targeting was racist. This, of course, is made available by the presence of post-racial theorization that allows for racism to be exercised liberally without the acts ever meriting the categorization of racism.
Raceless communities tend to be white communities. Colorblind institutions tend to be white majority or white exclusive communities. Post-racial or raceless theories tend to just be theories devoid of racial categorization.
Theology is called theology because it is Euro-American, namely, historically white. But when it is acted upon by Black or Latin American theologians it is called Black Liberation theology or Liberation theology.
That is one of the thousands of examples where color blindness only benefits members of the invisible race class, white people.
We live in a racialized society that must exist devoid of racism.
We must meet each other as we are, Black, white, Latin, Asian, and more, and love one another in that diversity. We mustn’t diminish or elevate based on race. We must love in the reality of race.
Failing to understand that leads us to a place where we live in a racialized reality where we are afraid to discuss race, mention race, talk about race, and even believe that race still exists because to name it is to see not only the realities of those who suffer in this paradigm but also those who benefit from such disparities.
Seeing race can and does lead us to societal betterment and improvement.
Denying race in a racialized society leads us down a dangerous road in the 21st century.
Teach yourself and your community members that race is still very much a part of who we are, of what our society is, and we must address that reality without ill or hate, with love and respect, understanding and patience, to move forward to a racially just, diverse, inclusive, and integrated society.
The opposite will give us more harm, hurt, and death at the hands of racists who get away with their racism by claiming they could never, ever be racists since they claim to not see race.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
What must we do with the faces that gawk at us from black and white photos, steaming, joyous, and jubilant as they celebrate another successful lynching?
We have researched time and again the victims of these horrific crimes, attempting to decipher their lifestyles to understand if any of their previous life choices led them to this unfortunate violent end — this cliff whereupon they are immolated.
What grievous crime must a man commit to merit such a violent death? Must he ravage and rape innocent white children? How many of them must he devour before he is apprehended and given such an expedient, extra-judicial execution at the end of a noose? His testicles severed off, his penis as well, and his body parts sold off to the highest bidder as souvenirs of war.
But we know that is not the case. Whether Black men were guilty or innocent, such death was unbecoming to the civilized freedom-selling Americans of antiquity. Or was it?
What about a woman? What heinous act must she commit to warrant the brutalization of her most intimate parts, the burning of her innermost private organ, and the breaking of her neck at the noose? Must she kidnap white children? Feed them to wolves and bears? Must she dash the brains of white babes on rocks, laughing through it all? Must she poison the food of her employer, her white employer?
We know none of these were the case. We know now, certainly, that many white Americans sought to kill these innocent Black women simply because they dared to stand against the inhumanity of racial terror and the grotesque murder of their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. They spoke and their words were enough. They stood and their stand was offensive enough. They dared not cover their faces in fear, their deviant rage visible to all, and that was enough to have a rope wrung around their necks and pulled until their thriving bodies went limb.
What of the children? The little black boys and black girls whose bodies were rattled with bullets and thrown into fire pits. What evil must children commit to deserve such a death? Must they have burned down a church filled with white people? Perhaps they burned down a school where only white children are matriculated? Must they, perhaps, in a moment of hyper-awareness, understanding their plight in America, have stood up to white bullies who spat at them, beat them, kicked them, and called them all sorts of names? Standing up to bullies can be a deadly business, you know.
We know, however, that none of that was ever the case. Black boys and girls were but fodder for the blaze governing these marauding lynch mobs. Their mere presence in the wave of violence was enough to have their little bodies lifted from the floor by dozens of madmen and thrust into fire pits alive. Some were kicked in the head until they seized and squirmed about, concussed and convulsing from a swelling and bleeding brain.
Terror. Terror. Terror is all we see and for what? Why?
What plagues me, yes, is the lifeless corpses that hang from trees, lampposts, and street signs. Their testimony is in their blood, screaming at us to remember them, remember their lives, and remember their final moments.
But what haunts me is the gladness, glibness, and supercilious look on faces stung by sunlight yet unaffected by cruelty.
People wonder not only what happened to the Jews who survived the holocaust, what their horror stories are or were. They wonder if any of them held on to hope of escape from those hellish camps or, in light of their situation, some wonder if the Jews had learned to live with pessimism, selfishness, and death. Many speculate what starvation did to their bodies whereas others wrote about the pangs of hunger extensively after the war. We have pictures, evidence, really, of what strategic starvation did to the bodies of the Jews in those camps. In some cases it looked like some of them had been starved of their very souls as the light of life in their eyes had disappeared a long time ago while their corpses walked about like gloves without hands to move them.
But fewer wonder about the ensuing life of Nazi camp leaders, soldiers, nurses, and administrators. The ones who were not immediately executed by liberating forces, the ones who were not tried and executed by allied tribunals, nor arrested and given life sentences after the war.
Why aren’t there as many books, movies, and plays about Nazi family men and women who worked for the Nazi menace by day and functioned as regular members of a civilized society by night and how they continued to shape German society after the war? We understand why.
Nazism was seen as a global menace, a sickness in the heart of Germany, a disease that festered and killed in Europe and beyond in the name of a racial superiority myth.
High ranking nazis were not given the primacy they had at the peak of the regime once the war was over. They were not returned to positions of influence, hyper leadership without supervision, and culture and policy formation in the presence of surviving Jews.
They were forced into hiding. The most culpable ones who fled authorities and survived the preying eyes of Mossad kept their lives and livelihoods in absolute secrecy for the remainder of their lives, some only being found and tried as war criminals well into their 90s.
But in America.
In America, white supremacy never understood its cancerous root, its insidious nature in consuming its beholder.
In America, once the dust settled after the American Civil War the same men who set off to war for their right to own Black people came home, ashamed, broke, tortured by PTSD, and aware that their cash cows, namely, slaves, were now either gone for good or walking the streets jubilant and free.
These pardoned criminals, inciters of violence, insurrectionists, were home and still battle ready, battle weary, and battle prone. Having lost to a national force prepared for battle they now turned their hate and ire toward a dispersed and disarmed and unprepared under caste of freedmen and women whose only crime was being born black in a white world.
The same ambushing tactics used on the battlefield against Union soldiers were now used against innocent churchgoers as they left Sunday morning service. Hooded men went about razing homes to the ground, scorched earth theory in full swing, searching and destroying their enemy wherever he or she could be found, awake or asleep, armed or disarmed, combatant or unaware, they were cut down, mowed down, from dawn to dusk, their blood painting American soil for the world to see.
Confederate soldiers found little resistance and used that to their advantage to make their world not only theirs, again, but theirs with vengeance.
White supremacists would murder and pillage and then return to their positions in society as bankers, tellers, doctors, bailiffs, judges, officers, ministers, treasurers, milkmen, newspaper delivery men, farmers, mechanics, and homeless vagabonds who wandered to and fro without care for life or consequence.
Many hid their faces at first, presuming their crimes against innocent people would invite the ire and judgment of other Americans but upon a successful White Redemption, the restoration of White Rule allowed them to remove the hoods and commit their crimes for all to see with impunity.
Therefore we have, now, these proud men and women who gaze at us and we at them, both wandering about each other.
They wonder just how many Americans will see their masterpiece and we wonder how could such good law-abiding citizens commit such horrors?
What haunts me and horrifies me is that these people, at least the ones in the main picture have lived long enough to influence much of how our society is today.
We do not have pictures of Nazis hanging Jews after the war and then returning to positions of power.
But in America that is exactly the case.
Youths holding signs shouting about segregation now, tomorrow, and forever.
Youths and parents shouting at Black kids as they integrate previously segregated schools. Spitting on them with the crowds’ support.
Where do we believe these people are today? Where has their ire gone? Has it dissolved over the years or has their overt behavior become internalized as they hide their true motives, masking their true sentiments in the face of a world that sees their vitriol as insidious and damnable?
I mean, really.
Where have all the nasty racists gone? The ones who spat at Black people, shot at them, kicked them, and sentenced them to death either in the field or on the electric chair?
Where have they gone?
Have they vanished? If so, when exactly?
Was it when black and white photos took on color? Was it perhaps when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated? Was it perhaps somewhere between the 1970s and 1980s? What in those two decades would’ve been enough to turn them from decades-long hatred?
If they had been in their teens during the 1950s and 1960s, fuming at the sight of Black enfranchisement and Black humanization, then just how much influence could they have had over society since then through overt and covert racist acts, policies, laws, and cultural formation?
Let’s work the math here. If someone had been 17 in 1950, old enough to spit at uppity negroes, and old enough to terrorize them, I must ask, where did all that hatred go?
Think about it. Just how much damage has covert racism done to America in the years after the Civil Rights era? Did Klansmen just have a change of heart? Did they just wake up one day, walk to their closet, grab their white robes and hoods of terror, lead their family to the backyard, light a bonfire, and set their suits of terror ablaze before them all? How many stories are there of Klansmen burning their robes? How many family histories are there of Klansmen denouncing their white supremacy before their family members, wives, kids, and community members?
Now, consider if that 17-year-old were 17 in 1960!
Listen, I’m not saying your granddad and grandma were Klans-folk, hey, if you’re from Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, there’s a very good chance that granddad was a Klansman and an even higher chance than that that your great-grandfather was a Klansman in the 1920s since it was then that the Klans membership exceeded anywhere between 10-20 million in America. That number peaked in 1926. So, if great-granddad was in his teens and twenties in the 1920s he might’ve been a Klansman, considering the population of America then was 117 million. So, 10% of you white Americans reading this post have a Klansman in the family. Violent or not, that family member dawned the robes of white tyranny to promote white power.
Think about it. Think about it thoroughly.
Returning to our rage-filled youths of the 1950s and 1960s, it’s now 2022, and if our 17 had been 17 in 1950 he or she would be 89 today.
Had they been 17 in 1960 they’d be 79 today.
You’re looking at your grandparents and thinking… where did all that racism go? Where did all that spitting, slicing, dicing, and rage go? Did it reach a point of appeasement? Were enough Black kids and youth and adults harassed over the years that their wrath was appeased? Were they satisfied when the Klan handed the baton over to the police? Was it when lynchings turned into mass incarceration? When white rule became color-blind rule that disproportionately affects people of color? Namely, Black Americans?
I mean, think about it.
Just how much influence do you believe these people, the hateful ones, have had over the formation of our society until they had a redemptive change of heart? Just how many corporate entities have they influenced into not hiring Black or colored people over the decades? How many police departments do you believe have been influenced to target Black men and women over white people who committed the same crimes? How many judges do you believe were influenced by these sickly racist thoughts and ideas about Black inferiority and white superiority in the eyes of the law? How many life sentences or death sentences do you believe were dropped on the soldiers of Black folk over the decades as a result, not directly of the crimes committed by Black Americans but direct result of racial bias?
How many communities were constructed over these decades by these hate-filled people, shaped, and structured to oust Black Americans, and thwart their financial and residential advancement? How many of them became legally segregated and culturally white and “sanitized” environments for white people only?
If you don’t believe that’s the case then how you do explain exclusively white neighborhoods? Did they just happen that way? Randomly in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s? Do you honestly believe that?
How many churches, seminaries, and religious institutions were influenced to demand the stoppage of racial intermingling, dating, and marrying of people of the same faith as a result of racial bias?
Just how many political ideas, institutions, and policies were written, passed, ratified, and celebrated by these hate-filled youths who made their livelihoods in politics for decades later?
Now… you’re probably thinking they have all but died, the worse of them, of course. That’s what we like to believe. That’s what we want to believe. We want to know that these people, these kids in these pictures, deriding, maligning, mocking, and harassing Black people, again, and again have all died and disappeared, along with Klan robes, hanging Black bodies, and the evil of America’s long forgotten past.
But the truth is that granddad and grandma may have internalized their hatred.
Worse yet is that many of them passed on their hatred of minorities to your parents, their children, albeit in more sanitized ways.
Instead of saying, “We used to hang those uppity negroes.” They said, “We don’t affiliate with their kind.”
Instead of saying, “Back in my days we would light their house on fire to teach them who’s boss.” They said, “You see how Blacks are just prone to criminal behavior?”
And your parents, having been victims of such covert vitriol and hate, albeit sanitized, passed the same racism on to you, in an even more sanitized vernacular, removed of its racist overtones to appease white racists in a mythical color-blind America.
So now you and others hear:
“How come African Americans make up only 13% of the American population but they commit more than 50% of the country’s crimes?”
“If he hadn’t been in the car with those hoodlums he wouldn’t have been shot by that cop.”
“Why was he playing with a toy gun in the middle of a playground? That kid was asking for trouble.”
“We don’t want illegals in our country. They bring disease, drugs, and crime. They’re rapists. Just send them back wherever they came from.”
“Speak English! This is America!”
“Fatherless is the number one problem in African American communities. No, no, I’m not racist because I have a Black friend.”
The ire is sanitized more and more with every generation because simply calling a Black man a nigger is no longer a socially viable behavior and demanding his lynching publicly is sure enough to make one lose their job.
Therefore, people now call Black American youths super-predators or thugs or hoodlums, and instead of publicly calling for their lynching they simply call the police who show up and shot the lucky ones dead on the spot, and the unlucky ones are tortured, beaten, asphyxiated to death.
The ones who survived the police lynching are taken to court months or years later where they are metaphorically lynched and raped by racially biased judges and dehumanized by prison wardens who find financial and sexual gratification from incarcerating scores of Black men, women, and youths, thus recreating the under caste of antiquity today.
The reason, I find, that their faces haunt us still is because they’re still here, influencing us to this day. Their ire, their hate, their vitriol, and their racism are still here.
They just made their kids and grandkids believe the myth of color-blindness, the mythical progress of racial reconciliation, the supposed “nonsense” and the financially irresponsible idea of reparations, the wastefulness and unAmerican effort to teach American children about the realities of slavery, white Rule, white Redemption, Jim Crow, Native American genocidal wars that were more effective and successful than the Nazi regime’s war on Jews, anti-Chinese immigration acts, and the vile, unpatriotic nature of critical race theory.
Also, mention the term “woke” and they’ll feign a heart attack whilst calling you or anyone who uses the term a communist, radical socialist leftist. Just don’t ask them to define any of these terms.
Lastly, these visages of white terror and white rage grew up, influenced politics, and voted in an orange man who hated immigrants, is a serial adulterer, and whose father was arrested at a Klan rally in the 1920s.
I mean… come on, folks.
Need I say more?
These ghosts are hugging our grandkids, some of them mixed grandkids. There’s hope for change but that must not happen without accountability.
Hate must not live and die unchallenged.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
Great. Now that I have your attention I want to make it unmistakably clear that I do not hate white people. Hating anyone is destructive to one’s well-being.
I do, however, hold a bitter contempt for people who add pineapple to pizza. These people must have not been hugged enough as children so they now find comfort in the embrace of citrusy fruit baked over a perfectly delicious pizza. Strange people. Avoid them.
Now that the title of this post is out of the way let us move on.
Regarding “white hate” and similar socially destructive ideas that have permeated some circles, I must add, that to hate anyone is to hate oneself. One can hate traffic wait times the same way one hates an over-salted well done $120 wagyu steak. Hating the inanimate is possible but not always advisable. Hating people is always discouraged. Hate comes in all shapes and sizes and depending on the reservoir of that hate, we can see the blossoming of something good or the immolation and disintegration of something great.
A person who is often given into hate, whether that hate is directed toward animate beings or inanimate things is more a sign of that person’s debilitating character and inner workings than anything else. Hate can and will devastate everything and everyone in its wake. If you are normally given to this sentiment, please consider the time and peace you have lost over your willingness to hold on to something that can and eventually will lead to your emotional disintegration and psychological imprisonment.
Say no to hate, folks.
There is a sentiment within non-white communities, not all, but a select few, where very progressive, liberal, or rather Neo-liberal communities where the shared memory that unites them is their disdain for a particular race, namely, the white race. In these circles, white people are derided, shamed in absentia, demonized in literature, dehumanized in open mic soirees, and if given the chance, divested of social influence.
They promote the idea that white people who are baptized into their cadre of moral signaling and virtue signaling circles must find it in themselves to hate the white race, silence white people, shut down white voices, and discredit all things white simply because of the history surrounding Whiteness for the last five hundred years of human history.
You can imagine how problematic this cultic environment is if you are a white individual who, upon entering it, in hopes of bettering the world by joining a racially diverse society, wants nothing more than to advance the ideals of a liberal democracy within a racially integrated community toward the goal of racial and gender equity but are in turn told to sit in the corner or the back of the room where once you voice your opinion, be it right or wrong, you are asked to remain silent for the rest of your stay because white voices have spoken for far too long and your opinions are invalid; your thoughts unneeded. All that is welcome is your idiotized and mute servile white body.
Your voice is not only dismissed but your race is seen as potentially hostile to the environment where you had hoped on finding refuge. You haven’t done anything wrong. You are not racist, at least to your general understanding of the term racist. But you can be perceived as a racist individual part of a systemic problem where you are, without question, the beneficiary of white culture. No matter how far removed you become from your immediate racist society, no matter how much you promote racially equitable ideals, and confront racist individuals and policies, you are, irredeemably imprisoned to the image of the white savior, white terror, and white enmity because in this cultic environment you are white and hated.
It is this environment that I am speaking about today. There is centralized white hate within it without cause. Now, by “without cause” I mean the wonderful white people who have not a single prejudiced bone in their body (brave of me, I know) and are willing to do the work and join arms in fighting racism but at the same time are seen as potential saboteurs because of their social class and pigmentation.
I am not referring to white individuals and white systems that are historically and concurrently racist. These people and structures must be condemned from top to bottom if we’re ever going to make our world a less racist and more racially equitable place.
If there ever were a situation where reverse racism was at play it is here, where whites are told to sit down, shut up, and listen, not because they don’t have anything wonderful, wise, and productive to say, they often do, but because they’re white and therefore subject to oppressive tactics as a way to get back at their ancestors, who may or may not have been direct participants or beneficiaries of the devilish racial caste system known as chattel slavery and its deformed afterbirth, Jim Crow.
Hate for white skin is nothing new. I can imagine the first time society became divided and stratified on the concept of race. People began to react negatively toward their oppressors.
I must add that disdain for darker skin was present before the classification of skin tones was even a thing. How does one identify race and then qualify or disqualify that race in society? One writer said that race is the child, not the father, of racism. Therefore, prejudice and discrimination against black and dark skin were present and evident long before Europeans, the Portuguese, initially, set off to the African coasts in search of the best possible “servile peoples” to help build their new empires in distant western colonies.
All in all, one can imagine the reciprocatory hatred tribal Africans must have felt for their white captors who threw them in chains, separated them from their families and homes, and later threw them into ships, by the hundreds, squeezed to the point of asphyxiation, to reach untilled shores to work from sun up to sun down until they died, and their children to follow suit, ad infinitum.
Some of you may be repulsed by the idea of whites alone being responsible for this horrible middle passage era because you might say Blacks were involved in selling their own people long before whites came asking for a stake in the slave trade. One must, with a healthy historical and contextual understanding of the time, capture the fact that the tribal slavery of antiquity was in most cases limited captivity, not always brutal, and focused on the aspect of financial betterment, not necessarily and singularly based on race. One was sold or captured as a slave but not dehumanized. Therefore, upon escape or emancipation, the Black slave would return to his tribe or join the current one as a member of that community.
European slavery sought to initially dehumanize people based on race, subjugate them to a servile class because of their race, profit from their enslavement, and ultimately create a slave class in perpetuity based on race alone. This level of inhumanity was unheard of until the rise of this concept of race and racial classes, introduced by non-other than prominent greed and hate-filled white Europeans of antiquity, made its way onto our annals of time.
Therefore, we can imagine the hate and disdain enslaved Black people —who were dehumanized and then shipped to the Americas, (North, Central, and South) — had for white people, and this with cause. To love one’s captor is to be a victim of Stockholm syndrome. The person is merely trying to better the state of their captivity long enough to go without pain and suffering or long enough to escape. Outside of this, the person would never show compassion to men and women who spit on them, beat them, whip them, hang them, and collect the insurance on their dead bodies, for no other reason than the color of their skin.
Fast forward hundreds of years where we are removed from this racially hostile environment, there are still people who look upon white westerners as the exact representation and the reincarnation of their villainous white ancestors. There are people today who cannot look at white westerners without wanting to harm them, assault them, insult them, and disgrace them for no other reason than because they’re white.
This is wrong and evil. We are far removed from the environment I mentioned above, from the society I mentioned above, and from the tactics and systems I mentioned above, but there are still people who want to reciprocate harm done to their enslaved ancestors on the descendants of white slavers and white racists.
I speak often about the benefits and necessity of reparations and cultural remedies, but none of these ideas ever involve harm, be it physical or emotional harm to white westerners. The advancement of reparations, remedies, conciliation, and reconciliation involves cultural responsibility and a shift in the way we understand the formation of western history not only from the perspective of the victors but also of those who were conquered; and how that formation continues to shape us today. The return of stolen land, seized property, education denied, liberty robbed, voting rights refused, and life taken before its time, are all things we can work to reverse or prevent, together. None of these involve vigilantism or violence.
White hate without cause, namely, modern anti-white racism, is a nefarious evil we must extinguish from society as soon as humanly possible. The era of white hate with cause is over and has been over, for decades now. Our generation cannot succumb to the same form of vacuous-minded prejudice and discrimination of yesteryear.
These cultic groups I mentioned above will go to lengths to dispel the possibility of reverse racism, namely, minorities exhibiting racist behaviors toward white people, because to them, racism is systemic and systematic alone and to enact racism one needs to have power and authority over society, culture, policies, etc, which, for the most part, minorities lack.
They will never admit that their silencing of white voices, demonizing of white people, disparaging white-owned companies and their creation of second-class thought tanks for the white members of their cultic communities are racist because to them racism is “out there” over “large structures” that work to disenfranchise Blacks and other minorities alone.
Three distinct social and personal aspects prevent certain white people from “seeing” racism and accepting that racism still lingers within the fabric of our society and these are, hyper-individualism, relationalism, and anti-structuralism.
Namely, white people fail to see that the racism found in the policing strategies of a police chief in New York City is no different from the racism found in the policies of another police chief, say, in Los Angeles. They cannot see that the very same form of race hate found in Idaho is also present in Florida. From judges to lawyers to doctors to landlords to ministers and policemen and fighter fighters and real estate agents and insurance brokers. All have a hand, a systemic and systematic hand in disenfranchising people of color. They fail to see the matrix of racial inequality because they swim and have swum in it their entire lives. What prevents them from visualizing this is the modern western trifecta which starts with hyperfunctioning individualism, meaning, that whatever happens to you is always a direct result of your decisions.
Within this framework, the potato farmer who has no potatoes to feed his family is hungry and poor not because of environmental crises, national mismanagement of agricultural funds, greed on the part of lending firms, and other multi-national disadvantageous decisions made above him and his family, but, that he is hungry as a result of him not planting enough potatoes. Never, within this individualistic framework, will the blame for wrong(s) be disseminated to a broader system of wrongdoing. It’s always a person’s fault. Therefore, racism is limited to you and your neighbor. It will never rise above that ceiling.
Next is relationalism, namely, white people believe that if a senile white lady in the grocery store called the Black clerk a racially charged term, then, of course, the Black clerk must’ve done something to deserve or welcome such ire. Racism isn’t systemic or broad, it’s only a relational issue. Resolve the interrelation issue in the grocery store and racism is gone. Problem solved.
Lastly, anti-structuralism. By this, white people who suffer from racial myopia, tend to be hostile to the possibility that there are structures at play that give them an advantage in life. Therefore, they become anti-structural.
Imagine a soccer game where the referee is paid to defer toward the “white team” and penalize the “black team.” Questionable goals made by the white team are upheld whereas legal goals made by the black team are called back as illegally acquired points. Once the second half starts, the referee is asked to stop favoring one team over the other, the bribery is then considered illegal, and the teams are now set off to continue the game. The only problem is that the scores have not been equalized for the second half of the game. The white team is still up by several points, the black team still has zero, and the referee’s nefarious tactics are outlawed but the game goes on without an adjustment or correction of scores. The white team eventually wins what they consider a fair game and refuse to admit their advantage in the second half of the game, saying the black team just failed to play as hard as they should have to win the game.
Anti-structuralists will always dismiss structural problems because for them to admit the existence of these structures they would then have to admit the structural problems they either benefit from or structures they use to exploit others. Therefore to admit the reality of structural racism is nearly inconceivable a feat for these types.
That is the problem within the white community that refuses to confront systemic racism.
The BIPOC community, however, understands systemic racism and its broader effects on minority communities, but it struggles, in some parts, to accept the reality of interpersonal racism, namely that which we have seen in these hyper-progressive circles against white people.
I wouldn’t argue that this myopic understanding of interpersonal racism in the Black community is something inherent within it but more so a coping mechanism used to deal with the lapse of racial justice in the world today. This means I don’t believe Black people and minorities who refuse to accept the reality of interpersonal racism are failing to see it as a result of systemic, multi-generational ills but as a way to deal with the reality of wanting to equalize the playing field and scores expeditiously, through unethical means, without dealing with the guilt associated with their prejudice and discriminatory tactics.
Anti-white racism is real and it must stop.
This is not to say that we must stop fighting white supremacy. White supremacy or Whiteness, the racialized concept of white superiority for no other reason than being “white” to them, means “better” or “pure” must be destroyed once and for all.
Same Devil. Different Foot.
I cannot emphasize this enough: if you promote racial equity while disparaging white people you are no different from white slave drivers, Klansmen, or white race rioters of old. You are simply revisiting the racism of old on an unassuming and innocent body politic whilst denying the fact that you are racist. you are promoting, with or without knowing, the dehumanization of the white members of your community.
Racism is evil. It is hellish. It is wrong. It hides under covert tactics, it mocks with overt tactics, it creates nefarious policies, it denounces the equality between us, and it robs everyone, victims and perpetrators, of their peace, humanity, and life.
One is not alive when they are consumed by hate.
Therefore, if you are within a group or community that is fairly aware, fairly woke, and seeking to lead our society out of a racist past and present, while promoting, in policy or act, the disenfranchisement, harassment, and humiliation of white people, please, for the sake of your wellbeing and the wellbeing of society proper, stop it and exit stage left.
These communities thrive on bitterness and you will not survive there. Even minorities within those environments are unsafe. Eventually, that hate for white people is turned toward hate for black people or other minority representatives who fail to exude the same level of hatred toward white skin.
If your right of passage and ticket to the echelon of racial elites is the hate of someone then you must reconsider your membership in that party.
Word of Caution
You are working against the cause. Being historically informed, socially conscious, and a rising voice in an age of reversal of powers makes you much more responsible for your methods and tactics. Silencing white people just because they’re white is the most backward method of advancing this cause you could ever have come up with.
King would have denounced your hatred, however hidden it may seem to you, it is evident to us. X would have denounced your isolationism and fundamentalism in his later days.
Our ancestors would have died for the luxury of having your platform to share their humanity, their love, and their altruistic nature contrasted with that of their devilish white neighbors just to remind the world that Black people and minorities are human beings worthy of the same liberal ideals as their white counterparts. That Black people are not hostile, brainless, hate-filled, and uncontrolled beasts who would bite their masters once
Do not become what they thought you would. Be that which you were meant to be: human.
But here you are behaving like animals. Like the white terrorists of yesteryear, albeit, to a lesser degree. Without torches, hoods, and policy-making power, you still dismiss, demonize, mock, deride, laugh, and silence those who are innocent of any wrongdoing because you are hurt and your hurt forces you to not only fear but also hate the people you are meant to live and work with.
Your hate will consume you.
We will not advance toward a racially equitable society in part because of white racists in power and of minority radicals who, like yourselves, love to “other” and ostracize white people willing to be part of the solution.
Thankfully, it is not too late to turn the tides, the ship yet floats, and the holes in the hull are sealable. Hate is not learned overnight and it is not done away with overnight either, therefore, start loving your white neighbors today.
Please, for the love of God, stop trying to burn everything down. Iconoclasm leads to the destruction of the very structures we stand on today. With that said, please, when it comes to fighting racism do not join arms with entities or people who hate you. Yes, they hate you and want you to live within the outer ring of their coterie of social capital and power. Your only saving grace is gnostic progression, meaning, you will only fall into their better graces by learning more, acquiring more information, joining more and more inner rings of acceptance, and never truly attaining freedom from a racist caste system because there is no attainable release of guilt from white sins. In truth, in this system, you are never free and once you fail or falter, even once, you will be the victim of their auto de fe. You are the easiest scapegoat in their world. Not the Klansman hiding as a police officer, but you, because you hold all of that information, be it entry-level information or inner circle private and deep information, and you have betrayed the ways of the devil, namely, the leaders of a racist minority society.
Leave and do better elsewhere.
Systemic racism is real and just because we don’t see men like Martin Luther King Jr. getting shot or Black women like Rosa Parks getting arrested for not giving her seat up on a segregated bus, does not mean that racism, in its most lasting and nefarious state, systemic racism, is gone.
Invest in multi-racial relationships. Sit and interact, converse, not to indoctrinate on things you know little about but sit together with people and listen to their experiences. Follow the trail of tears to realize that it’s not just one isolated story but the story of minorities as a whole in the west. Things have progressed but racism has yet to be challenged and excised from our society. You can be a part of that process. The future demands your participation in the expulsion of racism. You are not devoid of responsibility nor should you find refuge in ignorance.
With that in mind, do not believe that everyone calling for racial equity is a hate-filled anti-whites racist. The grievances are real, the history is real and horrible, and the equalization of society is still in its nascent stages. And the fight for racial equity faces a lot of hostility from white people who are closeted racists.
Confront your racist friends and family members. Do not allow the relationship between you and them to become an impediment to progress.
Hate pineapple on pizza and love your white brothers and sisters; even the ones who fail to love you back.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8 NLT
My intent in this post is to assemble a timeline or a list of race-related riots within the North American experience to broaden the reader’s understanding of just how complicated race relations have always been in American history. As responsible citizens and residents of North America, we must not be ignorant of our inception. What normally escapes us is that too often many of these cases of civil unrest and chaotic outbursts captured within American history were race-related. From nativist extremism to anti-abolition bloodlust to nationalist militia rage, White Americans have been on the push to oust any if not all ‘other’ non-white persons from their prized promised land of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The presence of Indigenous tribes, the rise of abolitionist sentiments, the emancipation of black slaves, black people being afforded the right to American citizenship, the push for black suffrage, the waves of Irish immigrants to the American North and of Chinese immigrants to the American West, the push for anti-lynching policies in the South, the Civil Rights and Black Power movements were all impetus for a white majority to elicit violence and instigate deadly riots to combat their perceived loss of power and white supremacy in the land. No other nation in modern history has instigated as many race-related riots as the United States of America. The second nation on the list does not even come close.
I do not want you, my dear reader, to succumb to the ideologically romanticized and politically charged fallacy that former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump were or are catalysts of the disintegration of race relations within the United States of America. In fact, Barack Obama’s rise to power as the first black president of the United States simply reignited racist sentiments that lay dormant for decades. And Donald Trump’s dog-whistling in support of white nationalists is customary for someone whose father, Fred Trump, was arrested at a Ku-Klux Klan riot in the 1920s. I cannot imagine that Fred Trump’s Klan ideologies would have ceased to influence his family just one generation later. Donald’s rhetoric concerning immigrants is evidence enough.
What we must understand is that race riots are not isolated events that occur randomly as a result of alleged crimes committed by black people against white people. They’re not small pockets of violence as a result of Irish Catholics emigrating to the United States. We cannot even perceive white violence as reciprocatory because in most cases, as you will see below, white violence and race riots occur as a result of Whiteness (with a capital W) losing its power, influence, dominance, and prevalence over non-white groups. The equalization of power and influence between the races is seen as a threat to White Americans.
We cannot judge the American experience from the lens of race riots alone. The American gestalt is brighter and more hopeful than its original sin but we mustn’t ignore the prevalence of this sin and its seemingly perpetual grip on white Americans to this day. No. We mustn’t forget the lives lost at the hands of race rioters. It is our prerogative as integrated Americans in the 21st century to keep their history and unfortunate loss of income, loss of property, loss of community, loss of dignity, loss of life, and their unfortunate American experience fresh on our conscience.
Race riots are part of the American tradition. They’re part of the American narrative. They’re indivisible from the American experience in the past, present, and future.
Race riots are innate to the American experience.
Race Riots: An American Heritage
“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper…”
Race Riots Part I – 1800s
The United States of America in the 1800s is visited by 37 major race riots in just 75 years. That’s almost two race-riots a year. What precedes this rise in violent behavior, fear of national financial instability, and national unrest in the United States of America is a war, or rather, a revolutionary war that takes place a few hundred miles south of the Floridian coast in the Caribbean island of Haiti.
January 1, 1804: Slaves in the Caribbean Island of Haiti Revolt Against Colonial France and Win
Haiti’s revolt becomes the first and only successful slave insurrection in the Americas.
Haitian president/general and former slave, Jean-Jacques Dessalines orders the massacre of 3,000-5,000 French nationals and French Creole nationals who were suspected of conspiring with the French.
News of Haiti’s successful revolution scurried up the channels of a pro-slavery America. Bloodshed, carnage, and pogroms are to become the prescribed method by which Americans deal with people of color for the next one hundred and sixty years as a means to suppress any slave led insurrection, abolitionist sentiments, push for manumission, emancipation, and civil rights for people of color. The call to end slavery would be a call to disrupt the American economy. Sadly, slavery was far too lucrative, too pervasive, and socially accepted a business structure that its extinction from the American mind, the American culture, was inconceivable. Blood would be drawn to keep it afloat and even more blood would be shed to sink it once and for all.
I will call this coming era in American history the American Standard to Invalidate and Nullify Intelligent Negro Expansion. In short, the ASININE era.
Hardscrabble Riots, Providence, Rhode Island – 1824
It’s October 18 and we find ourselves in the now-forgotten and unmarked town of Hardscrabble, previously located in the heart of what today we know as Providence, Rhode Island. Hardscrabble is an integrated society made up of free, albeit very poor blacks who make a living as craftsmen and tradesmen. Pleasures abound in its brothels, dancehalls, and bars. Irish seamen and sailors are welcomed partakers of the bacchanalia easily found within its rough and tough thoroughfares.
An altercation breaks out over the issue of the right of passage, or rather, the right of precedence over who gets to walk over a sidewalk and who has to get out of the way. Being the age of the ASININE it was too great a sin for a black man to not step out of a white man’s path. Whether Hardscrabble’s muddy streets were covered with snow or just muddy and wet we don’t know. But the issue is that a black man said, ‘Not today, Washington.’ Here didn’t really say this but it’s my guesstimation here. And this caused a nasty skirmish to ensue and the offended party, the white party, mustered a mob of racist rioters to destroy the black-owned town.
One witness, Jesse Sweet1, I doubt he was sweet at all, said about forty law-abiding citizens made it their prerogative to tear Hardscrabble’s houses down with axes, at first, and then push their walls into the ground to prove a point. An estimated one thousand spectators made their sunkissed faces present for the spectacle, local police, and town council members were present as well. They witnessed the riot and did nothing about it.
Spears2, a local contemporary, said that Hardscrabble was a ‘hamlet’ where blacks emigrated so as to ‘avoid all intercourse’ with ‘hostile’ white Americans. He states that when the mob set its sights on the town, its black citizens who are counted as ‘unoffending and unsuspecting,’ ‘were engaged in convivial sports and rural games.’
The offended mob tore through twenty homes and carried off whatever Hardscrabble’s black residents had left in their possession and sold these items at an auction in Pawtucket.
Some rioters were charged3, none were indicted, witnesses were blind for the day and prosecutors dropped their charges. No one died as a result of this Hardscrabble pillaging but many free black residents lost their homes, safety, security, and possible means of income since they were ousted from the town and the town itself razed to the ground.
Irish Race Riots, Cincinnati, Ohio – 1829
In the years 1804 and 1807 the state of Ohio passed Black Laws4 that prohibited black people from voting, they could not attend public schools because education was only feasible and made available for whites. They could not serve on juries, join any militia groups, or testify in court against white people. These laws stated that in order for a black person to find work and be hired in the state of Ohio they had to produce their certificate of freedom. Not just this but any black person emigrating to the state of Ohio as a free man, not as a runaway slave because runaways would be turned back to his or her master, had to post a bond of $500 as a guarantee that they would be law-abiding citizens.
If you were black you paid. Either with bond or blood, you paid.
Racist sentiments toward black Americans were already disgraceful but they became even more deplorable when Irish immigrants flooded the state of Ohio in search of work. Because the Irish were deemed second-class citizens or rather, second-class whites, they could not rise to the same level in society as whites who descended from white Americans of English ancestry. Therefore, they had to compete with free blacks for work and wages.
Irish immigrants were ostracized by white locals but they found common ground with white Americans in their distaste for negroes.
Because the state of Ohio was working its hardest to expel free blacks from its state, black leaders sought to relocate members of their community to Wilberforce, Ontario. As they waited for permission to emigrate to Canada the Cincinnati Daily Gazette5 released a notice that the city would make life even more unbearable for black people within thirty days.
The message was clear. If you’re black and you reside in or around Cincinnati, your days are numbered. Black people were informed that they would leave out of their own volition or be made to leave.
The BlackPast6 website gives us insight into just how unforgiving white Ohioans and Irish immigrants were toward black Americans.
“James Charles Brown appealed for three additional months before enforcement was to begin, and placed notices in the Gazette informing the white population of the progress of the Wilberforce emigration. Nevertheless, from the night of August 15 through August 22, white mobs estimated at up to 300 people rioted in the Fourth Ward, where the majority of the city’s 2,250 African Americans lived. The mob destroyed businesses, burned residences and other structures, and assaulted Black residents. Initially city police did not intervene but eventually both white rioters and Black residents were arrested.”
This city and state-sanctioned pogrom would incentivize the black community to start the National Colored Conventions which “made Canadian migration one of its primary goals.”
This was the first of many race riots to take place in the state of Ohio.
Snow Town Riots, Providence, Rhode Island – 1831
The race riot of Snow Town is the germination of the racist sentiments that flourished in the now-forgotten town of Hardscrabble. Snowtown was a sister city to Hardscrabble and it is evident that the rioters who were unable to participate in the ASININE disruption of the black community in the previous town managed to rise up and shed blood in Snow Town.
David Brussat of the Architecture Here and Now7 provides us with a snippet from the happenings of the Snow Town race riot.
“The Snowtown riots, on Sept. 21-24, 1831, were sparked by a saloon brawl. A white sailor was shot by a black; a mob then sacked houses on Olney’s Lane [that is, Hardscrabble]. The next day, it pulled down more houses. On the third day, the militia maintained calm. On the fourth, a thousand rioters crossed the Moshassuck to attack Snowtown, almost overwhelming the 140 members of the First Light Infantry. After rioters ignored warnings from the sheriff and Gov. Lemuel Arnold, the militia fired first into the air, with no effect, and then into the mob, killing four whites.”
The citizens of Providence, Rhode Island, with the providence of torch, ax, hammer, club, sickle, and scythe, manage to providentially erase two towns from the map in seven years.
The festive and unassuming town of Hardscrabble was razed to the ground because one white man was too salty to walk around a black man on a sidewalk. “Excuse me, sir, may I walk around you? That way we don’t bump into each other. Why thank you. Cheerio!” Crisis averted.
Perpetrators were excused and seven years later, they and their neighbors, possibly, went off to raze the town of Snow Town because a white man was shot by a black in a bar fight.
Rioters were so indignant over the fact that one of theirs was shot and harmed that they kept their riotous destruction in motion for the next four days straight. The mob grew to over one thousand participants who were only stopped by a local militia that began firing live munitions into the crowd. The sheriff read the Riot Act to the mob. This edict afforded him the right to shoot them if they did not stop rioting.
Some were heard taunting the sheriff, “Fire and be damned.”8
The sheriff and his militia fired their weapons into the crowd, killing some, injuring others, as the crowd sobered from their bloodlust at the smell of gun powder, the sight of blood, and the screams and groans of their fellow rioters who had been shot. They dispersed soon after.
Hardscrabble, Snow Town, and the once budding black community in both towns were all gone.
Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion, 1831
“Washington, who with our fathers purchased our freedom by blood and violence, are lauded as patterns of patriotism and Christianity. Nat Turner, and his associates, who endeavored to work out their own salvation from an oppression incomparably more grievous and unjust than our fathers endured, were treated as rebels, and murderous assassins, and were ruthlessly hung, or shot like wolves, and their memory is corrupt.” – William Lloyd Garrison, Liberator (February 13, 1836)9
Nat Turner was Django before Django met the infamous dentist turned bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz. Born a slave in 1800, Nat served multiple masters in his short thirty years of life. He was blessed with the opportunity to learn to read and write, which, considering the atmosphere in Virginia, was frowned upon. Nat would have premonitions or revelations of things that had occurred prior to his birth and these unexplained phenomena led his fellow slaves to conclude that he was graced by God’s Spirit with the gift of prophecy.
He would grow to become a preacher who would take great command of his oratory and ministerial skills.
“My grand mother, who was very religious, and to whom I was much attached my master, who belonged to the church, and other religious persons who visited the house, and whom I often saw at prayers, noticing the singularity of my manners, I suppose, and my uncommon intelligence for a child, remarked I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one as a slave–To a mind like mine, restless, inquisitive and observant of every thing that was passing, it is easy to suppose that religion was the subject to which it would be directed, and although this subject principally occupied my thoughts–there was nothing that I saw or heard of to which my attention was not directed–The manner in which I learned to read and write, not only had great influence on my own mind, as I acquired it with the most perfect ease, so much so, that I have no recollection whatever of learning the alphabet–but to the astonishment of the family, one day, when a book was shewn me to keep me from crying, I began spelling the names of different objects–this was a source of wonder to all in the neighborhood, particularly the blacks–and this learning was constantly improved at all opportunities.” – Nat Turner10
Minister Turner managed to escape one of his plantations, successfully evading discovery and arrest for thirty days. But after some time he decided to return to the plantation he had absconded from, out of his own free will. His fellow slaves were shocked that one, he managed to escape, two, he managed to remain free for as long as he did, and that three, he was foolish enough to show his black face back at the plantation after escaping.
But Turner said he had received several revelations from the Divine. He believed there was a greater plan for his life here on earth that needed to happen. His calling was greater than just an escape to a free state.
“But the reason of my return was, that the Spirit appeared to me and said I had my wishes directed to the things of this world, and not to the kingdom of Heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly master– ‘For he who knoweth his Master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes, and thus, have I chastened you.’ And the negroes found fault, and murmured against me, saying that if they had my sense they would not serve any master in the world. And about this time I had a vision–and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened–the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams–and I heard a voice saying, ‘Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bare it.’ […] And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the great work–and until the first sign appeared, I should conceal it from the knowledge of men–And on the appearance of the sign, (the eclipse of the sun last February) I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.” – Nat Turner11
And sure enough, roughly around two in the morning of August 22, 1831, Nat Turner and a small group of slaves armed with farming tools; axes, hatches, and knives, raided Southhampton County, Virginia.
The insurrection was in full swing, with Nat at the helm, guiding his group of fighters from one house to another, killing slave owners and their families in their sleep. This occurred for miles in every direction where Nat could recall the residence of a plantation. Once the sun shone over the horizon Nat had freed upwards of forty fighting men and managed to kill well over sixty white people in their revolt in search of retribution and freedom.
In his confession, he goes into great detail as to which plantation family member he or his fellow brothers managed to kill. Some were taken by the sword, he even alludes to how a sword he wielded in the massacre was too dull of a weapon to kill his victim so a friend had to finish her off with an ax. Others were decapitated, some shot, others stabbed and on the night went. Every plantation that suffered a raid would give up new fighters to join Nat in his violent insurrection.
They eventually met a local militia that managed to prepare itself for the rebellion and there Nat lost several of his horses. His fighting men are struct by live munitions, and others scatter into the field for shelter. Nat manages to escape this skirmish and hides out in a cave he dug for himself near a different plantation. He remained there all day and at night he would venture out for water and return to safety before daybreak. Misfortune visits Nat when a plantation dog got a whiff of a junk of meat he had hidden in his cave. The dog later returns to the same dugout with other slaves who find Nat hiding. They run to betray this great titan and a disgraced southerner by the name Benjamin Phipps apprehends Turner at gunpoint.
Nat Turner is captured on October 30, 1831. He is tried, hanged, drawn, and quartered on November 11, 1831. Not only do they not give him a fair trial to be tried by a jury of his peers but they also hang him, possibly not long enough for him to die, they stretch his body over planks or with ropes tied to his arms and legs and stretched out by horses. He is decapitated and his limps torn or severed from his body. Punishment for criminals guilty of treason.
His band of raiders, or better understood today as his band of liberators were also tried, hanged, and mutilated. Thousands of innocent black souls died as reprisals from angry white slave owners and their overseers were meted against them without cause.
The state of Virginia had played with the idea of limited or full emancipation for blacks before Turner’s insurrection but because of this massacre the state and other southern states enacted harsher laws and policies to further entrap, mistreat, and demean slaves. Slaves were legally prohibited from learning how to read and write, and they were also prohibited from gathering in groups for fears of their planning another insurrection. Slave patrols became a thing as a newer form of ‘police’ patrols were formed to monitor and chastise, sorry, to brutalize slaves at a moment’s notice. Any and all things to squash any future uprisings.
Nat Turner’s insurrection was the largest, bloodiest, deadliest, and more feared insurrection of its kind in the United States of America (leaving out the insurrection of the Confederate States of America from 1861-1865). And unfortunately, Nat Turner’s insurrection failed. His revolution was not as organized or as backed as was that of Haiti.
It was, looking back now, perhaps a good or acceptable thing for Nat Turner’s insurrection to fail because more racist rapists, lynchers, brutes, beasts, traitors, and slave drivers and slave traders with their slave dogs were killed in the Civil War than Nat Turner could have ever imagined.
What Nat Turner did, unfortunately, was seen as an evil thing for a great deal of time until historians began to look at the conditions black Americans were forced to live under of which one only had the rightful, moral, ethical, and possibly, religious duty to set about setting themselves free.
Had Turner succeeded, yes, he would have been praised as George Washington was. Turner was but the product of his environment. The brutish behavior he exhibited was not inherent to him because of his race but it was the very brutality he was forced to live under as a black man in the American South.
We must acknowledge that what Nat Turner did was morally questionable, possibly evil. And should that be the case then everything Europeans accomplished through the Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and the Monroe Doctrine was infinitesimally more depraved and evil than the sixty lives Turner and his band of insurrectionists took. Europeans razed millions on the basis of racial superiority, not self-defense or for want of freedom.
Farren/Tappen Anti-Abolitionist Riot, 1834
Our uncouth generation tarries to understand just how pervasive racism was in the United States of America. We normally look back and believe that racism was limited to the American Deep South. You know, images of slave traders whipping slaves onto wagons, separating husbands and wives, children from their parents, siccing negro dogs on rebellious slaves who fought against their enslavement. But reality paints us a different picture. Racism was endemic to this nation from the mouth of the Mississipi River to the densely populated streets of New York City.
“In July of 1834, several riots broke out, primarily incited by those – such as James Watson Webb, editor of the Courier and Enquirer; and William Leete Stone, secretary of the New York Colonization Society and editor of the Commerical Advertiser – opposed to the abolitionist activities of Arthur and Lewis Tappan, brothers involved with the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Association.”12
An interesting fact or two about James Watson Webb is that this pro-slavery sadist was once a member of the affluent Whig party but he later joined the Republican party and at president Abraham Lincoln’s directive was sent to Brazil as a diplomat during the Civil War. The man had prominence, wealth, influence through his paper and later through his participation in Lincoln’s party. Still, through all this, he managed to incite violence in the name of white supremacy and still get a seat at Lincoln’s table of power.13
Lindsey Turley, Director of Collections from the Museum of the City of New York add this regarding the riot.
“In the days leading up to July 11th, the events of which are depicted in the map above, anti-abolitionist activities erupted throughout the city. On July 7th, anti-abolitionists descended on the Chatham Street Chapel, where a celebration in honor of the seventh anniversary of the emancipation of New York’s Slaves was planned. Three separate riots broke out on July 9th: The Chatham Street Chapel was once again a target; Lewis Tappan’s Rose Street Home was demolished; and four thousand people stormed the Bowery Theater, where a benefit was underway for George Farren, the playhouse’s British stage manager, a man known for his anti-Yankee sentiments. Over the next two days Arthur Tappan’s Pearl Street Store was pelted with stones; rioters stormed the Laight Street Church, where the Reverend, Dr. Cox had preached in favor of church integration; and later a group broke into Cox’s home on Charlton Street. Numerous other episodes of violence occurred, culminating in the swearing in by Mayor Lawrence of 1,000 volunteer constables, the deployment of the New York First Division, and all-night patrols by Calvary Squadrons. By Tuesday, July 15th, the riots had been suppressed.”14
This riot began as an integrated group of abolitionists rented the Chathan Street Chapel to celebrate their workings and efforts to bring about the end of slavery in the United States. Led by a black minister and in the presence of Lewis and Arthur Tappen, both abolitionists, the service was underway when another group, the New York Sacred Music Society interrupted the gathering claiming that they had rented the place out and demanded the integrated abolitionist group leave at once. As a result, a fracas ensued, the white crowd ousted the church congregants under the weight and force of lead pipes and fists.
Racist and fake-news advocate James Watson Webb and his newspaper Courier and Enquirer blamed the black church members for the riot.
“Webb’s paper predictably lied again when he described the event as a ‘Negro riot,’ owing to ‘Arthur Tappan’s mad impertinence.’”15
These rioters were so enraged by Arthur Tappen’s participation in abolitionist sentiments that they followed him home and pelted his home with rocks. Tappen managed to find refuge in his house just before the violent mob began vandalizing his property.
The mob was unsatisfied with the terror it struck in the hearts of these church members so it set off to disrupt a theatre run by an English-born man who had previously made jokes about the Yankees.
“Yet this was just the beginning. The next night a huge mob of gang members broke down the door of the Chatham Street Chapel, and while they held an impromptu meeting inside, W.W. Wilder yelled, ‘To the Bowery Theater!’
The reason for their attack on the Bowery Theater was because it’s manager and British actor George P. Farren, another avowed abolitionist, had recently said of the pro-slavery crowd, ‘Damn the Yankees; they are a damn set of jackasses and fit to be gulled. Farren had also just fired an American actor, and as a result, anti-abolitionists had posted handbills detailing Farren’s actions all around New York City.”16
An estimated four thousand rioters broke into Farren’s theatre in hopes of lynching the Brit publicly. Once police arrived they managed to force much of the crowd out of the theatre with billy clubs. The mob, undeterred, and unable to find the Englishmen set their sights back on Arthur Tappen’s house. Luckily for Tappen, he and his family managed to escape before the crowd arrived. They destroyed his home, burning everything inside except a painting of George Washington. From there the mob set off for the Five Points neighborhood where they raped black citizens, mutilated Englishmen, and sailors, and set more fires all because of a scheduling conflict.
Granted, the violence was race-fueled. It’s America.
The army was eventually called in to subdue the mob.
Rumors had spread to incite the mob to commit more acts of terror because rioters had heard that the abolitionist groups in the city of New York City had planned to promote interracial marriages between freed black dandies and white women. This was such a no-no that the American Anti-Slavery Society had to submit an updated report, or rather, a disclaimer to the city to remind them that their purpose was to abolish slavery, not bring about equality between whites and blacks.
“AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY: DISCLAIMER.
The undersigned, in behalf of the Executive Committee of the ‘American Anti-Slavery Society’ and of other leading friends of the cause, now absent from the city, beg the attention of their fellow-citizens to the following disclaimer:
1. We entirely disclaim any desire to promote or encourage intermarriages between white and coloured persons.
2. We disclaim and entirely disapprove the language of a handbill recently circulated in this city, the tendency of which is thought to be to excite resistance to the laws. Our principle is, that even hard laws are to be submitted to by all men, until they can by peaceable means be altered.
We disclaim, as we have already done, any intention to dissolve the Union, or to violate the constitution and laws of the country, or to ask of Congress any act transcending their constitutional powers, which the abolition of slavery by Congress in any state would plainly do.
The year is 1835 and certain gentle souls have set it upon their hearts to build an integrated academy in which whites and blacks are welcome to partake in its higher learning opportunities. Canaan, New Hampshire is home to the oldest church in the state, Newington Meeting House (1717), Dartmouth College (1769), and the Franklin Pierce Homestead (1804), a house belonging to the fourteenth president of the United States of America.
Charles Kimball, a lawyer, partnered with a small community in Canaan to erect an institution named the Noyes Academy, which allowed and promoted integration. This enraged white pro-slavery locals who saw the idea as preposterous. The local news covered the events in detail, alluding even to the possibility of a salacious undertaking between the likes of white women and black men within the school.
“Since the establishment of the school, it has been no uncommon spectacle to witness colored gentlemen walking arm in arm with what ought to be respectable white females. And that respectable people opposed to the school, as well as others, have been invited to parties where the colored portion of the school were also invited guests.
It is said that one of the principal agitators of the slave question in this state, George Kimball, Esq., and his family, sit at table with a half dozen colored people, while a white girl attends upon them as servant.” – The New Hampshire Patriot in June of 183518
Imagine the grievances, the horror, the terror of a white woman walking arm in arm with a colored gentleman. To the gallows!
That a white lawyer would host integrated parties and sit at the table with colored people. Fasten to ropes!
To imagine that at an integrated party where whites and blacks share the same table, amuse one another as equals, and, gasp, that a white girl would serve black men? Executioner, pull the lever and let their bodies plummet to the lowest pit of hell!
That’s the exact kind of mindset Canaan residents held toward free blacks, intelligent blacks, educated blacks, soon-to-be educated blacks, and the people who dared befriend them and help them out of their state of dejection. It is our ASININE friend raising its miserable head once more and this time in the North.
Locals erect signs outside the town that read “Nigger Town” to deride its residents and perhaps discourage travelers from venturing into the despised city.
The presence of the Noyes Academy is such an object of distaste for the town that certain locals, some named, Ben Porter and Jacob Trussell muster an angry crowd and make a beeline for the school. Their destruction of the building is interrupted by a certain Dr. Timothy Dalton, a town magistrate, who locks himself in the academy and through a window begins to name some of the agitators and aggressors. This stalls their mania for some time before the two named radicals make their way to the local town meeting, or rather, the local governing body to produce a claim against the devilish integrated institution.
Being this the United States of America, the local governing body then declares Noyes Academy an unlawful building, and locals come together to remove the building from their town.
No, I’m serious.
Five hundred men literally removed the building from its foundation with the help of ninety to one hundred oxen, the exact number depends on the source but regardless, mission accomplished. They dragged the school for miles, tearing ropes, through sweat, cursing, yelling and hooping, shouting and drinking, and yes, possibly yelling threats at whoever dared stop them.
The building eventually came to a stop outside of town where it was considered uninhabitable because, well, the town deemed it so.
Black students had all but disappeared from Canaan when news broke that their presence was a nuisance to locals and their continued desire to learn, simply learn, was considered an act of aggression against local whites.
The building was eventually set ablaze by locals, no one was ever charged with arson, and no one dared raise a finger to put the fire out. For a building such as this to exist, to persist, to stand was inconceivable. Blacks and whites learning together? Blacks learning period? Blacks and whites attending parties arm in arm? White girls tending to the requests of black men? No. Gather as many oxen from the surrounding counties as you can and bring them here. We’re ousting these negroes from our town by force.
Strange is that some of the students of Noyes Academy are none other than renowned African-American Episcopalian priest Alexander Crummell. At his side, the first black man to ever give a sermon to Congress in 1865, Henry Highland Garnet.
Jacob Trussell, one of the agitators that petitioned the destruction of the Noyes Academy wrote up a speech at its removal and disintegration. It read:
“The abolitionist monster that ascended out of the bottomless pit, is sent headlong to perdition, and the mourners go about the streets. To you, gentlemen, who have assisted in attaining the glorious victory, I present you hearty and sincere thanks.”19
And strange is that Henry Highland Garnet, in his part-speech part-sermon delivered at Congress spoke these words just thirty years later titled, Let The Monster Perish:
“With all the moral attributes of God on our side, cheered as we are by the voices of universal human nature–in view of the best interests of the present and future generations–animated with the noble desire to furnish the nations of the earth with a worthy example, let the verdict of death which has been brought in against slavery by the Thirty-eighth Congress be affirmed and executed by the people. Let the gigantic monster perish. Yes, perish now and perish forever!”20
The town of Canaan never repented of its egregious crime against an innocent institution like Noyes Academy. They never repaid their founders. Never apologized to those whose livelihoods they destroy. Whose education they wiped out. It wasn’t as if black pupils could just up and leave to the next town through which they could be educated, you know. They could not request a transfer of credits for the continuation of their education. Jacob Trussell never apologized for calling Noyes Academy and its founders monsters.
But Ben Porter did. Henry Highland Garnet visited Canaan later in his life and delivered a sermon at a local church, where, after his sermon, Ben Porter apologized for being one of the main agitators and destructive forces behind the firebombing of the Noyes Academy.21
They towed a building outside of a town and wiped it from New Hampshire’s landscape. That’s a dedicated bunch.
The Cincinnati Riots, 1836
Cincinnati’s second race riot in just seven years is the result of James G. Birney’s anti-slavery newspaper, The Philanthropist22. What was once a printing press became the focus of an angry mob bent on destroying attorney Birney’s work and with hopes that this violent show of force would drive him out of town. His printing press was sacked twice, first on July 12 and later on July 30 when James refused to stop his newspaper syndicate from condemning the peculiar institution of slavery.
James G. Birney was born on February 4, 1792, in the wonderful whiskey-producing state of Kentucky. His rise to the abolitionist movement began with infamy as he would initially participate in the slave-owning business. In 1816 he married his first wife he received several slaves as a wedding gift.
What few know, as I learned while researching this riot, is that James ran for the office of president of the United States of America in 1840 against William Henry Harrison of the Whig Party (which would become the anti-slavery Republican party) and Martin Van Buren of the Democratic Party. Obviously, we understand today that the democratic party of antiquity was very much pro-slavery and slave-trading. James ran on the Liberty Party, an abolitionist party. It’s no surprise that in 1840 James only managed to win 6,797 votes, an embarrassing 0.31% of the voting population.
In 1835 James moved his family to Cincinnati where he began his newspaper company, The Philanthropist, challenging the morality of slavery, calling for its abolition, the manumission or freedom of blacks, and their equal treatment with whites in society. His paper was so caustic to the white slave-owning mind that it began facing calls to cease and desist all operations so as not to incite the violent nature of a disgruntled pro-slavery citizenry. White Ohioans and Irish immigrants faced continued disadvantages as freed blacks would cross into the state for work and livelihood, albeit under the most disgusting circumstances as blacks had to pay the state of Ohio $500 prior to moving there and also produce the signature of two white men stating they were free and not runaways before being authorized to live in the state. This, of course, not to speak of the continued harassment they endured once there.
Not only were white Ohioans angry with the emigration of blacks into their state but now they had to compete with the Irish for work and the Irish had to compete with the blacks. Add insult to slave-owning injury, here comes a Kentukyan lawyer with his The Philanthropist paper calling for the freedom of every black slave, condemning whites who own slaves, and demanding blacks be treated as well and as honorably as whites. Not even the Irish received such promotive work and acceptance from nativists but here the blacks were honored as equals to whites by James G. Birney.
It isn’t hard to understand why this riot took place as James’ rhetoric called for the inconceivable and blasphemous act of reconciliation between the black race and the white race. James, in an 1834 letter to the Kentucky Colonization Society demanded slave-owners “go before their slaves and beg forgiveness for their trespasses against the laws of God and human decency and count on their humanity.”
Ohio History Central23 encapsulates what happens to James’ printing press:
“On January 22, 1836, a group of white Cincinnatians urged the city government to prohibit Birney from publishing his paper. Birney was undaunted. To prevent Birney from printing, a mob of white Cincinnatians destroyed the newspaper’s printing press on July 12, 1836. Undeterred, Birney remained in Cincinnati and continued to publish his newspaper. The mob returned on July 30, 1836, and destroyed the printing press again. Birney resumed publication of The Philanthropist in September 1836, and he continued to publish it in Cincinnati, until October of 1843.”
University of Virginia’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture24 website depicts the first assault on The Philanthropist, which took place on July 12 in a detailed format [bold font added by me for emphasis]:
“At midnight a band of men, amounting to thirty or forty in number, including those who stood as sentries at different points on the street, made an assault on the premises of Mr. Pugh, the printer, scaled a high wall by which the lot was enclosed, and with the aid of a ladder and plank mounted the roof of the press-office. They then made their way through a window on the roof into the room below—intimidated into silence, by threats of bodily violence, a boy who was asleep there—covered his head with the bed-clothes to prevent him from seeing who were the perpetrators—tore up the paper that was prepared for that week’s No. of the Philanthropist, as well as a large part of the impression of an omitted No. that had not yet been mailed—destroyed the ink—dismantled the press, and carried away many of its principal parts. Whilst the depredation was going on within doors, a watch of the confederates was stationed in the street, near the door of Mr. Pugh’s dwelling house, to prevent him from giving the alarm. A remarkable feature in the transaction is this—notwithstanding so long time (nearly or quite two hours) was occupied in doing the mischief, and that Mr. Pugh’s premises lie on one of the principal streets of the city, and that the noise and confusion made by the rioters were loud enough to wake many of Mr. P’s neighbors (who were mysteriously admonished to be quiet)—still, no interference was offered by the night-watch of the city. to prevent the outrage. Whilst this circumstance must strike every one as remarkable, it has been said in explanation of it, that the watchmen generally were paying particular attention to another quarter of the city where it was expected a disturbance would take place. Although the names of the actors in this scene have not been sufficiently ascertained to authorize their publication—yet, there is reason to believe, that some of the leaders were persons of wealth and reputed respectability, who would never, before this, have been suspected of having been engaged in such a transaction. The work was done, as it is supposed, by their dependants and hirelings. Three or the operatives came from Covington, on the Kentucky side of the river.”
And regarding the July 30 assault it continues:
“On Saturday night, July 30, very soon after dark, a concourse of citizens assembled at the corner of Main and Seventh streets, in this city, and upon a short consultation, broke open the printing office of the Philanthropist, the abolition paper, scattered the type into the streets, tore down the presses, and completely dismantled the office. It was owned by A. Pugh, a peaceable and orderly printer, who published the Philanthropist for the Anti-Slavery Society of Ohio. From the printing office the crowd went to the house of A. Pugh, where they supposed there were other printing materials, but found none, nor offered any violence. Then to the Messrs. Donaldsons’, where ladies only were at home. The residence of Mr. Birney, the editor, was then visited, no person was at home but a youth, upon whose explanations, the house was left undisturbed. A shout was raised for Dr. Colby’s, and the concourse returned to Main street, proposing to pile up the contents of the office in the street, and make a bonfire of them. Joseph Graham mounted the pile, and advised against burning it, lest the houses near might take fire. A portion of the press was then dragged down Main street, broken up and thrown into the river. The Exchange was then visited and refreshments taken. After which the concourse again went up Main street to about opposite the Gazette Office. Some suggestions were hinted that it should be demolished, but the hint was overruled. An attack was then made on the residence of some blacks, in Church alley; two guns were fired upon the assailants, and they recoiled. It was supposed that one man was wounded, but that was not the case. It was some time before a rally could be again made, several voices declaring they did not wish to endanger themselves. A second attempt was made, the houses were found empty, and their interior contents destroyed.—It was now about midnight, when the party parading down Main street, was addressed by the Mayor, who had been a silent spectator of the destruction of the printing office. He told them they might as well now disperse. A dispersion to a considerable extent followed: but various other disturbances took place through the night, of the magnitude and particulars of which we are not advised.
The following, taken down by a gentleman who was present, has been furnished as an accurate report of the Mayor’s speech.
“Gentlemen.—It is now late at night, and time we were all in bed—by continuing longer, you will disturb tile citizens, or deprive them of their rest, besides robbing yourselves of rest. No doubt, it is your intention to punish the guilty, and leave the innocent. But if you continue longer, you are in danger of punishing the innocent with the guilty, which I am convinced no one in Cincinnati would wish to do. We have done enough for one night. [“three cheers for the Mayor”] The abolitionists themselves, must be convinced themselves by this time, what the public sentiment is, and that it will not do any longer to disregard, or set it at naught. [three cheers again] As you cannot punish the guilty without endangering the innocent, I advise you all to go home. [cries of home! home! from the crowd drowned the balance of his harangue.]
From the Cincinnati Gazette of August 4th.”
The nation that favored freedom of speech was very much oppressive toward speech that threatened their way of life. Many Ohioans relied on business between slave-favoring states and ‘free’ states to maintain a steady stream of revenue from cross-state commerce. And it’s saddening to see just how violent and persistent this wave of violence could be just to oust and destroy the idea that slavery could be abolished. The twice ransacked The Philanthropist paper would rise from the ashes, literally, twice and James’ work would continue, changing the hearts and minds of Americans until the start of the Civil War, which, in turn, was the result of freed states wanting to end the nefarious institution of slavery in the country.
The Murder of Abolitionist Elijah Loveloy, 1837
The murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy shifted anti-abolitionist sentiments in the north to more favorable conversations on the subject which would, in turn, lead to a push for national emancipation. We mustn’t be ignorant of how prevalent racist hostilities were in America as a whole, as some believe violent racist attacks were limited to the Deep South. This, unfortunately, is another tale of just how virulent race wars and race riots were in attempting to quash equal rights for blacks in the United States of America as Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by race rioters as far north as Alton, Illinois.
Elijah Parish Lovejoy was born on November 9, 1802, in Albion, Maine. Aside from having one of the coolest names on the planet; seriously, his last name is Lovejoy, who wouldn’t love a man whose name is Lovejoy? One cannot find a more animated name, unless, that is, your name is Hitler Mussolini and you’re the General Director of the Civil Police of Goais (Brazil).25 Anywho, Elijah became an accomplished minister, graduating from Waterville College (now Colby), as a valedictorian and a poet. He followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming a minister but spent little time on the pulpit because his revivalist sentiments pushed him to further the human and civil rights of his fellow man and quicken the minds of those who saw slavery as a right to power and fortune instead of as a mundane and evil institution.
In 1832, Elijah joined a newspaper, The St. Louis Observer, that sought to educate its readers on religious and moral aspects of life, namely, the menace of slavery. He was recruited as its editor and made it his goal to elucidate the barbarity of this peculiar institution in hopes of swaying public opinion enough to promote the emancipation of all slaves in America.
Some of Lovejoy’s words of contrition, petition, and condemnation:
“I have opened my mouth for the dumb. I have plead the cause of the poor and oppressed. I have maintained the rights of humanity and of nature…. by the grace of God I will not, I will not forsake my principles…. The cry of the oppressed has entered, not only into my ears, but into my soul so that while I live I cannot hold my peace.”26
“Alas! What bitter mockery is this. We assemble to thank God for our own freedom, and to eat and drink with joy and gladness of heart, while our feet are on the necks of nearly three millions of our fellow men. Not all our shouts of self-congratulation can drown their groans. Even the very flag of freedom that waves over their heads is formed from materials cultivated by slaves, on a soil moistened with their blood drawn from them by the whip of a republican taskmaster.”27
“Abolitionists believe that, as all men are born free, so all who are now held as slaves in this country were born free, and that they are slaves now is the sin, not of those who introduced the race into this country, but of those, and those alone, who now hold them and have held them in slavery from their birth.”28
And when Lovejoy was threatened with censure by future Senator Thomas Hart Benton (democrat) and his posse, who believed that freedom of speech was accessible to all Americans except those who dared challenge the peculiar institution of slavery, his rebuttal was:
“I have sworn eternal opposition to slavery, and by the blessing of God I will never turn back. But, Gentlemen, as long as I am an American citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, to publish whatever I please on any subject. If the laws of my country fail to protect me I appeal to God, and with him I cheerfully rest my cause. I can die at my post, but I cannot desert it.”29
It easy to see how such invective could cultivate a spirit of hostility against Elijah Lovejoy and his abolitionist friends, who included Edward Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This rhetoric was so successful in instigating the conversation on emancipation that Lovejoy began to face threats of violence against his life, his family, and his press, The St. Louis Observer.
Elijah sought to move his family away from this hostile environment and settled 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of St. Louis in Alton, Illinois where he could continue his work without the threat of harm or death.
Caryn E. Neumann of The First Amendment Encyclopedia describes what happened next:
“On July 4, 1837, the newspaper called for an anti-slavery meeting in Alton to consider establishing a state branch of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The society formed on Oct. 26. At this point, citizens began openly discussing violence as a response to Lovejoy’s activism. His press was destroyed three times by mobs. With the last attack, Lovejoy decided to arm himself. When the fourth press arrived from Ohio, Lovejoy and a group of armed supporters confronted a mob intent on destroying the machine. Shots were fired and Lovejoy fell dead.”30
The Library of Congress relates how the enraged and inebriated mob was so excited to bring Elijah’s writings to the ground that as soon as his papers made their way off a steamboat they raided the warehouse in which the paper was housed. It shows just how prepared this crowd was, how premeditated this crime was before the abolitionist paper ever made its way off the boat and onto the streets.
“No sooner was the new press offloaded from the steamboat Missouri Fulton than a drunken mob formed and tried to set fire to the warehouse where it was stored. When Lovejoy ran out to push away a would-be-arsonist, he was shot.”31
The state of Illinois and the surrounding press were silent on Lovejoy’s murder. Silent on the violent racist mob. Silent on the would-be arson. Abolition was such a nascent idea that it was conceived as intrusive and un-American, possibly a threat to the very capital that made the country the financial superpower of its day. Thankfully, however, one lesser-known member of the Illinois House of Representatives named Abraham Lincoln spoke up about this unfortunate event.
“Whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last.”32
Elijah Lovejoy’s martyrdom sparked a broader conversation on the efficacy and necessity of the First Amendment (freedom of speech or expression) and also gave rise, in blood, the Northern push for abolition because until then much of the North and the overwhelming majority of the South had seen slavery as much a necessity to the nation’s economy as the North profited from the cotton industry. The South accepted it as a divine institution whereas the North saw it as an inconvenience, albeit, a lucrative one. As racism was rampant in the nation as a whole, it was difficult to enlighten the minds of some to push for the eradication of such a nefarious institution but Lovejoy’s blood was the seed in the ground of this conversation and a catalyst for Lincoln’s push for emancipation.
It is beautiful and yet daunting to know that Lovejoy pushed for abolition well knowing that this honorable cause could cost him his life. He was undeterred in life and even in death, his will was not bent.
“I have counted the cost, and stand prepared freely to offer up my all in the service of God. Yes, sir, I am fully aware of all the sacrifice I make, in here pledging myself to continue this contest to the last…. Sir I dare not flee away from Alton…It is because I fear God that lam not afraid of all who oppose me in this city. No, sir, the contest has commenced here; and here it must be finished. Before God and you all, I here pledge myself to continue it, if need be, till death. If I fall, my grave shall be made in Alton.”33
Pennsylvania Hall, 1838
Pennsylvania Hall was a beacon of hope for early nineteenth-century abolitionists. Until this hall was built there was no safe and stable place in which anti-slavery orators and associates could rent out for the purpose of furthering the cause of manumission and civil rights. Public buildings, churches, and other private institutions refused to house or rent their locations out to persons who dared challenge the institution of slavery. In 1837 a group of abolitionists set off to raise enough funds to build their own monument in which they could house idealists, progressives, civil rights activists, and freedom fighters. A reminder is needed that the hostility and harassment abolitionists experienced in the north was not at the hands of Deep South slave traders but from proslavery Northerners.
Celia Caust-Ellenbogen of the Pennsylvania Hall Association delves into just how much money abolitionists were able to raise for the construction of this building.
“Pennsylvania Hall, as they decided to name it, would be luxuriously appointed with four offices, a small lecture room, two committee rooms, and a large auditorium with three galleries (Brown 127). To cover the $40,000 of building costs, the Board of Managers sold 2,000 shares for $20 each, in cash or trade.”34
So the reader does not allow this value to escape their understanding I’ll address it further. $40,000 in 1837-1838 would ideally add up to just over $1.1 million USD in 2021. That’s no small feat.
Beverly C. Tomek of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia helps us understand that the Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society “played a large role in raising funds to build the hall, collecting roughly $40,000 within a year.”35
Not only was the acquisition of funds secured by women but it was done so expeditiously.
Its grand opening was slated for May 14, 1838, with high hopes of great speakers lined up to give some of the more vibrant talks and denunciations of slavery from its many rooms. Preceding this grand event and at its leadership were several associations that sprouted over the northeast and later came together to form larger antislavery associations. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS) (which was formed with the help of members from the states of New York, Delaware, and New Jersey), the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society (PASS), and lastly the Pennsylvania Female Antislavery Society (PFASS) which is mentioned above concerning the funding for this great building, came together to host this grand event.
Their goal was an opening that would start with a four-day abolitionist convention where famed and renowned speakers would share their thoughts slavery and civil rights. Participants included but were not limited to the Grimke sisters, Angelina (nee Grimke) Weld, her sister Sarah Grimke, Arnold Buffum, Lewis C. Gunn, Charles C. Burleigh, and William Lloyd Garrison. Daniel Neall Jr. believes that about 3,000 people attended the events that took place in Pennsylvania Hall.
Regarding the events that happened on May 16, 1838, Neal explains that it was one of “the most satisfactory [nights] of my life.”36
At Pennsylvania Hall whites and blacks mixed and mingled, as men and women of varied races came and went without fear of one another, behaving as decent persons would when of the same mind toward a shared goal: emancipation. The imagery of white women entertaining and familiarizing themselves with black men and vice versa incensed white northerners.
The PAS, PASS, and PFASS societies were in favor of gradual manumission whereas the institution of the Pennsylvania Hall and the likes of William Lloyd Garrison were in favor of immediate emancipation for all slaves. These extremists were called Immediatists or Garrisonians because they preferred to end slavery by any and all means as soon as possible. William Lloyd Garrison, an editor for the famous anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, had once sided with Nat Turner who incited a violent slave insurrection years prior as a sign that slaves ought to do anything possible to help themselves out of bondage. This rhetoric made Northerners uneasy and their Southern neighbors ferment genocidal thoughts toward free blacks and their white coconspirators. The presence of the newly built and packed to standing room Pennsylvania Hall, which, by all accounts, was racially integrated, was a blasphemous sight to a proslavery and segregationist North.
On the third day of the convention, Pennsylvania Hall representatives had reached out to local authorities for help, as their building and events had faced continual and undeterred harassment at the hands of proslavery Northerners. Some events were interrupted by the sound of bricks crashing through windows, a sign of greater trouble ahead. Mayor John Swift (1790-1873) offered little help to their cause by claiming that they were the instigators in this situation, not the agitators who harassed them.
“There are always two sides to a question–public opinion makes mobs and ninety-nine out of a hundred of those with whom I conversed are against you.”37
Pennsylvania Hall representatives reluctantly handed the keys to their building to the mayor so he could ‘protect’ it from angry rioters and that night, upon its closure, the mayor visited the building and asked, unsuccessfully so, that those who had congregated outside the building to vandalize it be dispersed. After a few soft-spoken words that held no authority nor any weight to sway the masses, he stepped away and allowed the crowd to have their way with the hall.
Beverly C. Tomek recounts what happened next:
“Resistance to the hall and what it symbolized emerged immediately, and ended with one of Philadelphia’s most famous acts of riot and destruction. As the abolitionists gathered, onlookers–already resentful of the abolitionists whom they blamed for the growing black population in the city and the resulting job competition–spread rumors of racial “amalgamation” and inappropriate behavior at the hall.
Crowds formed around the building immediately upon its opening, and on the third day of the conference, when women inside the hall began to speak about the horrors of slavery, before an audience that included black and white men and women, the crowd outside began to throw bricks through the windows. Despite half-hearted efforts by Mayor John Swift (1790-1873) to disperse the crowd, the attack escalated on May 17, 1838. A group later identified as dock workers broke down the doors, allowing a diverse white mob to enter the hall and set a number of fires, fueling them by the gas that was piped in for lighting. Sheriff John G. Watmough (1793-1861) gathered about a dozen of the troublemakers, but was prevented by the crowd from maintaining custody. By the end of the night Pennsylvania Hall was a smoldering shell.”38
The Women and the American Story recount what led up to this riot from the perspective of South Carolina abolitionist Angelina (nee Grimke) Weld:
“Angelina was due to speak to the convention on Wednesday, May 16. By then, a noisy antiabolitionist mob had gathered outside the building. Several times as she addressed the audience, shouts interrupted her, and rocks were hurled through the windows. This mob of Northern whites was incensed about abolition itself and because black abolitionists were present at the meeting. Insults and stones flew again when black women and white women left the building arm in arm. On Thursday, after the mayor cancelled the convention to restore quiet, the crowd broke into the empty building and torched it. Firefighters allowed the structure to burn to the ground as they hosed down nearby buildings instead.
Angelina Grimke Weld continued to write against slavery. In 1836, when Congress resolved not to read any more antislavery petitions, she and Sarah placed their names at the top of a petition against this decision. But after the fire at Pennsylvania Hall, Angelina Grimke Weld never spoke against slavery in public again.”39
No one was ever arrested for the crimes of intimidation, suppression of free speech, criminal mischief, vandalism, arson, or terrorism. Those who were apprehended on-site were wrestled out of the hands of local police officers by the mob and rushed back to freedom, delivered once again from the hands of Justice and into the hands of Whiteness. Some estimate that spectators numbered anywhere between 12,000-15,000. No one helped. The fire department spent more time dousing nearby houses and buildings with water than they did the fire consuming the hall. Their intentions made clear by where their attention landed. Let the nigger lover’s building burn. But keep Mr. Pinkersmith’s haberdashery establishment unscathed! We might need new socks once we’re done here. Of the $40,000 that was invested in the construction of Pennsylvania Hall the city’s Board of Directors approved its financiers receive back only $33,000, of which they only saw $27,943.82 years later.
Pennsylvania Hall was supposed to become a beacon of hope and progress, a place where men and women of all walks of life, race, and status could come together and participate in something redemptive. Theirs was the purpose of the American spirit of Liberty, Freedom, and the Pursuit of Happiness. White men and black women walked in and out, arm in arm, as did black men and white women. Women would speak, confidently so, as men sat and listened and learned. This was a place where the seeds of women’s suffrage germinated, where women could voice their hearts and intellect without fear of repercussion.
This Pennsylvania Hall lasted all but four days and after the fourth, all that stood was a shell of its former glory.
Its inauguration began on May 14, 1838, and its pulverization on May 18, 1838.
It stood for four days.
There is no Pennsylvania Hall in the state of Pennsylvania today, only a landmark by which we remember it. A very small landmark. The Pennsylvania Hall in all its glory stood no more than two blocks north of Independence Hall, where the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted. The victors that day were not the abolitionists, no, they lost their meeting hall. The champions of this riot, this arsonist’s club gathering, were the members of the ASININE society.
Theirs is the land and theirs is the right to do whatever they want to whomever they want so long as they remain in power.
The Cincinnati Riots, 1841
This is our third race riot in Cincinnati, Ohio in just twelve years. Black Codes are still active in the state, forcing free black Americans who wish to migrate into the state to produce documentation that elaborately demonstrates to authorities that they are not runaways. These documents have to be witnessed by two land-owning white men to be valid. And before given the chance to enter the state to work and live as free men, black Americans would have to cough up hundreds of dollars to qualify. No other group had to pay a fee just to enter and live in the state of Ohio. Irish immigrants continue to stream into the state of Ohio in search of work. For some time, they and free black Americans live in close proximity, striving for the same American dream, equally disdained by Americans of English, German, and Dutch descent. Catholics, Irish, blacks, and native Americans all in the same bubble of disgrace in the eyes of Ohioans. But as the economy lingers and job vacancies decrease thus increasing the competition for work, Irish immigrants begin to find common ground with native white Ohioans in their shared disgust for black people, who, according to the Irish, wanted to take their jobs away.
Commerce between the state of Ohio and Kentucky relied heavily on the capital produced by the slave trade. The steady stream of runaway blacks who entered the state ‘illegally’ with the help of the Underground Railroad and with the preposterous works of abolitionists did nothing but increase hostilities in the state toward anyone who wasn’t, as they understood, American patriots.
In September of 1841, locals were fed up with the presence of many free black Americans who lived and worked in their own area of Cinncinati, far away from the communes and residences of white Americans. But this wasn’t enough for the city that had instigated two riots previously. First in 1829 at the hands of Irish immigrants and later in 1836 where rioters destroyed the pro-abolition newspaper run by James G. Birney, The Philanthropist.
Discontent with their inability to rid their city of Native Americans, free black Americans, Irish immigrants, and the bestial presence of abolitionists, Cincinnatians sought to rage against the black community with a coordinated assault on black-owned property and businesses. The onslaught was initiated on the basis of hatred, distrust, racial superiority, nativism, and pro-slavery sentiments which only fueled the flames of those joining the ensuing mob.
Were it not for the valiant effort of a free black man named, Major James Wilkerson, the black community and its citizens would have all died in a bloody massacre. Major was a former slave who purchased his own freedom, taught himself to read and write in secret, and later became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Abolitionist John Mercer Langston recounts the events of the first night of that godawful assault on the black community of Cincinnati in his book, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capital; Or, The First and Only Negro Representative in Congress from the Old Dominion:
“After the first sudden surprising attack, the colored people, measurably prepared for such occurrence by reason of the condition of public feeling manifested latterly, as already described, certainly in their expectations of it, aroused themselves, seized any means of defence within their reach, and with manliness and courage, met their assailants. One of their number, Major Wilkerson, was made their leader; and never did a man exhibit on the field of danger greater coolness, skill and bravery, than this champion of his people’s cause. A negro himself, he fought in self-defence, and to maintain his own rights as well as those of the people whom he led. They had full confidence in his ability, sincerity, courage and devotion, and were ready to follow him even to death. […] All night the fight continued. Many of the white attacking party were carried directly from the fight to the grave; and not a few of the colored men fell in gallant manner, in the struggle which they made in their own defence.”40
One can imagine the gruesome scene of an encroaching militia falling upon an American city. Torches, swords, bayonets, and musket rifles on the ready. Coordinated assaults, the predation of American souls, the torching of homes and business. Something that was seen no more than twenty-nine years prior when the British torched the US Capitol in the War of 1812. But here, it is not the British in their red coats, nor their Canadian subjugates, nor the co-belligerent French fighting for land in the Americas. No. Here, it is not Tecumesh’s last stand. What we witness is but the vengeful force of white Americans toward free unthreatening black Americans.
This skirmish is thwarted for the night, these attacks dispeled for the time being with the help of the brave Major James Wilkerson. What would have seemed like the end of an unprovoked attack was merely the beginning of a battle as the mob, after facing an unbending force of armed and coordinated black Americans, rushed to the river side docks where, upon their undeterred and unchallenged efforts, commandeered a cannon.
Yes. This sounds extreme but to the American mind of former time this was a necessary step to thwart the black uprising in Cincinnati. For whites to lose a battle to free blacks was reminiscent of a Nat Turner insurrection. Many had set their minds on the scientific racism of the age that believed blacks were born to be servile and not intellectually or militarily effective creatures. They could not lead no more than they could read or write and if they managed to transcribe some spoken word it would be no match for the intellectual prowess of the white race. So they thought. In their minds, a black military victory was inconceivable but this black victory proves them wrong. To better their odds, or perhaps, to equalize the odds, the white rioters lay siege on the black community and raze it to the ground with the help of cannon fire. Using scrap metal as ammunition they lay the black town to waste.
What’s sadder yet is that this second assault took place after the mayor of Cincinnati had demanded every black man in the city be arrested for inciting the riot. Not rioters with cannons but the free black Americans defending their homes, businesses, and their family.
Anna-Lisa Cox, an award-winning historian and Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture captures what happened next:
“And when these attacks occurred, whether in Cincinnati or dozens of cities across the Midwest, they were rarely condemned. The white perpetrators were rarely punished. Black communities, still reeling from the loss of property and life faced further injustice including the loss of what rights they had once held. In Cincinnati, after Wilkerson and his men managed to successfully safeguard their homes and families from white attackers that night in September 1841, the mayor ordered that all Black men in the city be thrown into jail, if they weren’t shot first.
Wilkerson managed to survive this incident, but had to keep his involvement in his community’s defense a secret. He remained in Cincinnati where he continued his work in the struggle for freedom, as an Underground Railroad operative, as well as supporting the work of other Black men and women to assist freedom seekers.”41
The Cinnicinati newspaper managed to cover this race riot on the third page of their weekly issue with only two sentences. The first sentence carrying a false narrative of an incursion on the part of the abolitionists, where, in reality, there was none and the second sentence alluding to the successful destruction of an anti-slavery newspaper entity. The free blacks and their recalcitrant white abolition favoring friends had lost, yet again. The black Americans in the ghettos were killed if not arrested and their white friends in the press were run out of town. Freedom of livelihood robbed on one side of the coin for black Americans and freedom of speech censured for whites Americans on the other.
Cincinnati had won yet another battle in the war for an uninterrupted white hegemony.
The Lombard Street Riot, 1842
This race riot takes us back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where, no more than four years earlier, the city had come together to firebomb the abolitionist building, Pennsylvania Hall. The destruction of that monumental building had done little to suppress the rage of pro-slavery Philadelphians as we will see their disdain for free black Americans and their friendly white Garriosonian friends still very much alive in the Lombard Street riot.
On August 1, 1842, the free African American community of Philadelphia had made it their prerogative to celebrate Jamaican Emancipation Day. This being the eighth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the West Indies or, as we call them today, the Caribbean Islands.
You can imagine the sentiments of black Americans strolling through the streets of Philadelphia, dreaming, aspiring, and hoping for the day where they would celebrate their national emancipation. Unfortunately, emancipation would not become an edict of the American mind until 1863, and the last group of enslaved Americans would not be set free until June 19, 1865.
These celebrations in the heart of Philadelphia shared in the bittersweetness of freedom around the world but captivity in the land of the free. Those nearest to freedom approached it in manacles and chains, unable to deliver themselves from the bonds of slavery while their fellow countrymen celebrated Independence Day only a few weeks prior.
As the 1,000 person parade moves along Philadelphian streets it reaches a crossing between Lombard Street and Fourth Street, where, unbeknownst to participants, a group of disgruntled Irish immigrants was waiting for them.
What we seldom discuss in history class is that Irish immigrants fought for jobs, income, living conditions, and freedoms the same way black Americans did. Both communities struggled with poverty and social disdain. African Americans because they were black and the Irish because they were Catholic, poor, and not of English, German, or Dutch descent. For a great deal of time, the Irish were seen as equal to black Americans by the ruling ethnic group and this would later fuel hatred for black Americans in the Irish communities. Where they could have found common ground to fight for the same liberties the Irish found common ground with white Americans to hate black Americans.
These Irish immigrants had fled their native lands for the shores of the American plain in hopes of finding religious freedom, economic stability, and accessibility to the American dream. Unfortunately, Irish immigrants would be ostracized from the moment they reached American ports and seen as unwelcome bottom-feeding immigrants who wanted nothing more than to bring in their religious system to usurp the American one, take American jobs, stifle the economy, and ruin the pure American gene pool through cross-ethnic marriages. They would be relegated to the same slums where black Americans lived and made to fight for the same menial jobs that black Americans were glad and grateful to have.
This thunderous demonstration through Lombard Street only incensed a hatred already present in the Irish mind. When the black paraders reached Fourth Street a mob consisting of Irish parade gazers began to harass them. Harassment led to threats and threats led to fists and a brawl ensued.
The Philadelphia Inquirer captures what happens next:
“As the parade neared Mother Bethel Church on Fourth Street, an Irish mob attacked the marchers, beating many and looting African American homes in the area. The marchers retaliated, prompting the Irish mob to burn down the Second African Presbyterian Church and Smith’s Hall on Lombard Street, which had been a hub for abolitionists following the destruction of Pennsylvania Hall in the riots of 1838.
After the initial damage, the Irish rioters headed west toward the home of Robert Purvis, a prominent and outspoken African American leader, who sat on the steps of his house, armed and ready. Ultimately, his home was spared by the intervention of a Catholic priest.
Finally, on the third day of violence, local militia were called to subdue the riots.
In 2005, a historical marker was erected at Sixth and Lombard Streets to remember the riot of 1842.”42
And Melissa Mandell of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania writes about just how virulent race fuel violence was in the Northern states in her article on the Lombard Street Riots Site:
“During the riots of 1842, the mob burned down the Second African Presbyterian Church and Smith’s Hall on Lombard Street, which had been the site of abolition lectures since abolitionist hub Pennsylvania Hall was destroyed in the riots of 1838.”43
It wouldn’t be a disservice on my part to postulate that some of the rioters present in the Lombard Street riot were present at the Pennsylvania Hall burning four years prior. Seeing as how the violent sentiments in Philadelphia had not subsided over the span of four years is just a reminder of how much of the hatred toward the black American community, especially the free black American community was endemic to the American mind.
Today we can walk down Lombard Street where a marker is set to remind us that in the beautiful and now affluent Society Hill community there was once a three-day race-based riot that required the presence and force of a local militia to bring the uproar to a stop. Had it not been for this militia and the bravery of a Catholic cleric to dissuade the might and anger of this riotous crowd we can safely assume that the complete eradication of the black community in Philadelphia was just days away.
Witnessing the black community thrive in any area other than under the bonds of slavery was an eye-sore to Northerners. Their propinquity to white communities, their audacity in making Pennsylvania their new home as free Americans, their drive for a more prosperous life, their pursuit of religious freedom and social acceptance were all thwarted by the malignant tumor of racism.
The Muncy Abolition Riot, 1842
The Muncy Abolition Riot takes place in Muncy, Pennsylvania. This Pennsylvanian town was established in 1797 by Quakers and is now situated in Lycoming County, no more than 72 miles away from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Yes, that Scranton. This race riot gained traction in 1842 as the spike in abolitionist literature began to disseminate throughout the northern colonies thus inciting various incidents of backlash from Americans in the North who profited from the slave trade in the Deep South.
In April of 1842, Enos Hawley, a Quaker by faith tradition and abolitionist by moral aptitude invited a fellow abolitionist speaker into town. Unfortunately, this speaker’s name is now lost in history. He was encouraged to deliver an anti-slavery speech in Muncy. Enos had scheduled this event to take place in a local school building, wherein the speaker could speak freely and plainly to the townsfolk who shared his views. As the guest speaker took to the stage to speak against the horrors of slavery and upon this note several pro-slavery and pro-slave trade townspeople began to grunt and groan at the recitation.
The Luminary explains what happens next.
“Unfortunately, the greeting the two men received from some angry townspeople when they showed up at a schoolhouse in April of that year for the anticipated speech was not a welcome one.
More than a dozen men pelted the schoolhouse with rocks and other objects, damaging the building and injuring Hawley and the speaker. The two then were chased by the mob to Hawley’s house at Main and High Streets where they continued to be assaulted with eggs.”44
One would think that the rule of law would come to Hawley and his respectable guests’ rescue but that was not the case. A society built upon law, order, and structure served only those who benefited from a racialized caste system. Dissenters and abolitionists were perceived as enemies of the state. Initially in a social paradigm and lastly, in the eyes of the law.
“Eighteen rioters eventually were charged and then put on trial in September of that year. Thirteen of the 18 members were convicted, but only after going back and forth among the jurors.
One member of the jury, Abraham Updegraff later described the secret deliberations, noting how an initial ballot came back 11 for acquittal and one for guilty.
Updegraff, reportedly an abolitionist, later convinced other jurors to reconsider their ballots for acquittal. Eventually the jury reached a decision to convict.
However, in a rather unusual move, Gov. David Rittenhouse Porter stepped forward just days after the trial, making a decision to annul the convictions.”45
Philadelphia Nativist Riots, 1844
Nineteenth-century Philadelphia was a cesspool of racial animus that swelled with the uninvited advent of racially integrated abolitionist groups and their anti-slavery newspaper mills. Hostilities toward these morally upright groups were present years earlier with the razing of Pennsylvania Hall in 1838, the Lombard Street riot of 1842, and the Muncy Abolition riot of 1842. The city of brotherly love was only willing to extend unconditional affection toward white, American-born, pro-slavery men and women of the Protestant tradition.
This riot or this series of riots took place on May 6, 1844, and its ensuring encore on July 5, 1844. Two deadly riots in the same town were separated by no more than 59 days of pseudo-peace between them.
In 1844 the city of Philadelphia succumbed to yet another series of civil unrest, this time, against the societally disgraced Irish-Catholic immigrants who had settled in town. Protestant white Americans had for years debated ousting and excising Catholic whites and Irish people from America due to irrational fears of Romanism. Because Catholicism was seen as an intrusive and supposedly repressive religion and Irish immigrants were considered the blacks of Europe; filthy, uncouth, and unwanted, it was only a matter of time before nativist entities routed their numbers to push for another violent skirmish between the races.
Adding to this complex issue was the topic of which Bible students were allowed to read in public schools. Until Engel v. Vitale on June 25, 1962, and Abington School District v. Schempp on June 17, 1963, school-sponsored prayers and bible reading were allowed and esteemed in public schools. Both acts were considered unconstitutional after 1963 because the state did not subscribe to a particular faith nor would it allow its public entities to do so in this newly enlightened democratic society.
But in 1844, students were still allowed to learn about Christianity through the eyes of European and now, American scholars, read the King James Version of the Bible; a 1611 English translation of the Aramaic, Greek, and Hebraic scriptures. In 1842, however, white American protestants formed the American Protestant Association to ban the use of another bible translation or religious literature from their way into public schools. This was done in hopes of combating Romanism and protecting American children in the public education system from Catholic dogmas and traditions, which at the time, were seen as encroachments upon American liberties.
The issues of nativism, immigration, and inter-faith religious animus were amplified by the presence and persistence of a peculiar cleric, Bishop Francis Kenrick. Bishop Kenrick petitioned public schools to allow the use of a second bible. The King James Version was used by Protestant Christians and school teachers in their vocations but Kenrich asked that the Catholic bible, or rather, the Douay–Rheims Bible be added to the list of religious materials students could study.
This would be the last straw for anti-Catholic Americans, but more so for the bellicose nativist Donald Trump Jr. of the 19th century, Lewis C. Levin, who roused the local nativist crowd and ushered them into the Irish community of Philadelphia to help liquefy the city of Irish Catholics and undesirables; people not born in America, First Nations indigenous peoples, black Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Irish, Catholics, and etc.
Brendan Spiegel of Narratively, a multi-award-winning story and history-telling platform, comments on the degraded persona of Lewis C. Levin and this deadly riot in The Donald Trump of the 1840s.
“On a stormy Monday afternoon in the spring of 1844, a stout, well-built, 35-year-old Philadelphia newspaper editor ascended a makeshift podium assembled from a stack of packing boxes. Surrounded by some three thousand of his fervent supporters – butchers, grocers, carpenters and craftsman, many armed for this occasion – Lewis Charles Levin had come to the main market in Philly’s heavily Irish-Catholic neighborhood of Kensington. He was there to rail against the rising tide of Catholic immigrants taking jobs from proud Pennsylvania-born Protestants, and the resulting “consequence upon American liberty” he vowed would surely come of admitting even more foreigners.”46
And regarding Levin’s subjective morality, he states:
“While Levin was widely pinpointed for inciting the violence, in the days to come the charismatic speaker accepted not a hint of blame. In a heated defense, he asserted that his followers had nothing but peaceful intentions until “an armed body of ferocious foreigners” assaulted them. He greatly exaggerated the number of dead on his side, blamed his rivals in the press, and insisted a wide-ranging conspiracy was the real impetus behind the clash, while providing no real evidence to back-up the existence of such a conspiracy.”47
What slips our notice is that this same Lewis Levin acquired such a reputation that he went on to form a political party called the American Republican Party, which promoted anti-immigration laws, anti-Catholic laws, and outright nativist hysteria. Levin’s anti-immigrant rabble-rousing violence was such a socially acceptable norm that he and his fellow patriots would later form the dangerous insurrectionist group, Know-Nothings. This group would terrorize immigrants, Catholics, black Americans, and abolitionists throughout the 1850s. Their modus operandi was so effective that it spread from Philadelphia to new and thriving chapters in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New York, and New Orleans.
Zachary M. Schrag of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia recounts the first riot of May 6 onward.
“The first serious violence broke out three days later. On May 6, the nativists reassembled in Kensington, provoking another fight, during which a young nativist named George Shiffler (1825-44) was fatally shot. By day’s end, a second man—apparently a bystander—was dead, and several more nativists were wounded, two mortally. The next day, the First Brigade of the Pennsylvania Militia, commanded by Brigadier General George Cadwalader (1806-79), responded to the sheriff’s call for help. The troops faced little direct resistance, but they proved unable to stop people from starting new fires. On May 8, mobs gutted several private dwellings (including Hugh Clark’s house), a Catholic seminary, and two Catholic churches: St. Michael’s at Second Street and Master and St. Augustine’s at Fourth and Vine. Only a flood of new forces—including citizen posses, city police, militia companies arriving from other cities, and U.S. army and navy troops—ended the violence by May 10.”48
And the second one in July.
“On Sunday, July 7, the crowd reassembled, and this time it armed itself with cannon. Egged on by nativist speakers, the crowd forced the militia to surrender the church and its prisoners. Cadwalader returned to Southwark about sunset at the head of a column and tried to clear the area around the church. When the crowd attacked the militia with bricks, stones, and bottles, the militia fired on them, killing at least two and wounding more. Starting around 9pm, the crowd counterattacked. For the next four hours, rioters and militia battled in the streets of Southwark, with both sides firing cannon. By morning, four militiamen and probably a dozen rioters were dead, along with many more wounded. Southwark’s aldermen negotiated the militia’s withdrawal from their district, but thousands of militia troops from other parts of the state arrived to patrol the City of Philadelphia.”49
Sandy Hingston of City Life, a subdivision of Phillymag recounts the delusory aftermath of this deadly riot in her 2015 article, Bullets and Bigots: Remember Philadelphia’s 1844 Anti-Catholic Riots.
“In the wake of the fighting, Philadelphia consolidated its outlying suburbs into the city proper, and standing police forces were established. Bishop Kenrick gave up fighting over which Bible to read in schools, instead creating the city’s Catholic school system — the first in the nation. He began construction of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, eventually became the Archbishop of Baltimore, wrote his own translation of the Douai Bible, and died in July of 1863 after reading an account of the terrible carnage at the Battle of Gettysburg.”50
The Christiana Riot, Christiana Resistance, Christiana Tragedy, or Christiana Incident, 1851
The Christiana Revolt, as I prefer to label it, is the natural consequence of successful abolitionist movements, run-away slaves standing up for themselves, and the first of many pushbacks against the immoral Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1851.
On September 11, 1851, a slave owner named Edward Gorsuch (unrelated to the Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch) crossed the Mason-Dixon Line (a border that dictated the separation between free states and slave states) to recapture some of his runaway slaves.
The lucrative practice of slave catching was pervasive throughout the American Deep South and went without much challenge in the Free North as ambivalent Northern whites sought to distance themselves legal consequences from wealthy Southern slave-owning aristocrats who could take individuals found aiding and abetting fugitives to court for interfering with legal and lawful practice slave catching.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and its reformed version in 1851 made it possible for bounty hunters to cross into the Free States in search of runaway property, namely, Black Americans, with intentions of placing them in chains and then transporting them back to their rightful owners in the South. Anyone who dared impede this process or gave shelter to runaway slaves ran a risk of being on the wrong side of the law.
“SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct or hinder such claimant, his agent or attorney in so seizing or arresting such fugitive from labour, or shall rescue such fugitive from such claimant, his agent or attorney when so arrested pursuant to the authority herein given or declared; or shall harbor or conceal such person after notice that he or she was a fugitive from labour, as aforesaid, shall, for either of the said offences, forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars. Which penalty may be recovered by and for the benefit of such claimant, by action of debt, in any court proper to try the same; saving moreover to the person claiming such labour or service, his right of action for or on account of the said injuries or either of them.
“7. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the
discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months, by indictment and conviction before the District Court of the United States for the district in which such may have been committed, or before the proper court of criminal jurisdiction, if committed within any one of the organized Territories of the United States; and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may
Edward Gorsuch, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, left his home armed with weapons and warrants granted him by a local court, under the protection of local and federal laws, to reach Christiana, Pennsylvania to seek and seize his runaway slaves. This remote and forgotten Pennsylvanian town is no more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Philadelphia where several anti-abolition and nativist race riots had taken place years prior. A phenomenon not unknown to Southern plantation autocrats who wanted nothing to do with Northern incursion and abolitionist shenanigans, so that they could continue their peculiar business without interference or interruption.
The Digital Scholarship Lab of the University of Richmond recounts the initial consequences of Edward Gorsuch and his bounty hunter party arriving at the location in which they believed his runaway slaves had found shelter and refuge.
“The slave owner Edward Gorsuch traveled to Pennsylvania, along with several men, two of whom were federal marshals, to retrieve six of his slaves that had escaped from his plantation years earlier. Gorsuch planned to confront William Parker, the owner of a tenant house, about harboring his fugitive slaves. An altercation between the two groups of people developed and Gorsuch was killed during the dispute, while several others were seriously wounded.”53
William Parker, a runaway slave whose home Edward Gorsuch attempted to raid recounts this incident in detail in his 1866 report, Freedman’s Story, later published in two parts in The Atlantic. Parker gives us the names of the persons involved in the raid, “The party then consisted of Kline, Edward Gorsuch, Dickinson Gorsuch, his son, Joshua M. Gorsuch, his nephew, Dr. Thomas Pierce, Nicholas T. Hutchings, and Nathan Nelson.”54
And also who the warrants were made for, namely, “George Hammond, Joshua Hammond, Nelson Ford, and Noah Buley.”55 These runaway slaves had found refuge in Parker’s residence until they could purchase their freedom or find safe passage further north or into Canada.
Before reaching William Parker’s residence, Gorsuch’s raiding party stopped, momentarily to safeguard their weapons and consider their method of attack that would merit them the most successful recapture of runaway slaves without injury, loss of life, and property.
“The guide led them by a circuitous route, until they reached the Valley Road, near the house of William Parker, the writer of the annexed narrative, which was their point of destination. They halted in a lane near by, ate some crackers and cheese, examined the condition of their fire-arms, and consulted upon the plan of attack.”56
William Parker then details what transpires in front of and later inside his residence.
“It was not yet daybreak when the party approached the house. They made demand for the slaves, and threatened to burn the house and shoot the occupants, if they would not surrender. At this time, the number of besiegers seems to have been increased, and as many as fifteen are said to have been near the house. About daybreak, when they were advancing a second or third time, they saw a negro coming out, whom Mr. Gorsuch thought he recognized as one of his slaves. Kline [H. H. Kline, a deputy United States Marshal] pursued him with a revolver in his hand, and stumbled over the bars near the house. Some of the company came up before Kline, and found the door open. They entered, and Kline, following, called for the owner, ordered all to come down, and said he had two warrants for the arrest of Nelson Ford and Joshua Hammond. He was answered that there were no such men in the house. Kline, followed by Mr. Gorsuch, attempted to go up stairs. They were prevented from ascending by what appears to have been an ordinary fish gig. Some of the witnesses described it as ‘like a pitchfork with blunt prongs,’ and others were at a loss what to call this, the first weapon used in the contest. An axe was next thrown down, but hit no one.”57
It is interesting to note that William Parker, alongside his fellow residents and refugees, sought nothing more than to barricade themselves inside Parker’s residence for safekeeping and protection. Having perhaps previously set up blockades within the home in case of this very incident taking place, as a means to dissuade kidnappers from progressing in their venture, this was not an act of aggression. Parker’s approach was one of a frightened resident attempting to keep himself, his family, friends, guests, and property free from harassment and unlawful seizures.
This, however, did not discourage the slave catchers presently inside William Parker’s home and the armed mini-militia waiting outside.
“Mr. Gorsuch and others then went outside to talk with the negroes at the window. Just at this time Kline fired his pistol up stairs. The warrants were then read outside the house, and demand made upon the landlord. No answer was heard. After a short interval, Kline proposed to withdraw his men, but Mr. Gorsuch refused, and said he would not leave the ground until he had made the arrests. Kline then in a loud voice ordered some one to go to the sheriff and bring a hundred men, thinking, as he afterwards said, this would intimidate them. The threat appears to have had some effect, for the negroes asked time to consider. The party outside agreed to give fifteen minutes.
Having no reason to believe he was acting under legal authority, when Kline approached and demanded assistance in making the arrests, Hanway made no answer. Kline then handed him the warrants, which Hanway examined, saw they appeared genuine, and returned.
The negroes then rushed up, some armed with guns, some with corn-cutters, staves, or clubs, others with stones or whatever weapon chance offered. Hanway and Lewis in vain endeavored to restrain them.
Kline leaped the fence, passed through the standing grain in the field, and for a few moments was out of sight. Mr. Gorsuch refused to leave the spot, saying his ‘property was there, and he would have it or perish in the attempt.’ The rest of his party endeavored to retreat when they heard the Marshal calling to them, but they were too late; the negroes rushed up, and the firing began. How many times each party fired, it is impossible to tell. […] Dickinson Gorsuch was with his father near the house. They were both wounded; the father mortally. Dickinson escaped down the lane, where he was met by Kline, who had returned from the woods at the end of the field. Kline rendered him assistance, and went towards Penningtonville for a physician. On his way be met Joshua M. Gorsuch, who was also wounded and delirious. Kline led him over to Penningtonville and placed him on the upward train from Philadelphia. Before this time several persons living in the neighborhood had arrived at Parker’s house. Lewis Cooper found Dickinson Gorsuch in the place where Kline had left him, attended by Joseph Scarlett. He placed him in his dearborn, and carried him to the house of Levi Pownall, where he remained till he had sufficiently recovered to return home. Mr. Cooper then returned to Parker’s, placed the body of Mr. Edward Gorsuch in the same dearborn, and carried it to Christiana.
Thus ended an occurrence which was the theme of conversation throughout the land. Not more than two hours elapsed from the time demand was first made at Parker’s house until the dead body of Edward Gorsuch was carried to Christiana. In that brief time the blood of strangers had been spilled in a sudden affray, an unfortunate man had been killed, and two others badly wounded.”58
Edward Gorsuch led a party of slave catchers, family members, and federal officials 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of his home in Baltimore to seize and return to their supposedly rightful place of existence, persons considered fugitives of the law, namely, four former slaves, into his possession. In the end, Edward Gorsuch died in front of William Parker’s house, where he was either shot, stabbed, hacked, clubbed, or beaten to death at the hands of frightened and later emboldened runaway slaves and their heroic neighbors.
Gorsuch was mortally wounded, his son was wounded, his nephew was wounded and was later found to be under a spell, a delirium, either due to shell shock, sepsis from his injuries, or a combination of both. The raiding party disbanded and fled the scene in search of medical help for the wounded, first, and later, in search of military assistance to hold members of William Parker’s residence accountable for killing a man for going about obtaining that which was legally his, namely, Black Americans.
William Parker had interfered with a federally protected confiscation of property and had in light of this incident, allegedly committed a federal crime.
Professor Beverly C. Tomek, Ph. D, Associate Provost for Curriculum and Student Achievement at the University of Houston-Victoria and former history instructor at Wharton County Junior College, captures the humanity behind the Christiana Revolt by relaying to us how a racially integrated militia helped protect William Parker and the refugees in his home from Southern slave catchers.
“Five whites and thirty-three blacks were charged with interfering with the Fugitive Slave Law, an infraction that carried a charge of treason.”59
It is heartwarming to know that white Northerners came to Parker’s defense. It is sad, however, to know that the only reason why white Northerners would have been near Parker’s home is either because they were either impoverished whites or social outcasts who had nowhere else to live.
Unfortunately for William Parker, he, alongside other guests at his house at the time of this incident, would be charged with treason for impeding federal officials from performing their lawful duties and attempted murder against the same.
The four fugitives Edward Gorsuch initially sought to apprehend were nowhere to be found by the time authority caught up with and arrested Parker.
The Digital Lab from the University of Richmond explains the legal and national ramifications of the Christiana Revolt further:
“The Christiana Riot put enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act to a different test. The act produced division and heated debate across the nation.
Part of the problem in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act stemmed from the North not agreeing with it. James McPherson stated the concern of the Fugitive Slave Act in Battle Cry of Freedom, ‘It seemed only a matter of time before real blood would be shed.” Protestors from the South sent out the warning “unless the Christiana rioters are hung, we leave you. If you fail in this simple act of justice, the bonds will be dissolved.’
The opening statement by John W. Ashmead at the Christiana Riot trial clearly explained that Gorsuch was within the law and depicts the aggressive acts that was taken against an innocent man, ‘…within the jurisdiction of this Court, the defendant, with a great number of persons, armed and arrayed in a war-like manner, with guns, swords and other weapons, assembled and traitorously combined to oppose and prevent by intimidation…and arrayed himself in a warlike manner against the said United States.’ The statement clearly tried to place William Parker as being anti-American. The slave owning South wanted to immediately pin William Parker as enemy of the United States.
Parker’s defense attorney Theodore Cuyler argued that his defendant did not commit treason, because he did not try to levy a war against the United States. Next Cuyler sarcastically commented on the magnitude of the event, ‘Did you hear it? That three harmless, non-resisting Quakers, and eight-and-thirty wretched, miserable, penniless negroes, armed with corn-cutters, clubs, and a few muskets, and headed by a miller, in a felt hat, without a coat, without arms, and mounted on a sorrel nag, levied war against the United States.’ Cuyler made his point that if treason is defined as levying war against the United States, then how can a group of just a few people with inadequate resources possibly wage a war against the United States.
As a result of the trial, none of the people being prosecuted were found guilty of committing treason against the United States. The jury expressed their disapproval of the murders and riot, but acquitted the men involved.”60
Professor Beverly C. Tomek also adds:
“To some, these men were simply carrying out the promise of American freedom, but to others they were murderers who disregarded the nation’s laws. In the end, the prosecution failed to gain treason convictions, but public opinion remained split.”61
The Christiana Revolt sparked further schisms within the American conscience over the humanity and personhood of Black Americans as pro-slavery Southerners saw Black Americans protecting themselves against lawful kidnappers as murderers beasts deserving of imprisonment and execution; pro-slavery Northerners were embittered by this acquittal and sought to conspire against free Black Americans to maintain a healthy line of enterprise and business with pro-slavery Southerns; and anti-slavery Northerners viewed free Black Americans and their Underground Railroad as a continual nuisance to their day-to-day operations, neither siding entirely with free Black Americans nor with pro-slavery Southerners on the matter of slave catching.
A gradual move toward abolition was as equally painful a process for the nation as slavery itself.
Free Black Americans and their compassionate white Northern friends, were, once again, viewed as the scourge on American society because these immediatists, these abolitionists, sought to destroy the fabric of American capital, namely, the direct and indirect capital derived from slavery.
This revolt brought the country one step closer to what would eventually evolve into the inevitable American Civil War.
William Parker would eventually meet one of the most famous intellectuals and abolitionist voices of his time, the prophet and genius, Frederick Douglass.
“Still, the ASC’s hosting of these famous visitors in 1851 probably helped to forge links across the border for the abolitionist cause. Opportunities to make use of these connections were presented in the fall of that year, after two spectacularly unsuccessful attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. In September, William Parker, the hero of the Christiana Rebellion in Pennsylvania, arrived at Douglass’ home in Rochester, and was sent on (via Kingston, Canada West) to Toronto. There, Parker reported that the ASC had supplied him with some aid, and Dr. Willis had provided a loan and a letter of introduction to the Reverend William King in Buxton. In October, Samuel Ringgold Ward, under indictment for his role in the Jerry Rescue, arrived in Toronto with letters of introduction from Samuel May. For the next two years, Ward served as an agent of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society and its most important activist.”62
It is helpful to know that history accurately portrays William Parker as a hero of the Christiana Rebellion and not as a traitor of American interests and ideals.
Parker, alongside his family, would relocate to Toronto, Canada, where they would spend the remainder of their lives fighting to abolish slavery in America. Until then, he would fight to protect the infrastructure of the Underground Railroad, making sure its travelers found elsewhere the freedoms and liberties initially granted only to white Americans.
Cincinnati Riots, 1855
The Cincinnati riot of 1855 would not have been possible without the cancerous militant insurgency that plagued American politics and shaped the way disgruntled Americans would handle political opposition for decades to come. The Know-Nothing secret society sought to avenge white Protestant American sentiments by intimidating immigrant groups away from polling stations and violently overturning elections they deemed unfair and unAmerican. The Know-Nothing group was to America then what the Taliban is to Afghanistan today. Radical religious misfits who only cared for violence, tribalism, and hatred for immigrants, Catholic Christians, and Black Americans. They presumed their ideology was socially acceptable for the betterment of a singular white and pure American identity.
Lorraine Boissoneault writing for the Smithsonian Magazine gives us a better understanding of how xenophobic sentiments made their way from mundane life in the field to the halls of politics and media with the help of Know-Nothing extremists.
“Like Fight Club, there were rules about joining the secret society known as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner (OSSB). An initiation rite called ‘Seeing Sam.’ The memorization of passwords and hand signs. A solemn pledge never to betray the order. A pureblooded pedigree of Protestant Anglo-Saxon stock and the rejection of all Catholics. And above all, members of the secret society weren’t allowed to talk about the secret society. If asked anything by outsiders, they would respond with, ‘I know nothing.’”63
Likened to present-day “America First” ideologues and their respective anti-foreigner propagandist news stations, the Know-Nothing party was hyper-violent and resistant to change. Seeking to demonize foreigners, Catholic Christians, German and Irish immigrants, and Black Americans for cultural and political gain. This select group of white Americans saw themselves as pure-blooded privileged peoples whose behavior toward outsiders was justified by the merit of their birthplace, namely, naturalization as American citizens by birth.
“So went the rules of this secret fraternity that rose to prominence in 1853 and transformed into the powerful political party known as the Know Nothings. At its height in the 1850s, the Know Nothing party, originally called the American Party, included more than 100 elected congressmen, eight governors, a controlling share of half-a-dozen state legislatures from Massachusetts to California, and thousands of local politicians. Party members supported deportation of foreign beggars and criminals; a 21-year naturalization period for immigrants; mandatory Bible reading in schools; and the elimination of all Catholics from public office. They wanted to restore their vision of what America should look like with temperance, Protestantism, self-reliance, with American nationality and work ethic enshrined as the nation’s highest values.”64
The Know-Nothing entity were not the progenitors of nativism or nationalist ideologies, but the Know-Nothing movement proved dangerous and influential, in a local, congressional, federal sense.
And from the 1850s onward, in the United States of America, immigrants, Catholic Christians, and Black Americans would fall victim to multiple violent and deadly Know-Nothing riots.
From 1840 to 1860, the United States Bureau of the Census witnessed a noticeable spike in immigrant groups entering the country, some seeking refuge from political or religious persecution, others with aspirations of earning a piece of the American Dream pie, and others yet, as possible misfits, outcasts, and criminals seeking a new life in distant lands. These immigrants came primarily from Europe, most of them leaving the shores and plains of England, France (most of which ended up in Louisiana), Germany, and Ireland for safer pastures on US shores. Unfortunately, these immigrants were met with nearly as equal disdain from the white Americans as the disdain given to free or enslaved Black Americans at the time.
The presence of new and unknown languages, different political views, different religious doctrines, and cultural customs frightened the already suspicious white American commoner who viewed immigration as an encroachment on their idea of American society. And what further animated the animosity of some was the new competition for low-paying jobs. Immigrants, most of them impoverished, sought any form of work they could find, usually for the lowest wages available just to get by. This pooling of jobs, which were initially ‘okay’ paying jobs for white Americans, were then given to immigrants who were willing to do the same work, if not work longer hours, for less.
Irish immigrants were so disliked by their English contemporaries back home and their new white American neighbors that many of them ended up finding residence and refuge in Black communities where they would have integrated workspaces and interracial relations with free Black Americans. The Irish were initially likened to Black Americans until they found a sanctuary in white American social circles by molesting and killing Black Americans, to reinforce the social expectations of the racial hegemony of the time.
As the German population of Cincinnati swelled, German immigrants would construct gyms, churches, cathedrals, businesses, and schools, and then become part of the voting population with enough influence to push for political power. The nativist Know-Nothing party saw them as a threat to the fabric of Cincinnati and American society.
On one particular day in April of 1855, these sentiments came to a head as James D. Taylor, a Know-Nothing politician, ran and eventually lost the race for mayor of Cincinnati to Democratic candidate James J. Faran. Taylor ran a populist campaign but his political influence was stymied by the German-backed Democratic candidate.
The Internet Public Library recounts the riot:
“Nativists and German immigrants clashed as James Taylor a man running for mayor in 1855 completely ran his campaign on anti-immigration and nativism through the Know-nothing party. A mob descended on Over-the-Rhine, the German neighborhood in Cincinnati, in an attempt to just as had been done with the black population less than 15 years before. Nativists were worried about the German immigrant voters due to their number and power during voting. Election day came and the Germans constructed a barricade across Vine Street and fired cannons at the approaching mob. The mob destroyed ballots and killed several men to not succeed as the Democratic candidate still won the election. The riot was demonized in ways no Cincinnati riot was before, and the reputation of the city was in ruins.”65
In Essays on American Antebellum Politics, 1840-1860, Volume 10, William E. Gienapp, Thomas B. Alexander, Michal F. Holt, Stephen E. Maizlish, and Joel H. Silbey consider the media coverage that followed the riot:
“The Enquirer announced that it could ‘find no language capable of expressing our indignation [concerning the riot and threats to voting rights]… Words could but faintly translate the abhorrence we feel that the ark of our safety, the very covenant of our freedom, should be ruthlessly seized by sacrilegious hands, and destroyed before our very eyes.’ In Columbus the Statesman received the news of the Cincinnati disruption with equal satisfaction. Blaming ‘the reckless, midnight, oath bound order’ for the riot, the paper asked sarcastically, ‘Has the Protestant religion to so low a condition that it requires such means to give it character and support?’”66
The author of this section, of the essay, Stephen E. Maizlish, then gives a conclusive description of the prevalent nativist Know-Nothing sentiment that ate away at American liberal ideals of liberty, freedom, and progress.
“Neither the Protestant religion nor the Know-Nothing order had grown weak. The antiforeign riot was not a sign of the movement’s desperation, but rather an indication of its arrogant self-confidence. Such outbreaks were natural outgrowths of the heightening atmosphere of hostility to the foreign born.”67
Nativism proved time and again that no immigrant population was safe from harassment and violence, even when these new and innocuous groups wandered the plains of American in search of nothing but housing, work, and the freedom and liberties they were often refused back home.
Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, 1856
The Sacking of Lawrence can also be known as the First Sacking of Lawrence because this little-known township was named after American businessman and abolitionist, Amos Adams Lawrence. It was founded in 1854, just two years before this initial incident. It was eventually sacked a second time and nearly wiped from the map by a Confederate guerrilla named William Clarke Quantrill and his mobsters in 1863.
As the American republic spread westward of the original thirteen colonies and their respective pro-slavery states to the South, the topic of whether slavery should also dominate the midwestern horizon remained a topic of great dispute. Northern states wanted to limit the reach of pro-slavery states and slavery-favoring states wanted to further their enterprise westward until they reached the Pacific Ocean.
The state of Kansas sat dab smack in the middle of this conundrum between free states and slave states. The ensuing waves of violence that would unfold in the state would be known as the “Bleeding Kansas” era where belligerent parties on both sides of this issue fought to preserve the freedom of Black Americans whereas the other side sought to terrorize anyone who attempted to thwart Southern states’ rights.
Violence, however, began far away from Lawrence, Kansas as the first blows were dealt by South Carolina congressman Preston Brook’s as he beat abolitionist Republican senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts close to death with a cane in the Senate Chamber of Washington, DC. Fellow senators watched in horror as the egregious act of violence unfolded before them. None of them dared interfere for fear of becoming the next victims of the crazed pro-slavery congressman. Senator Charles Sumner was beaten so badly he fell in and out of consciousness as his attacker relentlessly beat at him with his cane.
This incident burned through American media sources in the days to follow as Northern states saw the act as unprovoked violence and Southern states saw the act as a stand against Northern aggression and an attempt to suppress the South’s peculiar institution and sap it of its economic success.
The beating happened a day or two before the Lawrence, Kansas incident.
News of this beating reached a little-known white abolitionist named John Brown of Torrington, Connecticut. Brown was so infuriated by the unashamed Southern aggression into Free-States in their attempt to further this egregious institution that he sought to take matters into his own hands to end the spread of slavery in America by any means possible.
Fergus M. Bordewich, writing for the Smithsonian Magazine, covers John Brown’s heroic efforts to dispel pro-slavery ruffians from the Free-State during its “Bleeding Kansas” wars.
“In May 1856, pro-slavery raiders sacked Lawrence, Kansas, in an orgy of burning and looting. Almost simultaneously, Brown learned that Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the most outspoken abolitionist in the U.S. Senate, had been beaten senseless on the floor of the chamber by a cane-wielding congressman from South Carolina. Brown raged at the North’s apparent helplessness. Advised to act with restraint, he retorted, “Caution, caution, sir. I am eternally tired of hearing the word caution. It is nothing but the word of cowardice.” A party of Free-Staters led by Brown dragged five pro-slavery men out of their isolated cabins on eastern Kansas’ Pottawatomie Creek and hacked them to death with cutlasses. The horrific nature of the murders disturbed even abolitionists. Brown was unrepentant. “God is my judge,” he laconically replied when asked to account for his actions. Though he was a wanted man who hid out for a time, Brown eluded capture in the anarchic conditions that pervaded Kansas. Indeed, almost no one—pro-slavery or antislavery—was ever arraigned in a court for killings that took place during the guerrilla war there.”68
Lawrence, Kansas, had developed a reputation for housing anti-slavery hotels and societies, hoping to quell the spread of slavery by disseminating intellectual abolitionist materials published through its media arm stationed in the same town. But pro-slavery troublemakers, mostly agitators from Missouri, would travel across state lines to harass the town in hopes of driving abolitionists away for good, clearing the town to ensure slavery’s survival in the midwest.
Residents of the small township decided to use their hotels and newspaper publishing centers as defensive militia strongholds, stacked with ammunition, canons, and rifles, in hopes of depressing any attacks on the town by belligerent Southern instigators.
Matthew E. Stanley, of Albany State University, relays what incensed Southern agitators into razing the city to the ground in his summary of this event, called, First Sack of Lawrence:
“On May 11, federal marshal I. B. Donaldson issued a proclamation asking territorial citizens to aid him in serving warrants in Lawrence against the extralegal Free-State legislature. Donaldson was joined by at least a half dozen proslavery militia units, including the Douglas County Militia, the Kickapoo Rangers, and the Missouri Platte County Rifles, and peacefully made his arrests. Yet in response to Donaldson’s mobilization and the findings of a territorial grand jury that antislavery forces in Lawrence were militarizing, Sheriff Jones assembled roughly 750 men to enter the town, disarm its citizens, and destroy its antislavery institutions.
On May 21, Jones’s men placed cannon on nearby Mount Oread, sealed off all possible escape routes, and approached the town. With their leaders under arrest, the citizens of Lawrence offered no resistance. Rather than chaotic and irrationally violent, the proslavery attack was calculated and political. Donaldson made his headquarters in the residence of Dr. Charles Robinson, an antislavery leader and future first governor of the state of Kansas who was then under arrest at Lecompton. The proslavery force next targeted both of Lawrence’s antislavery newspapers, including raising a banner with “Southern Rights” inscribed on one side and “South Carolina” on the other atop the printing office of the Herald of Freedom. The printing presses of both the Herald and The Kansas Free-State were then thrown into the Kansas River. The Free-State Hotel, which the proslavery grand jury claimed was in fact a military fortress, next drew the ire of the mob. Built by the Emigrant Aid Society, the stone hotel was blown up, ransacked, and burned. Attackers also directed violence and robbery against the homes of prominent abolitionists. The crowd then dispersed, with most returning to Missouri. For all its destruction, the incident produced only one casualty, a proslavery man who was killed by a falling brick.”69
It is quite impressive to note that the hostility that unraveled at the sacking of Lawrence did not draw bloodshed nor loss of life, except that one Southern agitator died as a result of a freak accident where a brick fell upon his head.
USHistory.org informs us of the national fallout from the Sacking of Lawrence and how this one event changed the way abolitionist Republicans viewed Southern aggression tactics and expansion efforts, finally bringing to the table the consideration to stop slavery once and for all.
“The attack inflamed almost everyone. Republicans introduced bills to bring Kansas into the Union under the free state government, while Democrats introduced bills to bring in Kansas as a slave state. Neither party alone could get the votes necessary to win. To increase readership, Republican newspapers exploited the situation in Kansas. Their attack galvanized the northern states like nothing before. It went beyond passing pro-slavery laws. The Sack of Lawrence was a direct act of violent aggression by slave-owning southern ‘Fire Eaters.’”70
Although only one soul perished as a result of a freak accident in this first terror attack on Lawrence, Kansas, we must not forget that nine years after this riot a band of Confederate ruffians led by William Clarke Quantrill, rebels dressed as soldiers, members of the treasonous state known as the Confederacy, would once again lay their shadows over Lawrence and this time, they would kill over 164 civilians, losing 40 of their ruffian rebel army men in the process.
This second wave of violence against the town would be etched into history as the “Lawrence Massacre.”
Know-Nothing Riot, Baltimore, 1856
The extremist anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-Catholic movement known as the Know-Nothing’s or politically as the American Party had its seed sprout in Baltimore in 1856. Protestant Anglo-Saxon hatred toward outsiders and people considered “other” was so ubiquitous within American society that it was nearly impossible to quell the spread of violence that permeated through political campaigns from state to state.
This time, we find the no-good Know-Nothing insurgency in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 8, 1856, where the same ideologues and their disciples terrorize local governing bodies and officials, raising hell to intimidate anyone and possibly kill them if they dare alter the demographic of American society.
Here is a minor recap of the Know-Nothing Riot of Baltimore as captured by The History Machine, a division of the University of Richmond.
“In the weeks leading up to Election Day in the city of Baltimore, tensions ran high among the Know Nothings and the ever growing Irish Catholic Democrats. Tensions culminated in Baltimore when the race for the municipal elections sparked riots between the warring clubs of the city. Many people were killed and wounded as insurgents fought on the streets with muskets, swivels, pistols and all manners of weapons (The Daily Picayune, Oct 9, pg. 4).’ The governor sent for the city militia to settle the fighting on Election Day and in the end, the American party emerged victorious. The riot in Baltimore highlights the fact that Americans in 1856 did not exclusively discriminate against blacks, but also fellow whites. American Protestants were extremely anti-foreigner not to mention anti-Catholic and did not welcome the hoards of Europeans, specifically the Irish and the Germans, that migrated en masse to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. Through this riot, the modern day student can see that hierarchies in the United States of the era were not solely based upon race.”71
Know-Nothing race riot sentiments spread their violence-ridden tentacles into different social, financial, racial, religious, and political spheres. Anyone different from the status quo, the ruling class, the hegemony in power, was automatically seen as a lower class, deserving of derision and violence should they ever to will themselves out of a place of subservience.
Know-Nothing Riot, Washington D.C., 1857
1857 was an interesting year, to say the least. Interesting in the sense that it was riddled with multiple violent uprisings that spanned from Pittsburg to San Francisco as the Know-Nothing ideologues sought to wreak havoc on the demographically evolving American society by disrupting one election process at a time. Irish immigrants flooded the Eastern coast, French outcasts found themselves swamped in the hottest riverside hostels of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Chinese immigrants sought the American dream in the sunshine state of California. The influx of immigrants of a different race, color, creed, and faith, enraged nativist ruffians as they burned down voting centers and chased them away from polling centers.
First off, the year began with the culmination of the Dred Scott v. Sandford case where the United States Supreme Court decided that Black Americans living in free states were not privileged to legal counsel nor citizenship because they were not people but property.
“Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri. From 1833 to 1843, he resided in Illinois (a free state) and in the Louisiana Territory, where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. After returning to Missouri, Scott filed suit in Missouri court for his freedom, claiming that his residence in free territory made him a free man. After losing, Scott brought a new suit in federal court. Scott’s master maintained that no “negro” or descendant of slaves could be a citizen in the sense of Article III of the Constitution.”72
The newly elected 15th president of the United States of America, James Buchanan (1857-1861), delivers his inaugural speech, mentioning the controversial yet timely topic of slavery in passing only. His ambivalence toward emancipation was lauded by Southern states’ representatives and criticized by abolitionists in the North.
“What a happy conception, then, was it for Congress to apply this, that the will of the majority shall govern, to the settlement of the question of domestic slavery in the Territories. Congress is neither to legislate slavery into any Territory or State nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate institutions in their own way, subject only to the United States.”73
Summarily, president Buchanan did not want to federalize the issue, leaving the peculiar institution of slavery, its perpetuation or cessation, in the hands of individual states. This, as you will surmise, was the Deep South’s dream come true. Buchanan was a hero for plantation tycoons who banked on politicians who promoted the idea of each states’ right to determine whether it would enslave or emancipate its Black population.
Second, the infamous street gangs of New York City, namely, the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys waged war against each other and unassuming passersby in the Five Points slums of the Big Apple. The Dead Rabbits, consisting mostly of Irish immigrants and Catholic impoverished misfits waged an all-out war against the higher class wealthy but morally compromised nativist, anti-immigrant, anti-Irish, and anti-Catholic Bowery Boys. This nativist gang riot and street battle cost eight lives and some sources estimate that well over one hundred participants and uninvolved civilians were injured. The actual number of casualties is lost to history as gang members lifted the corpses of their fellow combatants from the streets to avoid identification. The Dead Rabbits riot would later become the source material for Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film, Gangs of New York.
And lastly, on Election Day of the same year, Know-Nothing ruffians stormed the election polling center of Washington D.C. to prevent newly naturalized citizens from voting for their next mayor. The American Party sought to disrupt this election because the new wave of voters were first-generation immigrants from nations they deemed unworthy of the American dream.
Catholic voters and voters of different national backgrounds found themselves at the end of clubs and fists every time they attempted to vote their conscience as newly naturalized United States citizens. What is baffling is just how prevalent nativist sentiments were in the United States of America and just how far these disgruntled ‘native’ Protestant Anglo-Saxons would go to keep things ‘the way they have always been.’
Know-Nothing’s influence began to dwindle in the late 1850s as traction and public interest picked up elsewhere. The new anti-slavery Republican party gained popularity as many Northerners sought to bring an end to the deplorable slave nation in the Deep South. Democrats, on the other hand, fought hard to protect their peculiar institution, namely, slavery. The country was divided as this highly lucrative and immoral business took center stage in American political life. Therefore nativist sentiments took a backseat, albeit, only a second-row backseat on the list of issues Americans were willing to wage local skirmishes over.
The American Party splintered as its many leaders throughout the nation sought personal interests over party interests. Greed and in-fighting would eventually lead to the party’s dissolution.
Washington D.C.’s incumbent mayor, John T. Towers was a staunch member and supporter of the Know-Nothing insurgency but he decided against running for mayor a second time. Another Know-Nothing disciple named Silas H. Hill threw his name in the hat for mayor of Washington D.C. but lost to a multi-party candidate named William B. Magruder.
This might have been the only time three American political parties, namely, the Democrats, the newly formed Republicans, and the outgoing Whigs came together as the Anti-Know-Nothing Party to defeat the infamous and often violent American Party.
Streets of Washington captures the tumultuous and deadly scenes of the Election Day Riot of 1857.
“In 1857, radical conservatives of the ‘Know Nothing’ party in Washington, imbued with contempt for Roman Catholics, mounted an extraordinary attempt to forcibly prevent the naturalized citizens of Washington from voting in local elections. The result was the infamous Election Day Riot on June 1 at a polling station just south of Mount Vernon Square. The New York Times called it “one of the most daring insurrectionary riots of bloodshed and murder that ever disgraced a city.” At least 8 people were killed, mostly by a Marine detachment that was called in to quell the disturbance. While the troublemakers ultimately failed in their attempt to prevent voting by Catholic immigrants, the incident was deeply embarrassing for 19th century Washingtonians and gave them a tangible sense of the tragic consequences of religious intolerance in political affairs.”74
Richard Brownell, writing for the Boundary Stones, Weta’s Local History Website explains how the uproar was so violent that the president of the United States had to take executive action to stop the riot.
“Unrest quickly spread throughout the city as non-native voters and native voters who supported them were set upon and beaten by the gangsters with rocks, knives, and bats. Local police were overwhelmed by the large crowds, and Washington Mayor William Magruder called upon President James Buchanan to restore order.
Buchanan called out a force of 110 Marines to protect polling places throughout the city. The Marines moved throughout the capital, and in some cases, their presence alone was enough to enforce calm in the streets. Much of the fighting took place later in the day when the gangs had mostly dispersed. Some witnesses claimed at the time that the Marines opened fire on a group of Plug Uglies without provocation, killing six men and wounding dozens more.”75
Streets of Washington shine a light on just how far Know-Nothing ruffians would travel to wreak havoc and how long their animosity and hatred for immigrants could last. The same bands that raised hell in Baltimore a year before were now busing from Baltimore to Washington D.C. in droves. Their goal? The destruction of their political opponents.
“That morning members of a gang of pro Know-Nothing Baltimore street toughs known as the Plug Uglies boarded an early train for Washington and were soon on city streets looking for trouble. Afterwards it would be discovered that the Plug Uglies’ train tickets were purchased with a 100-dollar bill that had been obtained at the Metropolitan Bank on 15th Street—but no one ever knew precisely who made the purchase.”76
It is strange how unknown financiers risked infamy just to fund cross-city gang travel to stop democratically elected officials from taking office. Whatever they deemed unfair, unAmerican, and unwanted would be subject to violence.
“The Baltimore Plug Uglies hooked up with two Washington gangs, the Chunkers and the Rip-Raps, to form a formidable mob of at least several dozen rowdies, perhaps many more. By around 9 am they were focusing their harassment on a line of Anti-Know Nothing voters stretching down the street from a polling station opposite the Northern Liberties Market at Mount Vernon Square. After some shoving and pushing that didn’t have much effect, the group departed briefly, returning a short time later in larger numbers and armed to the teeth. “One man was armed with a large blacksmith’s sledge; another with a horse pistol of large dimensions; a third carried a miscellaneous assortment of revolvers, bowie knives, billies, an iron bar; while a fourth carried, besides a side pocket filled with convenient stones, brickbats, &c, a large billet of oak wood of sufficient weight to fell an ox,” The Daily Evening Star reported.”77
Know-Nothing Riot, New Orleans, 1858
The last well-known Know-Nothing riot of the 1850s takes place in the diverse Creole city of New Orleans. As with most groups of like-minded extremism, the more political power the Know-Nothing party lost the more desperate and violent it became. And that was the case in 1858 when Know-Nothing nativists decided to storm the city council building to disrupt yet another election process but were repelled by a local armed militia.
A local militia called the Vigilance Committee rose to the occasion to dispel the insurgency. This committee began as a local effort to stop lawlessness and brigandry bands from terrorizing locals. The recent influx of wealth, jobs, new laborers, and immigrants brought with them unruly types who sought to exploit the growing and under-policed French-speaking citizens of New Orleans. Local law enforcement was not numerous or prepared enough to cope with the spike in crime at the hands of raiders and outlaws as they burned through towns, burglarizing, ravaging, and murdering, without consequence.
Although a Southern state, Louisiana was highly influenced by its previous owner, namely, France, and that influence allowed for an integrated multi-language society to co-exist, with grand Blancs (great or wealthy whites) owning petit Blancs (little, namely poor Irish, German, or French whites) and black Creoles, or rather, free light-skinned black French-speaking people. Light-skinned Black New Orleanians were also able to own or be socially above petit Blancs depending on their financial status and ancestry. The only reason why light-skinned Black people existed within America was that white men, predominantly slave-owning white men would ravage their Black slaves and this process would create socially despised mulattos. Racially mixed children were not entirely free from slavery but were financially stable enough to own Black people or have a better social standing than petit Blancs.
The scene in New Orleans must have been a disastrous one for most Northern states as they allowed for free Black Americans to live and roam about, although most of the North was still very much segregated. In the South, however, integration meant subjugation, and the only group allowed to be at the bottom of the political and financial food chain were Black Americans. New Orleans, initially, in antebellum or pre-Civil War South, was an integrated and less racially unequal sight to see. This disturbed other Southern states.
In Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in American History: An Encyclopedia, Steven Laurence Danver revisits the Know-Nothing riot in New Orleans, detailing the sequences of events that transpired in New Orleans, as a militia helped protect the city’s democratic transition of power.
“However, the main vigilance committee connected with the Know-Nothing Party was one established in mid-1858 in New Orleans. It was formed by the mayor, Charles M. Waterman, with Captain J. K. Duncan of the U.S. Army as its president. Its stated aim was ‘freeing the city of New Orleans of the well-known and notorious ‘Thugs,’ outlaws, assassins, and murderers who infest it.’ Certainly, there was fear put around by nativists about rising crime from recently arrived Irish and German migrants, and it was felt that there might be an attempt to disrupt municipal elections scheduled for June 7. Five days before the polling, Captain Duncan took his men to Jackson Square in central New Orleans, where they occupied the Cabildo, the seat of the city council and also a major courtroom, securing the place for the elections.”78
The cantankerous and loquacious Know-Nothing gang had made it their goal to instill fear of immigrants and outsiders in the minds of commoners, blaming them for the spike in crime in New Orleans, whether true or not, and then portraying themselves as saviors of the city.
It is customary of populist politicians to use demagogic language to vilify a group or an entity and then use their platform through which they can expunge, impugn, and demonize those groups and entities to then make their platform worthy of attention and influence.
Steven Laurence Danver continues:
“The place was then secured, and when the elections were held, Gerard Smith of the Native American Party, who was supported by the vigilance committee, defeated Pierre G. T. Beauregard. On the evening of the elections, Duncan wrote an open letter to Brigadier General M. Grivot, the adjutant general of Louisiana, informing him that ‘we took up arms which were are about replace in your hands at the urgent request of our fellow citizens, with the object of freeing our city from the public malefactors who have infested it for these three years past,’ from the ‘Camp of the Vigilance Committee, State Arsenal.’ The Vigilance Committee stood down, and on June 21, Stith was sworn in as mayor. Beauregard went on to become a general in the Confederate Army, leading the attack on Fort Sumter and being the victorious general at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861.”79
The local militia had to barricade itself, armed to the teeth, in the city council building just to make sure there was a peaceful transition of power from one mayor to the next.
Know-Nothing politicians, ruffians, outlaws, misfits, and violent agitators would later join the Confederate Army to continue their terroristic acts but now their crimes would be sanctioned by a new nation, the Confederate States of America.
As mentioned by Steven L. Danver, Pierre G. T. Beauregard, who ran for mayor of New Orleans as a Know-Nothing candidate and lost, would later become a general in the Confederate Army and lead the rebels in the attack on Fort Sumter which would be the battle to start the American Civil War.
These radicals were incensed by the presence of immigrants and sought to disrupt the peace by instigating riots and violence, at times killing anyone who got in their way. Know-Nothingism fell to the shadows of common thought because the question of slavery and the viability of a liberal republic that championed freedom from oppression whilst oppressing a large part of its people was crumbling as abolitionist sentiments pervaded national conscience.
Nativists would find an equally problematic cause to support and kill for in the South’s states’ rights, pro-slavery insurgency, the Confederate Army.
1861-1865: The American Civil War
The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, as Confederate general Pierre G. T. Beauregard led an assault on Union-controlled Fort Sumter, which was located in the Charleston Harbor, Charleston, South Carolina.
This war was fought between two parties, the 20 free Union states to the North and the 11 pro-slavery Confederate states to the South. The war would last four years, with casualties estimated well above 600,000 dead. Historians vary on this number, some, believing the number to be well over 1.5 million dead, wounded, injured, or missing American soldiers and civilians.
Although Lost Cause sympathizers want to envision the cause of the Civil War as an act of Northern industrialist aggression and encroachment upon Southern agriculture, liberties, and freedoms, we mustn’t allow revisionists to distract us from the actual cause and purpose of this war: abolishing chattel slavery in the United States of America.
The argument is often launched by Lost Cause cultists that the eleven Confederate states seceded from the United States of America and initiated the war because of states’ rights. They often stop short of mentioned states’ rights for what. Southern lawyers, politicians, militias, and plantation aristocrats sought nothing more than to protect their peculiar institution of slavery because it was the bedrock of their financial stability and pride. It was also an equally reprehensible method of slavery the world had yet to see, as the methods of transport, enforcement, trade, breeding, and punishment for runaway slaves was so brutal that former pro-slavery nations ended the practice in their respective borders and financed American abolitionists to bring this horrible institution to a ruinous and expeditious end.
Pressure mounted on the United States government as it prided itself as a republic where freedom and liberty were God-given rights but a great part of its population remained under the worst form of subjugation. The world watched on and judged.
The states of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia list their reasons for separating themselves from the United States of America.
“The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.”80
“In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.”81
“The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.”82
“Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”83
“The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.”84
The Civil War, from the South’s perspective, was seen as Northern aggression and federalism at work to disenfranchise Southern whites and infringe upon the Constitutional liberties of Southern states. They wanted to protect their right to, as the state of Texas said, “The servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”
The Confederate States of America wanted nothing more than to promote the perpetual enslavement of Black Americans.
The vice president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H. Stephens, delivered a well-received speech to Southern state officials in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861, weeks before the start of the Civil War where he emphasized, once again, the South’s motivation for starting the war.
“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. … Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. … That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”85
Stephens also relays his sentiments on the social differences between whites and the “negro.”
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. … They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. … With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro.”86
He then relies on the pseudo-theological mindset of the time that justified the enslavement of Africans for the enrichment of white people. This erroneous theological presupposition relied heavily on racism and also the racist pseudo-scientific study of phrenology, which studied the skulls of people of different races and determined that some were meant for intellectual work whereas others were meant for lifelong servitude. You can imagine who dictated the validity of this scientific research and who ended up at the top of the food chain. A Christianized veil of hatred, politicized, infused with cherry pickings from the Bible to suit the greed and malice of a new civilization, whilst exploiting an entire continent of African peoples, was used by people like Alexander H. Stephens to rationalize the immoral practice in perpetuity.
“Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” the real “corner-stone” in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.”87
The South’s overt racist antics and fanatic drive to protect their peculiar institution did not acquit the North’s covert racism as then-President Abraham Lincoln shared Alexander H. Stephens’s derision of Black Americans and thought of them as lower-class people, undeserving of the same social status and privileges shared between whites. Although a few of his views changed with time, namely, the naturalization of emancipated Black Americans, his view of their social status within the American narrative remained the same.
On October 15, 1858, Abraham Lincoln penned his thoughts on the matter to the Chicago Daily Press:
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermingling with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior. I am as much as any other man in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”88
Lincoln would go on to become the president of the United States of America, leading the Union forces against the Confederate rebels. He was despised by Southern aristocrats, plantation tycoons, statesmen, slave-holders and traders, and Confederate soldiers. Although he was known and accepted as the Great Emancipator of Black Americans by many Northerners, Lincoln did not envision a world in which the two or more races could live, move, and experience the American Dream and Constitutional freedoms, equally.
On April 15, 1865, six days after the end of the American Civil War (April 9, 1865), President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by former Confederate spy John Wilkes Booth while sitting and watching a play.
Heather McGhee, the author of The Sum of Us, What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together captures John Wilkes Booth’s hatred for Lincoln shortly before the assassination.
“Anti-Blackness gave citizenship its weight and its worth. Perhaps that helps explain why so many whites reacted to the post-Civil War possibility of Black citizenship not with debate but with murderous violence. John Wilkes Booth made up his mind to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln after he heard him advocate for voting rights for Black men. ‘That means nigger citizenship. That is the last speech he will ever make… By God, I’ll put him through,’ Booth declared. He assassinated Lincoln three days later.”89
Although the Civil War was the culmination of American race rioting, the number of race riots the country would see would only increase in number and violence. The antebellum era of race riots were national attempts to keep Black people docile, servile, and in perpetual subjugation; keep immigrants from naturalization and political influence; and abolitionists and their newspapers at bay or under the bay.
What would happen next, namely, the race riots during the Civil War and the race riots after the Civil War, postbellum, would create in America a world where bloodshed, that of Black Americans, became theway in which white Americans maintained racial hegemony and power over Black Americans.
Previously, Black Americans were seen as brainless animals capable only of menial labor. They were property, not people. But once emancipated, Black Americans were then seen as sex-crazed, violent, muscle-bound, power-hungry criminals bent on destroying the fabric of American society by scandalizing white women and murdering white men. Free Black Americans were a threat to White America. The slaves were now free and whites did everything within their power to disadvantage, if not outright terrorize and murder, countless Black Americans in broad daylight and intimidate and threaten with bodily harm any white Americans who dared help them.
The Civil War had come to an end but the systemic and systematic war on Black Americans had just begun.
The Detroit Race Riot, 1863
Detroit’s 1863 race riot began with a lie, a false accusation of rape against a mix-race man, and ended with the death of innocent black citizens and the destruction of more than thirty black-owned or operated homes and businesses.
Thomas Faulkner, a very light-skinned mulatto who passed as a white man, had been falsely accused and convicted of raping two 9-year old girls; one white and one black. Both would later recant their accusations thus exonerating Faulkner of the crime. But this pattern of false allegations of violent crimes, namely, of the rape of white women and girls by black or white-passing mixed men would become the preferred method of excusable rageful rioting and lynchings for the next one hundred years.
Whether the accusation is true or not is not the case. White Americans sought any reason to dismount fire and fury upon the lowest class within society, well-knowing they would face little to no repercussions for their crimes.
The nation is two years into the bloody whirlwind of the American Civil War and the North is bleeding soldiers battles like the First Bull Run (1861), Shiloh (1862), and Antietam (1862), attempting to put an end to slavery once and for all. White Americans see fathers, brothers, and sons perish in the swamps of the South for a cause many of them deem unworthy, namely, that of the despised and hated Negro, who, according to most Northerners, were not worthy of anything more than their freedom.
National economy faced problematic woes as a result of the war and local Detroiters wanted someone to blame for the ills of society.
Faulkner’s case was exactly what they needed to appease their national anxieties.
Even though Faulkner was in custody and facing undergoing trial, locals sought to overflow the local Black community to murder and pillage the region with utmot prejudice.
Steve Neavling, writing for the Motor City Muckraker explains:
“Faulkner said he was of Spanish-Indian descent and lived with the freedoms of a white man because of his relatively light skin.
Whatever the case, Faulkner was convicted of raping the girl on March 6, 1863. A white, angry mob gathered around City Hall and began to assault black residents.
‘For some Detroiters, the Faulkner trial provided an opportunity to vent their growing frustration with the war, the national conscription law, and racial issues,’ wrote author Tobin T. Buhk in his book, ‘True Crime in the Civil War.’
The Detroit Free Press fanned the flames by blaming black people for the Civil War and suggesting that they can’t be trusted. The competing Detroit Advertiser and Tribune declared, ‘This is a Free Press mob.’
When Faulkner was led out of City Hall by the Detroit Provost Guard to begin serving his life sentence, the mob rushed after Faulkner. The Provost Guard responded by firing a shot into the crowd, killing a white man.
The shooting sent the white mob into a fury. They began throwing stones, bricks and anything else they could find at properties owned by black residents on Beaubien Street. Houses were ransacked and burned to the ground on Lafayette Street. When black residents ran out of burning buildings, they were attacked by the mob.”90
What is revelatory is how many dishonest newspapers like The Detroit Free Press instigated the riot by blaming Black people for the war and other crimes. Publishers and editors might have had their own slant against Black Americans and used their medium of information and influence to incense violence and hatred against this innocuous group of people.
Not much has changed.
Below you will find several accounts written by survivors of this devilish riot. Their heartbreaking stories help us understand just how much disdain and hatred white Detroiters had for Black Americans. What is equally saddening is that many of the rioters were German, Dutch, and Irish immigrants, perhaps using this opportunity to rid themselves of future competitors in the job market. Free Black Americans meant fewer jobs for already ostracized migrants from less prestigious and financially stabled European nations.
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans had taught white immigrants how to treat the local body of Black Americans and it showed.
White Northerners despised Black Americans, blaming them for white deaths in the Civil War. Irish, German, French, and Dutch immigrants blamed Black Americans for lost wages and income because Black Americans did the same jobs but were paid less. And white Southerners blamed Black Americans for wanting to be something more than just chattel, property.
Here are the survivors, some burned, others cut, others hacked by men wielding axes, others knocked out cold by bricks, others yet, stabbed in the neck, retelling their stories.
“They then approached my door in large numbers, where I stood with my gun, and another friend with an axe, but on seeing us, they fell back. They approached four times determined to enter my door, but I raised my gun at each time and they fell back In the mean time part of the mob passed on down Beaubien street. After the principal part had passed, I rushed up my stairs looking to see what they were doing, and heard the shattering of windows and slashing of boards In a few moments I saw them at Whitney Reynolds, a few doors below Lafayette street Mr. R. is a cooper; had his shop and residence on the same lot, and was the largest colored coopering establishment in the city–employing a number of hands regular.
I could see from the windows men striking with axe, spade, clubs, &c, just as you could see men thrashing wheat A sight the most revolting, to see innocent men, women and children, all without respect to age or sex, being pounded in the most brutal manner.
Sickened with the sight, I sat down in deep solicitude in relation to what the night would bring forth; for to human appearance it seemed as if Satan was loose, and his children were free to do whatever he might direct without fear of the city authority.”91
“Before the house was fired, heard them say: “Let us surround the house and burn the niggers up.” So I thought my mother was burned up! No tongue can describe the feelings of my mind on that occasion; everything that we had were in burning sheets of flame! My husband, mother and other friends were all exposed to murderous assaults from those fiends; and to all human appearance there was not a friend in all the thousands that thronged and gazed upon our ruins. Who can form an idea of a female’s distress, under such circumstances?”92
“The several parts of the house and shop were attacked with indescribable fury! Doors, windows, and every part were under a shower of missiles. Axes, spades, clubs and stones, and whatever they could lay hands on to do mischief with, were freely used. It was heart appalling to see the fury with which they made their attack. No warning was given to the men engaged in their lawful avocations in the shop, till they were set upon in that murderous assault.
The workmen in the shop seemed to defend it from within; as I could see the mob falling back from the door, when they rushed as if they were going to enter. A single shot from a gun seemed to make all retreat. A short time after, I saw the flames rising from the shop. Some wretch had set it on fire!
Here I was compelled to pause, in wild astonishment, and ask myself the question: ‘What is the meaning of all this? What nation of barbarians do those families live in?’”93
“A crowd rushed up to my residence, and commenced their work of destruction in every possible way, with bricks, stones and other destructive missiles, and the torch was soon set to our house. Myself and wife, with one child, now had to make the best of our efforts to escape with our lives.
They rushed after us with demoniac rage, and their curses and yells were terrifying. We would, most certainly, have fallen a prey to them, had not the hands in the Morocco Factory, just in the rear of our lot, called to us to run through there. We took it as a great favor, for no one could tell in what direction to go–all the streets seemed to be filled with the mob.
We wandered all that night in the woods, with nothing to eat, nor covering from the cold, till morning light. With frosted feet and all our property destroyed, did the morning sun rise upon us, as destitute as when we came into the world, with the exception of what we had on, and without a friend to offer us protection, so far as we could learn. Oh, Detroit! Detroit, how hast thou fallen! No power in noonday to defend the helpless women and children from outlaws, till they have fully glutted their hellish appetites on the weak and defenseless. Humanity, where is thy blush!”94
“JOSEPH BOYD, a young man, and an excellent mechanic, was knocked in the head with an axe. After this he was unconscious, and was dragged out of the way of being destroyed by the flames. Officer Sullivan, who appeared the only authorized officer of peace that discharged his duty in the face of the mob, as was known as such. He gave poor Boyd some aid, and after having him taked to a saloon, the mob found out that the innocent victim was there, and they made a rush and dragged him out, though he was unconscious! His head gaping wide from the wounds by the axe, which were sufficient to kill him; and enough was the affliction inflicted upon him to have satisfied the most savage of a heathen tribe, even had he been guilty of some crime! But astonishing to tell, Dutch and Irish fell on him with hellish fury, and with all kinds of missiles; they beat and dragged him back as if determined to end his suffering in the flames, but came to a halt, as if their rage was abated, when they saw no stroke moved him. They considered him dead.
He lived unconscious some thirty odd hours, and died a mangled child of sorrow to appear in the judgement against the inhabitants of this city, whose blood will be required at their hands. And though no Court or Council here may do justice to the sufferers, that Council and tribunal to which we all shall appear, will give to all their due reward!”95
Detroit’s 1863 riot caused such national outrage that the city sought to implement a full-time police force to prevent future like-minded acts of social violence from happening again. Before this riot, Detroit had a limited and scattered number of police officers, some, who helped Black Americans flee from burning buildings or helped drag unconscious souls from the clutches of raving mad mobsters. But many stood idly by and did nothing.
The local administrative body took over a day to dispatch for help, requesting the assistance of a federal body of soldiers to assist in stomping out the riot.
And what is interesting is that many continued to blame the riot, the war along with it, on Black Americans. One unknown author decided to respond to such an ASININE accusation with some common sense.
“It is an inconceivable logic by which a class of men and women have wandered into a path in which they find the unfortunate race, who are deprived of all the rights of mankind, with but few exceptions, and yet on them, those of the more fortunate race, have placed the enormity of this gigantic rebellion.
To hear an ignorant rabble making such assertions, is not at all strange, but when it is found that the ignorant have received from a higher source their instructions, it is wonderful.
That the black man, without civil, political, religious, or social rights, could inaugurate a rebellion, the most terrific the world has ever beheld! A rebellion that has covered hundreds of acres of land with men’s bones, and brought mourning to the hearth stones of millions! A rebellion that has caused the expenditure of millions of dollars, more than all the slaves that have been found in the land would have cost, at an enormous price, if the Government had been moved with sympathy for this race, to have purchased them! And yet, these same slaves and their helpless free brethren have caused the war!
There is neither reason nor truth in such hypothesis, for if the haters of the colored race in the North, and the slave-holders in the South, were to be interrogated this day, to show what word or deed, in what time or place, the colored race done anything that produced the rebellion, they would be speechless!”96
New York City Draft Riots, 1863
The New York City draft riots of 1863 burned through Manhattan for four days, as working-class white New Yorkers vandalized their respective wealthy white communities and then massacred Black Americans with impunity. A collective act on the part of Anglo-Americans and Irish immigrants was to rebellion against Abraham Lincoln’s mandatory conscription orders because it forced white naturalized Northerners to fight for the Union army against the Confederate South in the final push to end slavery in America.
January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared that every soul under bondage in the Unites of America, either through the nefarious system known as chattel slavery or persons forced into indentured servitude were to be set free, without argument. This edict was the first of its kind in the United States of America.
The first group of Black Americans or sub-Saharan Africans to be forced into perpetual bondage walked the shores of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. And from then on the American federal government and private corporations disconnected from it benefited from the exploitative nature of slavery and its more egregious step-child, chattel slavery under the protection of the law and social understanding until 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was published. Although the document emancipating Black Americans was originally penned and signed by the president in September of 1862, it was not broadcast to the nation until January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation was officially ratified and recognized by every state in the Union on December 6, 1865.
This edict was possible due to the Union’s combined effort to dispel the peculiar institution known as chattel slavery from the Confederate States of America. As thousands upon thousands of white American soldiers waded south to combat the Confederate insurgency, the president saw a need to feed the military with fresh bodies so that the war could be won and won sooner.
Therefore mandatory conscription into the Northern armed forces was implemented and white Americans were required to serve in the army to fight for the total liberation of Black Americans.
The idea of white Americans laying their lives down for Black Americans was inconceivable. Especially because many white Americans, those born in the United States and white German, Dutch, Irish, and French immigrants, did not see Black Americans as people deserving of equal social status, thereby not worth dying for. Racial hatred made it nearly impossible for white Americans of all stripes to stride into war with a clear conscience because many of them despised Black Americans; those enslaved in the South and those who were free and roamed the cities and towns of the North in search of work.
But the federal government did make an exception to the rule, allowing a select portion of very wealthy Northern whites a way out of compulsory conscription. This hierarchy enraged bigoted citizens and recently naturalized white immigrants because their financial woes made them prime candidates for the army whereas upper-class elites evaded bloodshed because they could purchase their ticket out of the war.
The Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business, a branch of the City University of New York revisits the extra layer of resentment white Northern Americans had toward Black Americans throughout the Civil War.
“As the negative sentiment for working class against African-Americans grew, the federal draft law further enflamed their hatred. This draft forced all men between the ages of 20-35 to enlist in the union army. This law applied to all except the African-American population (since they were not considered citizens) and those who could pay the $300 exemption fee.”97
Howard Zinn, an American historian and author of A People’s History of the United States, captures just how antagonistic Northern white Americans had become toward the cause of the Civil War and how they were being forced into participating in the liberation of Black Americans.
“. . . the Conscription Act of 1863 provided that the rich could avoid military service: they could pay $300 or buy a substitute. In the summer of 1863, a ‘Song of the Conscripts’ was circulated by the thousands in New York and other cities. One stanza:
We’re coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more We leave our homes and firesides with bleeding hearts and sore Since poverty has been our crime, we bow to thy decree; We are the poor and have no wealth to purchase liberty.“98
White working-class Americans were forced to leave their jobs, their livelihood, their wives, and family members; beckoned by Abraham Lincoln to leave all that they held near and dear to their hearts to fight for a group of people they despised. What was worse is that Black Americans were not required, by law or compulsion, to conscript because only American citizens were allowed to join the armed forces, and seeing how Black Americans hadn’t yet become citizens, only white Americans were federally required to join.
Racism in the American South prohibited Black Americans from freedom and racism in the American North prohibited Black Americans from fighting for freedom.
Black Americans would fight in the Civil War, fighting for the liberation of their fellow Black brothers and sisters, in Union uniforms, but they were not under the same legal obligation as that of their white neighbors.
This incensed a hatred already present in Northern white communities and on July 13, 1863, the kettle finally blew, its contents melted over the Black community of New York City, pushing them into further disillusionment with the American dream of freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Leslie M. Harris, the author of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863, recounts how the mob, unsatisfied with their initial disturbance, went on to destroy property and establishments that belonged to wealthy white Americans and then the establishments and property of white Americans who were sympathetic toward Black Americans, and finally, the mob ultimately razed to the ground properties and residences that belonged to Black Americans. In each location, the mob would lynch Black Americans wherever they found them.
“The rioters’ targets initially included only military and governmental buildings, symbols of the unfairness of the draft. Mobs attacked only those individuals who interfered with their actions. But by afternoon of the first day, some of the rioters had turned to attacks on black people, and on things symbolic of black political, economic, and social power. Rioters attacked a black fruit vendor and a nine-year-old boy at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street before moving to the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue between Forty-Third and Forty-Fourth Streets. By the spring of 1863, the managers had built a home large enough to house over two hundred children. Financially stable and well-stocked with food, clothing, and other provisions, the four-story orphanage at its location on Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street was an imposing symbol of white charity toward blacks and black upward mobility. At 4 P.M. on July 13, ‘the children numbering 233, were quietly seated in their school rooms, playing in the nursery, or reclining on a sick bed in the Hospital when an infuriated mob, consisting of several thousand men, women and children, armed with clubs, brick bats etc. advanced upon the Institution.’ The crowd took as much of the bedding, clothing, food, and other transportable articles as they could and set fire to the building. John Decker, chief engineer of the fire department, was on hand, but firefighters were unable to save the building. The destruction took twenty minutes.
Throughout the week of riots, mobs harassed and sometimes killed blacks and their supporters and destroyed their property. Rioters burned the home of Abby Hopper Gibbons, prison reformer and daughter of abolitionist Isaac Hopper. They also attacked white ‘amalgamationists,’ such as Ann Derrickson and Ann Martin, two women who were married to black men; and Mary Burke, a white prostitute who catered to black men.
An Irish mob then attacked two hundred blacks who were working on the docks, while other rioters went into the streets in search of “all the negro porters, cartmen and laborers . . . they could find. They were routed by the police. But in July 1863, white longshoremen took advantage of the chaos of the Draft Riots to attempt to remove all evidence of a black and interracial social life from area near the docks. White dockworkers attacked and destroyed brothels, dance halls, boarding houses, and tenements that catered to blacks; mobs stripped the clothing off the white owners of these businesses.
Black men and black women were attacked, but the rioters singled out the men for special violence. On the waterfront, they hange