Following World War II, over 500,000 African Americans migrated to West Coast cities in hopes of escaping racism and discrimination. However they found both in the west. For many black Los Angeles, California residents who lived in Watts, their isolation in that community was evidence that racial equality remained a distant goal as they experienced housing, education, employment, and political discrimination. These racial injustices caused Watts’ African American population to explode on August 11, 1965 in what would become the Watts Rebellion.
The Rodney King Riot of 1992 occurred in response to a highly publicized incident of police brutality. Rodney King, who had worked as a Dodgers Stadium usher, was arrested on charges of speeding, driving while intoxicated, and failing to yield. The four responding police officers claimed that King had been high on drugs and was trying to attack them, prompting the police to beat him on the grounds of self defense. An amateur photographer, George Holliday, was standing nearby and captured the attack on film. The four officers were brought to court and tried on charges of assault.
During the trial, the officers argued that Rodney King’s body was always in the position to inflict harm on others. The use of force was termed as “necessary” when police thought King was reaching for a weapon in his waistband.
At 3:00 p.m. on the day of April 29, 1992, the four police officers were acquitted of the assault charges. The riot started soon after the announcement. Around 4:15 p.m, a little over an hour after the acquittal was delivered, there were reports of looting in South Central Los Angeles. By 5:45 p.m. there were numerous reports of motorists being assaulted in the streets and by 8:15 that evening, the first fatality was reported in the news.
Peter Williams Jr., clergyman, abolitionist, and opponent of colonization was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey around 1780. His family moved to New York City, where he first attended the New York African Free School operated by the Manumission Society. He was also taught privately by Episcopal Church leader, the Reverend Thomas Lyell. Williams joined a group of black Episcopalians who worshiped at New York’s Trinity Church on Sunday afternoons. There lay leader John Henry Hobart confirmed and tutored Williams as well as other future Episcopal clergymen. Hobart also officiated at Williams wedding. When Hobart died Williams was elected by the congregation as lay reader and licensed by the bishop.
In 1818 Williams led the other African American Episcopalians in creating their own church, St. Philip’s African Church. The new church was recognized by the Episcopal Church on July 3, 1819 as one of the earliest predominately black Episcopal Churches in the United States. On July 10, 1826, Peter Williams Jr. was advanced to the priesthood, becoming the second African American so ordained.
The Beaumont Race Riot of 1943 was sparked by racial tensions that arose in this Texas shipbuilding center during World War II. The sudden influx of African American workers in industrial jobs in the Beaumont shipyard and the subsequent job competition with white workers forced race relations to a boiling point.
The riot itself exploded on June 15, 1943 with most of the violence ending a day later. White workers at the Pennsylvania Shipyard located in Beaumont, Texas confronted black workers after hearing that a local white woman had accused a black man of raping her. The woman who made the accusation was later unable to identify her attacker from the number of black inmates held at the city jail.
The Attica prison riot took place at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York on September 13, 1971. This conflict would leave twenty one inmates and nine guards dead. It was the bloodiest prison conflict since the Civil War. There were numerous causes of the riot. Tensions were already high as the prison was extremely overcrowded and inmates were being denied basic sanitation needs. They were usually limited to one shower a week and one roll of toilet paper per month. Additionally there were allegations of racism by the prison’s all white guards against the 54% black population and a significant Puerto Rican minority.
The Riot began when a fight between two inmates was broken up by a guard and they were taken to isolation cells. Rumors circulated that the men were going to be beaten in reprisal for the fight. Angry inmates crowded against a prison gate when a faulty bolt gave way, suddenly allowing them access to other areas of the prison including the control center.
PBS: People and Events: Attica Prison Riot, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/rockefellers/peopleevents/e_attica.html; “A Year Ago at Attica” Time, Time Magazine, Inc. (1972-09-25,http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,903593,00.html; 1971: The Attica Prison Uprising, http://libcom.org/history/1971-the-attica-prison-;uprising Attica Revisited: New York City Public Hearings, http://www.talkinghistory.org/attica/mckay-4.html.
The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was organized by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 28, 1967 to investigate the urban rebellions erupting in cities across the nation between 1964 and 1967. The findings of the seven-month study were published in March of 1968. The eleven-member commission, more commonly known as the Kerner Commission, after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois, concluded that the United States was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”
U.S. Riot Commission, Report of the National Advisory Commission on
Civil Disorders, (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1968); Phillip J. Meranto, The Kerner Report Revisited: Final Report
and Background Papers, (Urbana: Institute of Government and Public
Affairs, University of Illinois, 1970); Fred Harris and Roger Wilkins,
eds., Quiet Riots: Race and Poverty in the United States, (New York:
Pantheon Books, 1988).
Known as the Primer Libertador de America or “first liberator of the Americas,” Gaspar Yanga led one of colonial Mexico’s first successful slave uprisings and would go on to establish one of the Americas earliest free black settlements.
Rumored to be of royal lineage from West Africa, Yanga was an enslaved worker in the sugarcane plantations of Veracruz, Mexico. In 1570 he, along with a group of followers, escaped, fled to the mountainous regions near Córdoba, and established a settlement of former slaves or palenque. They remained there virtually unmolested by Spanish authorities for nearly 40 years. Taking the role of spiritual and military leader, he structured the agricultural community in an ordered capacity, allowing its growth and occupation of various locations.
Jane G. Landers, “Cimarrón and Citizen: African Ethnicity, Corporate
Identity, and the Evolution of Free Black Towns in the Spanish
Circum-Caribbean,” in Jane Lander and Barry Robinson, eds., Slaves,
Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006); Charles Henry
Rowell, “El Primer Libertador de las Americas,” Callaloo 31:1 (Winter
The Brixton Riots of April 10-12, 1981, described as the first serious riots of the 20th century in England, were the first large scale racial confrontations between black British youth and white British police. The rioting was sparked by antagonism between black youths and the police.
The Atlanta Race Riot or Atlanta Riot of 1906 was the first race riot to take place in the capital city of Georgia. The riot lasted from September 22 to September 24 and was the culmination of a number of factors, including lingering tensions from reconstruction, job competition, black voting rights, and increasing desire of African Americans to secure their civil rights.
By 1900 the population of Atlanta had more than doubled to 89,872 from its 1880 level. The black population nearly quadrupled during that period. Job competition became intense and white politicians responded by implementing and expanding Jim Crow laws. The laws maintained separate black and white neighborhoods, segregated public transportation, and segregated schools. Despite these hurdles, a small number of black families achieved a significant measure of success. Black men voted during Reconstruction and continued to do so after their counterparts were pushed off the rolls throughout the rest of the South. Consequently there was considerable African American political activism in the city. The growing black middle class made many white citizens uncomfortable but they were also wary of rising crime rates and the perceived threat of black men against white women.
In the extended article that appears below historians Daudi Abe and Quintard Taylor explore the history of African Americans in Martin Luther King County from 1858 to 2014. They analyze the forces which encouraged people of African ancestry to settle in the county and discuss the rapid political, social, and economic changes that its black residents have faced since the first arrival, Manuel Lopes, came to the county in 1858.
With 119,801 people of African ancestry in a total population of 1,931,249 people, Martin Luther King, Jr. County is the most populous county in the state of Washington and is home to 29% of the state’s inhabitants and half of Washington’s black population. It is also the only county in the United States named after the 20th Century civil rights icon.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.