The Memphis Race Riots of 1866

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From Wiki:

The Memphis Riots of 1866 refers to the violent events that occurred from May 1 to 3 in Memphis, Tennessee. The racial violence was ignited by tensions during Reconstruction following the American Civil War. After a shooting altercation between white policemen and black soldiers recently mustered out of the Union Army, mobs of white civilians and policemen rampaged through black neighborhoods and the houses of freed slaves. Federal troops were sent to quell the violence and peace was restored on the third day.

A subsequent report by a joint Congressional Committee detailed the carnage, including 46 blacks and 2 whites killed, 75 persons injured, over 100 persons robbed, 5 women raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches and 8 schools burned. Modern estimates place property losses at over $100,000.

Public attention following the riots and reports of the atrocities influenced the rapid proposal of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

- Alan
 

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This is the report from the investigation of the riot that was performed by the Freedmen's Bureau:


The Freedmen’s Bureau Report on the Memphis Race Riots of 1866 {part 1/2}
T. W. Gilbreth / May 22, 1866

Report of an investigation of the cause, origin, and results of the late riots in the city of Memphis made by Col. Charles F. Johnson, Inspector General States of Ky. And Tennessee and Major T. W. Gilbreth, A. D. C. To Maj. Genl. Howard, Commissioner Bureau R. F. & A. Lands.

The remote cause of the riot as it appears to us is a bitterness of feeling which has always existed between the low whites & blacks, both of whom have long advanced rival claims for superiority, both being as degraded as human beings can possibly be.

In addition to this general feeling of hostility there was an especial hatred among the city police for the Colored Soldiers, who were stationed here for a long time and had recently been discharged from the service of the U. S., which was most cordially reciprocated by the soldiers.

This has frequently resulted in minor affrays not considered worthy of notice by the authorities. These causes combined produced a state of feeling between whites and blacks, which would require only the slightest provocation to bring about an open rupture.

The Immediate Cause

On the evening of the 30th April 1866 several policemen (4) came down Causey Street, and meeting a number of Negroes forced them off the sidewalk. In doing so a Negro fell and a policeman stumbled over him. The police then drew their revolvers and attacked the Negroes, beating them with their pistols. Both parties then separated, deferring the settlement by mutual consent to some future time (see affidavit marked "A"). On the following day, May 1st, during the afternoon, between the hours of 3 and 5, a crowd of colored men, principally discharged soldiers, many of whom were more or less intoxicated, were assembled on South Street in South Memphis.

Three or four of these were very noisy and boisterous. Six policemen appeared on South Street, two of them arrested two of the Negroes and conducted them from the ground. The others remained behind to keep back the crowd, when the attempt was made by several Negroes to rescue their comrades. The police fell back when a promiscuous fight was indulged in by both parties.

During this affray one police officer was wounded in the finger, another (Stephens) was shot by the accidental discharge of his pistol in his own hand, and afterward died.

About this time the police fired upon unoffending Negroes remote from the riotous quarter. Colored soldiers with whom the police first had trouble had returned in the meantime to Fort Pickering. The police was soon reinforced and commenced firing on the colored people, men, women and children, in that locality, killing and wounding several.

Shortly after, the City Recorder (John C. Creighton) arrived upon the ground (corner of Causey and Vance Streets) and in a speech which received three hearty cheers from the crowd there assembled, councilled and urged the whites to arm and kill every Negro and drive the last one from the city. Then during this night the Negroes were hunted down by police, firemen and other white citizens, shot, assaulted, robbed, and in many instances their houses searched under the pretense of hunting for concealed arms, plundered, and then set on fire, during which no resistance so far as we can learn was offered by the Negroes.

A white man by the name of Dunn, a fireman, was shot and killed by another white man through mistake (reference is here made to accompanying affidavit mkd "B").

During the morning of the 2nd inst. (Wednesday) everything was perfectly quiet in the district of the disturbances of the previous day. A very few Negroes were in the streets, and none of them appeared with arms, or in any way excited except through fear. About 11 o’clock A. M. a posse of police and citizens again appeared in South Memphis and commenced an indiscriminate attack upon the Negroes, they were shot down without mercy, women suffered alike with the men, and in several instances little children were killed by these miscreants. During this day and night, with various intervals of quiet, the nuisance continued.

The city seemed to be under the control of a lawless mob during this and the two succeeding days (3rd & 4th). All crimes imaginable were committed from simple larceny to rape and murder. Several women and children were shot in bed. One woman (Rachel Johnson) was shot and then thrown into the flames of a burning house and consumed. Another was forced twice through the flames and finally escaped. In some instances houses were fired and armed men guarded them to prevent the escape of those inside. A number of men whose loyalty is undoubted, long residents of Memphis, who deprecated the riot during its progress, were denominated Yankees and Abolitionists, and were informed in language more emphatic than gentlemanly, that their presence here was unnecessary. To particularize further as to individual acts of inhumanity would extend the report to too great a length. But attention is respectfully called for further instances to affidavits accompanying marked C, E, F & G.

The riot lasted until and including the 4th of May but during all this time the disturbances were not continual as there were different times of greater or less length in each day, in which the city was perfectly quiet, attacks occurring generally after sunset each day.

The rioters ceased their violence either of their own accord or from want of material to work on, the Negroes having hid themselves, many fleeing into the country.

- Alan
 
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This is second part of the report from the investigation of the riot that was performed by the Freedmen's Bureau:

The Freedmen’s Bureau Report on the Memphis Race Riots of 1866 {part 2/2}
T. W. Gilbreth / May 22, 1866


Conduct of the Civil Authorities

The Hon. John Park, Mayor of Memphis, seemed to have lost entire control of his subordinates and either through lack of inclination and sympathy with the mob, or on utter want of capacity, completely failed to suppress the riot and preserve the peace of the city. His friends offer in extenuation of his conduct, that he was in a state of intoxication during a part or most of the time and was therefore unable to perform the high and responsible functions of his office. Since the riot no official notice has been taken of the occurrence either by the Mayor or the Board of Aldermen, neither have the City Courts taken cognizance of the numerous crimes committed.

Although many of the perpetrators are known, no arrests have been made, nor is there now any indication on the part of the Civil Authorities that any are meditated by them.

It appears the Sheriff of this County (P. M. Minters) endeavored to oppose the mob on the evening of the 1st of May, but his good intentions were thwarted by a violent speech delivered by John C. Creighton, City Recorder, who urged and directed the arming of the whites and the wholesale slaughter of blacks.

This speech was delivered on the evening of the 1st of May to a large crowd of police and citizens on the corner of Vance and Causey streets, and to it can be attributed in a great measure the continuance of the disturbances. The following is the speech as extracted from the affidavits herewith forwarded marked "B"… "That everyone of the citizens should get arms, organize and go through the Negro districts," and that he "was in favor of killing every God ****ed ******"…"We are not prepared now, but let us prepare and clean out every ****ed son of a ***** of a ****** out of town…"Boys, I want you to go ahead and kill every ****ed one of the ****** race and burn up the cradle."

The effect of such language delivered by a municipal office so high in authority, to a promiscuous and excited assemblage can be easily perceived. From that time they seemed to act as though vested with full authority to kill, burn and plunder at will. The conduct of a great number of the city police, who are generally composed of the lowest class of whites selected without reference to their qualifications for the position, was brutal in the extreme. Instead of protecting the rights of persons and property as is their duty, they were chiefly concerned as murderers, incendiaries and robbers. At times they even protected the rest of the mob in their acts of violence.

No public meeting has been held by the citizens, although three weeks have now elapsed since the riot, thus by their silence appearing to approve of the conduct of the mob. The only regrets that are expressed by the mass of the people are purely financial. There are, however, very many honorable exceptions, chiefly among men who have fought against the Government in the late rebellion, who deprecate in strong terms, both the Civil Authorities and the rioters.

Action of Bvt. Brig. Genl. Ben P. Runkle, Chief Supt., Bureau R. F. and A. L., Sub-District of Memphis

General Runkle was waited upon every hour in the day during the riot, by colored men who begged of him protection for themselves and families, and he, an officer of the Army detailed as Agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau was suffered the humiliation of acknowledging his utter inability to protect them in any respect. His personal appearance at the scenes of the riot had no affect on the mob, and he had no troops at his disposal.

He was obliged to put his Headquarters in a defensive state, and we believe it was only owing to the preparations made, that they were not burned down. Threats had been openly made that the Bureau office would be burned, and the General driven from the town. He, with his officers and a small squad of soldiers and some loyal citizens who volunteered were obliged to remain there during Thursday and Friday nights.

The origin and results of the riot may be summed up briefly as follows:

The remote cause was the feeling of bitterness which as always existed between the two classes. The minor affrays which occurred daily, especially between the police and colored persons.

The general tone of certain city papers which in articles that have appeared almost daily, have councilled the low whites to open hostilities with the blacks.

The immediate cause was the collision heretofore spoken of between a few policemen and Negroes on the evening of the 30th of April in which both parties may be equally culpable, followed on the evening of the 1st May by another collision of a more serious nature and subsequently by an indiscriminate attack upon inoffensive colored men and women.

Three Negro churches were burned, also eight (8) school houses, five (5) of which belonged to the United States Government, and about fifty (50) private dwellings, owned, occupied or inhabited by freedmen as homes, and in which they had all their personal property, scanty though it be, yet valuable to them and in many instances containing the hard earnings of months of labor.

Large sums of money were taken by police and others, the amounts varying five (5) to five hundred (500) dollars, the latter being quite frequent owing to the fact that many of the colored men had just been paid off and discharged from the Army.

No dwellings occupied by white men exclusively were destroyed and we have no evidence of any white men having been robbed.

From the present disturbed condition of the freedmen in the districts where the riot occurred it is impossible to determine the exact number of Negroes killed and wounded. The number already ascertained as killed is about (30) thirty; and the number wounded about fifty (50). Two white men were killed, viz., Stephens, a policemen and Dunn of the Fire Department.

The Surgeon who attended Stephens gives it as his professional opinion that the wound which resulted in his death was caused by the accidental discharge of a pistol in his hands (see affidavit marked "B"). Dunn was killed May 1st by a white man through mistake (see affidavit marked "B"). Two others (both Policemen) were wounded, one slightly in the finger, the other (Slattersly) seriously.

The losses sustained by the Government and Negroes as per affidavits received up to date amount to the sum of ninety eight thousand, three hundred and nineteen dollars and fifty five cents ($98,319.55). Subsequent investigations will in all probability increase the amount to one hundred and twenty thousand dollars ($120,00.00).

(signed) Chas. F. Jackson
Col. And Insptr. Genl. Ky. & Tenn.
T. W. Gilbreth
Aide-de-Camp.

Source
Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Tennessee Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869 National Archives Microfilm Publication M999, roll 34 "Reports of Outrages, Riots and Murders, Jan. 15, 1866 - Aug. 12, 1868"

- Alan
 
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From Memphis History.com


From April 30th through May 2nd 1866 Memphis experienced the worst race riot in the city's history. The rioters in this case were white and mainly Irish, often members of the police and fire departments. The reasons for the unrest are clear. Memphis had been an occupied city for 5 years, occupied by Union troops both black and white. During these final days of occupation the Union Army had left city mainly occupied by black soldiers. Many Union troops were disbanded at the end of April and most black soldiers mustered out with a discharge bonus of up to $500. At the end of the month de facto control of Memphis was transferred from military to civil authorities.

The jobs that were taken by freed blacks had formerly been the property of poor Irish, many recent immigrants. That led to a bitterness between the two groups which was made much more volatile by virtue of Irish control of the police and fire departments.

On the night of April 30th word went out that one or more Memphis police had been killed by black freedmen or soldiers depending on the account. The truth seems to be that one white policeman died when his gun malfunctioned in his hand. Quickly word spread that whites everywhere should join together and rid the town of all the freedmen. General Stoneman who was still stationed nearby adjudged his current forces insufficient to handle a resurrection and ordered his troops confined to quarters.

When the riot ended some 3 days later the toll was Some forty-six African Americans and two whites died during the riot. A Joint Congressional Committee reported seventy-five persons injured, one hundred persons robbed, five women raped, ninety-one homes burned, four churches and eight schools burned and destroyed, and seventeen thousand dollars in federal property destroyed. Hundreds of blacks were jailed, and almost all other freedmen fled town.

- Alan
 
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From the on-line edition of the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, a joint project of the Tennessee Historical Society and the University of Tennessee Press.

Memphis Race Riot of 1866
by Bobby L. Lovett , Tennessee State University

On May 1-2, 1866, Memphis suffered its worst race riot in history. Some forty-six African Americans and two whites died during the riot. A Joint Congressional Committee reported seventy-five persons injured, one hundred persons robbed, five women raped, ninety-one homes burned, four churches and eight schools burned and destroyed, and seventeen thousand dollars in federal property destroyed. Hundreds of blacks were jailed, and almost all other freedmen fled town until the disturbance ended. For two days, white mobs, which included policemen, firemen, and some businessmen, attacked the freedmen's camps and neighborhoods.

The riot started after an alarm went out that African American soldiers from Fort Pickering, on the south boundary of downtown Memphis, had killed several policemen who tried to arrest a black soldier. In response to the reports, Union General George Stoneman disarmed the soldiers and locked them in their barracks, leaving nearby freedmen's settlements vulnerable to the white mobs that soon attacked women, children, and defenseless men, as well as the northern missionaries who served as ministers and teachers for the freedmen.

The Memphis riots reflected the anger and frustration felt by many white citizens and particularly former Confederates, who had suffered the agony of a bitter defeat at the hands of a black and white Union army. Irish immigrants, who had sided with the Confederacy, especially hated the freedmen who dominated the skilled and unskilled jobs that had previously served as a mechanism for upward mobility in the Irish community. Some downtown businessmen participated in the mob because they resented the hordes of penniless freedmen on the streets. Other rioters wanted revenge for the Union occupation. The use of African American soldiers as patrolmen with power to order whites to "move on" was especially galling to many. Finally, the riots reflected the attitudes of most white citizens toward the former slaves who were then free and soon demanding equal rights.

One outcome of the Memphis riot (and a similar riot in New Orleans) was the congressional move toward Radical Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans passed a Civil Rights Bill and the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship, equal protection of the laws, and due process to former slaves. Tennessee was forced to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment before being allowed to return to the Union (July 1866). Paradoxically, the former slaves became citizens, voters, and officeholders in part due to the Reconstruction acts passed in response to the race riots in Memphis and elsewhere.

- Alan
 
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estimates place property losses at over $100,000.
$100K (?), what would that estimate look like translated into contemporary dollars ? If someone knows what the inflation adjusted #s look like please educate me. I'm curious, & I'm not sure how the dollar (150 years ago), looks in relation to modern purchasing power. (thanks)
 

AndyHall

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$100K (?), what would that estimate look like translated into contemporary dollars ? If someone knows what the inflation adjusted #s look like please educate me. I'm curious, & I'm not sure how the dollar (150 years ago), looks in relation to modern purchasing power. (thanks)
As you can imagine, economists have multiple formulae for making such a calculation, none of which are really ideal. You can explored this more at MeasuringWorth.com.

Here is how that site converts $100K in 1866 dollars to amounts for 2011, the most recent year available:

In 2011, the relative value of $100,000.00 from 1866 ranges from $1,270,000.00 to $168,000,000.00.​
A simple Purchasing Power Calculator would say the relative value is $1,460,000.00. This answer is obtained by multiplying $100000 by the percentage increase in the CPI from 1866 to 2011.
This may not be the best answer.
The best measure of the relative value over time depends on if you are interested in comparing the cost or value of a Commodity , Income or Wealth , or a Project . For more discussion on how to pick the best measure, read the essay "Explaining the Measures of Worth."​
If you want to compare the value of a $100,000.00 Commodity in 1866 there are three choices. In 2011 the relative:
real price of that commodity is $1,460,000.00
labor value of that commodity is $11,700,000.00(using the unskilled wage) or $23,600,000.00(using production worker compensation)
income value of that commodity is $19,400,000.00​

If you want to compare the value of a $100,000.00 Income or Wealth , in 1866 there are three choices. In 2011 the relative:

historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is $1,460,000.00
economic status value of that income or wealth is $19,400,000.00
economic power value of that income or wealth is $168,000,000.00​

If you want to compare the value of a $100,000.00 Project in 1866 there are four choices. In 2011 the relative:

historic opportunity cost of that project is $1,270,000.00
labor cost of that project is $11,700,000.00(using the unskilled wage) or $23,600,000.00(using production worker compensation)
economy cost of that project is $168,000,000.00​
 

Dave Wilma

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Note the date. As in the lead-up to the hot war, this and other events pushed the Republican Congress to the Reconstruction measures that characterize the era. It was bad enough that the war was fresh in the national psyche, but continued resistance invited a heavy response. As in 1860-61, Southern leaders in 1866 had choices and made the wrong ones.
 

diane

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Thanks, ForeverFree, for putting up those informative posts. :thumbsup: Freedom came at a real price, and not all at once either. It wasn't just a matter of ok, now you're not a slave - fly and be free! This and things like it were why Forrest and others thought the blacks would 'come home'. US troops should have occupied parts of the South at least much longer than they did. Change was a long time coming. Old Gen Chalmers was called upon once to quell yet another race riot outside Memphis somewhat later, and he rounded up a posse of his old troopers. They took off after every black person they saw to the point where Chalmers yelled, "Boys, don't kill too many n...rs. We need cotton pickers!" :x3:
 
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Sounds like small potatoes compared to the NYC riots three years earlier.
The 1860 population of New York (Manhattan) was 793,000 whites, vs 12,500 blacks. The Memphis population circa 1866 was perhaps 22,000+ whites, vs 20,000 or so blacks. If the white population in Memphis had been of a scale larger than the black population as in the case of New York, perhaps the situation would have been worse. Or perhaps not. Whatever, I think we are all thankful that the scale of violence was not worse.

- Alan
 
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Not at all. The OP is obviously trying to connect the current debate over renaming parks in Memphis with a not widely known race riot in 1866. Maybe NY can find some period Irish monuments and rename them using the same rationale; that being the much better known, deadly, destructive and racist riot during the same era in that city. Evil people are evil people. Right?
 

AndyHall

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Not at all. The OP is obviously trying to connect the current debate over renaming parks in Memphis with a not widely known race riot in 1866. Maybe NY can find some period Irish monuments and rename them using the same rationale; that being the much better known, deadly, destructive and racist riot during the same era in that city. Evil people are evil people. Right?
The Memphis riots are pretty well known.

The original poster can speak to what his "obvious" intentions were. Frankly, I do believe that looking at the history of racial conflict in Memphis is relevant to the situation in present-day Memphis, at least more-so that the Draft Riots in NYC, since it's Memphis' history, not New York's that makes Memphis what it is today, good, bad or otherwise.

Yes, evil people are evil people. But you're still deflecting, trying to shift focus away from one group of "evil people" onto another.
 
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Not at all. The OP is obviously trying to connect the current debate over renaming parks in Memphis with a not widely known race riot in 1866. Maybe NY can find some period Irish monuments and rename them using the same rationale; that being the much better known, deadly, destructive and racist riot during the same era in that city. Evil people are evil people. Right?
If my goal was to connect the renaming controversy to the riot, then I would have made that connection here, or in one of the threads where the renaming controversy is specifically discussed. Note that, I have NOT made such a connection.

Is the Memphis riot "widely known?" Anybody who is a student of Reconstruction knows about this riot - or should know about it. Just like anybody who is a student of the Civil War should know about the New York City riot. Indeed, in the thread titled "Possible Reconstruction Threads," the Memphis riot was noted as a suggested topic. In any event, just because something isn't widely known, that's no reason to avoid discussing it, that would just perpetuate ignorance.

The renaming controversy certainly brings the history of the city to mind. But that's it. I do hope this thread in not hijacked by the Memphis renaming thing. There are what, 3 or 4 threads on that already? This is a separate piece of history that rightfully deserves its own separate mention.

- Alan
 

Dave Wilma

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Connecting the Memphis with the New York riots is instructive IMHO. In both cases the rioters needed to blame someone for the war and their misfortune. Africans were the obvious and vulnerable target. This attitude continued for decades.
 

diane

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In a way, it was sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The white people were so scared of blacks running amok once they were free that they actually made it happen. Not to say blacks were innocent, just saying the fear of them was greater than their desire for revenge. The vast majority simply wanted to be let alone to get on with their lives with the same rights as any other US citizen.
 

5fish

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I like to point out New Orleans and Memphis race riots were start by us white folks...History in following years after the war had the white folk in the south scared for their lives because of Union troops and Freeman. While the whole time it was the local white folks creating the Klan and other similar organizations and causing the race riots...and later putting fear of god into the local black populations. How did history get so wrong about reconstruction? Its only been the last 40 years historians have been correcting the history of reconstruction...
 

Georgia Sixth

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Does anyone know the back story on Sheriff Minters and City Recorder Creighton? Where they were from? Did they have a role during the long Federal occupation of Memphis? Or were they recently returned from the army? Were they unionists or secessionists? I'm curious. If the Freedmen's Bureau report is accurate, Minters certainly failed his responsibility while Creighton would seem criminally liable for whipping the crowd into a vicious frenzy.
 



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