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This Day in History – August 2, 1964

Race riots occur in Jersey City, New Jersey

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On this day in 1964 in Jersey City, New Jersey,  one of the first race riots to occur after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 took place. The New York Times reported that the race riot in Jersey City instigated by the arrest of a black woman on a disorderly conduct charge. Initial estimates attributed the disorders of the first night to some 800 African Americans who were looting, throwing rocks and stones at cars, and attempting to pull people out of the cars. Civil rights leaders from the Jersey City Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

They attempted to meet with then Mayor Thomas J. Whelan on August 3 to discuss the demands of the black residents of Jersey City. The first meeting with the mayor lasted only twenty-six minutes, due to some heavy criticism in the media by African American leaders for refusing to negotiate with them about trying to address the poor living standards and social conditions of low-income blacks. The mayor was even accused of failing even to provide an open forum to discuss the best ways to proceed.

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Black leaders (NAACP president Raymond A. Brown and the local head of CORE, James Beil) had a difficult time trying to address the issues of the 280,000 blacks who lived in Jersey City at that point. Black youths interviewed in the paper demanded that the mayor address the main concerns that had led to the rioting. According to one youth, this meant that city official should agree to hire black police officers and clean up the city to make it livable.

On the second night of the riots, the mayor was interviewed by local reporters, who interrogated him regarding his refusal to discuss the issues with leaders from the African American community. Whelan argued that black leaders have brought in hooligan youth to negotiate with them. He also stated that the expectations for immediate resolutions were unrealistic given the financial condition of the city at the time of the riots.

On the third night, 400 policemen were dispatched to deal with rioters. A group of black clergymen also went through neighborhoods in cars with bullhorns and sound equipment usually used by the NAACP for voter registration. The ministers encouraged blacks to stop rioting and announced that one of their demands had been met and that the city had agreed to reopen the two local parks that had been previously closed. The result of the riots, as reported in national newspapers, was that at least forty-six people were injured, fifty-two people were arrested, and seventy-one stores or businesses were damaged.

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