A Study Of The Harlem Race Riots In 1935-1964

October 3, 2022

Sadly, some groups have to endure discrimination and abuse more than others.

Even today, some still treat people differently based on characteristics such as gender, age, sexual orientation, or race. The latter has been a reason for plenty of historical examples of injustice, as well as many iconic revolutions. Such events often remain the subject of books, papers, or detailed research. This article will provide a concise extract of facts about the Harlem race riots (1935-1964).

We often face injustice in this world. Some conflicts are resolved through simple conversation, but others lead to mass uprisings or revolutions. Usually, such events become a catalyst for positive changes, but one should never forget at what cost our ancestors ensured the modern democratic society we live in. 

Chronological Order of Events

In the 20th century, New York repeatedly became a platform for fighting for equality and the rights of different population groups. The Harlem riots are no exception. All three events were caused by the grossly unfair treatment of African Americans. Unfortunately, these uprisings could not end in the phase of peaceful protests because many officials and influential people of those times believed in their supremacy and refused to raise the issue of equality for all races. However, such rebellions are the reasons for the significant improvement in solving this problem today. Let’s remember how everything happened. 

The Harlem Riot of 1935

The first Harlem race riot occurred in the Manhattan suburb of Harlem. It dates back to March 1935. The reason for this event was the beating by store employees of a Puerto Rican teenager who tried to steal a penknife. At first, there was a demonstration outside the shop that evening. At some point, someone threw a rock through the window. It led to the general destruction of the store and other white property. The damage to the county’s territory is estimated at 2 million dollars.

In addition to the unfair treatment of a boy, the riots were fueled by serious economic issues, terribly unfair treatment of black citizens, and public distrust of the police. Unfortunately, this event had several victims. Instead of fighting for justice and ensuring the safety of all residents, the NYPD brutally beat several rioters. This was one of many cases of police brutality in the States. Three protesters died, and hundreds more received different injuries. Some people consider this occasion to be the first modern race riot in the USA.

The Harlem Riot of 1943

Another race riot in Harlem occurred at the beginning of August 1943. As usual, it was caused by an outrageous case of racial injustice. Robert Bandy, an African-American soldier, was shot and wounded. The gun was fired by James Collins, a white NYPD officer.

Let’s revise the chronological order of that evening. Bandy witnessed the arrest of a black woman for disorderly conduct in one of the Harlem hotels. As the grounds for such treatment were absolutely baseless, the man sought her release. According to the police report, a dispute took place. It also says that Bandy punched the officer. The policeman had no choice but to shoot the soldier when he allegedly tried to flee the scene. 

Immediately after the incident, more than three thousand people gathered outside police headquarters. A smaller group followed Bandy and the officer to the hospital. Tension began to rise. When someone among the larger crowd falsely claimed that the soldier had died, the community erupted into riots. The uprising resulted mostly in looting, vandalism, and destruction of white businesses’ property in Harlem. Yet, at least six people were killed during protests. Moreover, hundreds were injured, and approximately 600 were arrested.

Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia finally restored order to the area on August 2. Several thousand officers and volunteers were deployed to contain the rioters. He also provided food and goods to compensate for businesses that suffered the consequences. City departments cleaned and repaired buildings for several weeks.

The Harlem Riot of 1964

The next series of riots took place in 1964. They began on the 16th of July after the killing of a 15-year-old African-American, James Powell, by police lieutenant Thomas Gilligan. It happened in front of the boy’s friends. More than a dozen other people witnessed this crime as well. The shooting occurred after a conflict between Patrick Lynch, the manager of three apartment buildings in Yorkville, and black students hanging out near his house. Their dispute resulted in hosing down James and his company with cold water. After doing so, Lynch retreated inside the building, pursued by Powell. The boy was out of the lobby less than 2 minutes later. An off-duty police lieutenant witnessed the incident and rushed to the scene. Shortly after, he shot James three times. About 300 students from Powell’s school gathered immediately after his death. It was the beginning of a six-day uprising.

In summary, more than 4,000 citizens participated in the riots. The racism of one officer led to attacks on the police department, theft, and vandalism. The report created after the conflict mentioned one dead rioter, more than a hundred wounded, and up to half of a thousand arrests.


First, these riots and similar incidents became the basis for building a new, free society. Don’t underestimate the impact of even one protest on the state of affairs you see now. Each person who participated in these events became a small part of a huge change and deserves respect to this day.The Harlem riots are an inspiring example of fighting against a system that doesn’t care about or even hurt ordinary people. The subject of racism must be brought up again and again until humanity eradicates this abomination. That is why all these events must be in school programs, textbooks and lectures. Every student must have easy access to information about the movement for the rights of African Americans. Whether it is research on the relatable topic in the nearest library or argumentative essays on racism at Studydriver, all of us should gain as much knowledge as possible. Educating ourselves means preventing society from taking a step back in the progress of fighting for equality.

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