At least thirty whites were assaulted during the riot, in addition to ten white police officers, contrary to Cheryl Greenberg’s claim that no white police officers or white passersby were attacked.1Cheryl Greenberg, “The politics of disorder: Reexamining Harlem’s riots of 1935 and 1943,” Journal of Urban History 18, 4 (1992): 415. Given the circumstances of the violence, that number is likely only some of the whites assaulted during the disorder. (Only ? of those assaults resulted in arrests) (But this total does include the two men Rivera bit in Kress’ store, who appear in published lists). This violence has been overlooked in accounts of the riot, beginning with the Mayor’s Comm report, which focus on attacks on white property, but is reported in a range of different newspapers, with [white papers] seeking out and giving prominence to it. Assaults on whites took place throughout the disorder and across a wide area (?). So while numbers relatively small, assaults on whites are woven into the disorder, not so marginal let alone absent as to distinguish the disorder from outbreaks earlier in the century.
White storeowners, white men and women on the street, newspaper reporters and photographers, and passengers in vehicles traveling through Harlem all allegedly suffered injuries at the hands of black assailants.
Crowds threw stones and rocks at whites – which required whites to be arrayed opposite them, to be apart from them. In some cases, that distance was created by the roadway, with whites in vehicles traveling through the neighborhood and rocks being thrown from crowds on the sidewalks. In other cases, whites seem to have been standing apart from the crowd. In that group were newspaper reporters and photographers, and a security guard. Others were described as standing in front of buildings on 125th Street, without any explanation of why they were there. Others appeared at the hospital with similar injuries resulting from flying glass and rocks that they did not report as assaults, that did not result from efforts to injure them but from the attacks on property.
White storeowners also appear among those assaulted. In one case, the injury resulted from glass from a smashed window rather than a direct attack. Another case was a robbery. A third storeowner was beaten as he closed his store. The remaining assaults were attacks on whites walking the streets. All but one described being attacked by a group, who beat them, and in two cases stabbed. In several cases those attacks only ended when either the police, or in one case, black co-workers, intervened.
Three women appear among the whites assaulted in Harlem. Two of the women attacked were in cars, one driving through Harlem, one parked. The other assaulted by group on the street. (A third women is among those assaulted of unknown race)
Those assaults are likely missing from other accounts because they left few traces in the official record: police made arrests in only three cases. Seven victims of alleged assaults appear only in records of ambulance callouts and hospital admissions. The remaining sixteen assaults are reported only in newspapers, including six which appear in just the New York Journal or the New York Post, white papers that reported the riot with an emphasis violence against whites distinct from rest of the press. That those individuals did not seek medical attention is a reminder that others likely did the same, and that other assaults took place.
Attacks on whites occurred throughout the duration of the riot, providing a context of racial antagonism for the other forms of disorder. However, that violence was more geographically contained than in race riots in the north earlier in the twentieth century: other than two storekeepers attacked in their stores in Harlem’s north, most attacks occurred around 125th Street, with a small number further south, around the stores on 116th Street. Moreover, there is no report of an attack in Harlem or elsewhere by whites, other than police, on blacks of the kind that characterized those earlier riots.
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