The map of the events of the riot in Digital Harlem contains elements at odds with existing accounts. It’s crucial to note that the map is not a complete picture of the riot or even of the evidence I have of specific events that took place that night. It includes at most 1/3 of the 300 or more properties damaged during the riot. Of the 280 events I identified, 179 are on the map (64%). I found reports of 132 men and women arrested during the riot, but the location of only 43% of those arrests. A greater proportion of the 79 individuals assaulted, killed or seriously injured, 72%, appear on the map. The map is also not an unmediated presentation of this evidence. To facilitate the exploration of patterns, I have organized the events into 14 categories, distinguishing acts by and against the police, assaults from injuries for which no one was directly responsible, and looted stores from those reported only with broken windows.

Taking into account those filters, more is evident on the map than attacks on white property and clashes with police.  There are 22 attacks by blacks on whites that fit the pattern of violence that characterized race riots prior to 1935. White storeowners, white men and women on the street, newspaper reporters and photographers, and passengers in vehicles traveling through Harlem, all suffered injuries (allegedly at the hands of blacks). Those assaults are missing from other accounts because they left few traces in the historical record: police made arrests in only 4 cases. Additional cases consequently appear only fleetingly in newspaper reports and records of ambulance callouts and hospital admissions. These attacks on whites occurred throughout the duration of the riot, providing a context of racial antagonism for the other forms of disorder.

slide16However, 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 very little evidence of the attacks in Harlem or elsewhere by whites, other than police, on blacks that characterized those riots. So while the riot involved attacks on white commercial property not previously part of public disorder involving African Americans, that is not the full story of what happened on March 19 and 20.