Mapping Events

The map of the events of the riot in Digital Harlem 1935 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.

Mapping Events over Time

As the riot spread over Harlem, events followed a pattern. First crowds gathered to protest, leading to clashes with police; then windows were broken; and finally, some time later, looting broke out. The map in Digital Harlem has limits as evidence of the riot’s chronology. Only 46% (84/183) of the events on the map appear on the timeline (which is 30% (84/280) of the total events I identified); for the majority is there no information on when they took place. That is particularly the case for stores with broken windows; only 3 of 49 on the map appear in the timeline. Nonetheless, the map does fit with the pattern reported in other sources.

Enough time elapsed between the shifts in behavior that they need to be seen as discontinuous, and each phase of disorder considered in its own right.