Charleston Race Riot 1919

The Charleston Race Riots

The Charleston Race Riot happened on May 10th, 1919. The infamous riot broke out when white sailors got angry at an African American man for taking off with their money after the sailors asked the man to get them some knock off liquor. The sailors met the man on the corner of King and George street, where the man promised to find the sailors some liquor. The sailors were very impatient, as they got antsy and started wondering when the man was coming back. After they realized the man was not going to come back, they decided to take action.

The sailors went to a well known African American restaurant in attempt to find the man that had ripped them off, but they had no luck in finding him. As the soldiers were frustrated, they tore the restaurant apart, throwing and tossing everything that they possibly could. When they realized he was not in the restaurant, the sailors start to run up King street. As they ran up the street, they started to attack innocent African Americans, taking their anger out on the entire community. They started to have fist fights with people on the streets, and it even escalated to certain sailors firing shots off at the civilians. As the night went on, the crowd of the sailors rose due to the word spreading rapidly, but this was not just the case for the sailors. African Americans also heard about what was going on, and got to the streets as quick as possible to retaliate.

Men came into the center of town with all different types of weapons, such as guns, hammers, knives, and more. The sailors nor the African Americans held back from the fighting, making the streets a pool of blood. Even a small percentage of the fighters payed the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives during this brawl. Many families that were on the streets near by during this time were advised to run home as fast as they could to avoid possible injury or even death by accident. The rioting got so serious and out of hand, that the city of Charleston had to call the United States Marines to try to help control the situation and get the tempers of the people to flare down.

This race riot was very important, as this was one of the race riots during the Red Summer of 1919. During the summer and early fall months of 1919, there were race riots across the United States. There were riots in Arkansas, Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Washington D.C., and Nebraska. The most well known race riot happened in Chicago, where there was fights and rioting for five continuous days in a row. The riots in Chicago started when an African American man sat down on a white bench. The white people started to attack the man that sat down on the bench, which caused the uproar in the city of Chicago. The reason why Chicago’s race riot was so infamous, was because the Chicago Police Department did nothing to stop the riot. The Illinois National Guard finally had to step in, ending the riot after five days.

Rioting still happens today in United States cities. In 2014, there was a large riot in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. This riot happened after an African American man named Michael Brown was shot to death by a policeman named Darren Wilson. Instead of fighting, the people of Ferguson started to break windows and destroy property around the city. They took these actions because they wanted justice for the man who was shot for an unfair reason. It took the city a while to recover due to the amount of property that was damaged.

All of these riots try to show how upset people are with whatever is going on in the world at the moment, and people want things to change right away. During the Red Summer of 1919, African Americans did not just sit back and let the white people attack them for things that one person with the same race as them did. They knew that it was unacceptable, and they would not let it happen, which is why we had the spark of the race riots. The Charleston race riot was very important because the African American community stood up for one another.

Charleston Chronicle. “Forgotten History – The Charleston Race Riot of 1919.” The Charleston Chronicle. February 14, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2019.


PBS. Accessed April 15, 2019.


“What Happened in Ferguson?” The New York Times. August 13, 2014. Accessed April 15, 2019.


Hello, My name is John McEvoy. I am very passionate about history, and the game of soccer. I am a 2016 graduate at Verona High School, and a 2018 graduate of the County College of Morris, where I studied history and played soccer. I am always interested in learning more history!

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