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date: 21 October 2020

Urban Riots and Rioting in the United States, 1800–2000

Abstract and Keywords

Rioting in the United States since 1800 has adhered to three basic traditions: regulating communal morality, defending community from outside threats, and protesting government abuse of power. Typically, crowds have had the shared interests of class, group affiliation, geography, or a common enemy. Since American popular disorder has frequently served as communal policing, the state—especially municipal police—has had an important role in facilitating, constraining, or motivating unrest.

Rioting in the United States retained strong legitimacy and popular resonance from 1800 to the 1960s. In the decades after the founding, Americans adapted English traditions of restrained mobbing to more diverse, urban conditions. During the 19th century, however, rioting became more violent and ambitious as Americans—especially white men—asserted their right to use violence to police heterogeneous public space. In the 1840s and 1850s, whites combined the lynch mob with the disorderly crowd to create a lethal and effective instrument of white settler sovereignty both in the western territories and in the states. From the 1860s to the 1930s, white communities across the country, particularly in the South, used racial killings and pogroms to seize political power and establish and enforce Jim Crow segregation. Between the 1910s and the 1970s, African Americans and Latinos, increasingly living in cities, rioted to defend their communities against civilian and police violence. The frequency of rioting declined after the urban rebellions of the 1960s, partly due to the militarization of local police. Yet the continued use of aggressive police tactics against racial minorities has contributed to a surge in rioting in US cities in the early 21st century.

Keywords: riots and rioting, violence, cities, police, crowds, popular justice, power, segregation


Rioting in the United States has historically had a ritual character. According to the sociologist Charles Tilly, participants in collective violence rely on repertoires of shared understandings, interests, and traditions. In the 17th- and 18th-century European mobs studied by Tilly and others, rioters used heavily stylized and restrained public violence as a way to regulate communal morality and dialogue with authorities.1 Americans in the early 1800s adapted this purpose of rioting, as a means of self-rule and theatrical protest, to local conditions, establishing basic traditions for popular disorder in US history: to regulate communal morality, defend community against outside threats, and protest government abuse of power. Yet American rioting became much more violent than its European predecessor. This largely owed to the historical evolution of racial slavery, western expansion, and local police departments.

This short historical overview of US rioting emphasizes the experience of cities and the role of power, ideology, and structural conditions. Between 1800 and 1840, the variety of antagonists in popular disorder was seemingly endless: rival fire-fighting companies, native born and foreign born, Protestant and Catholic, white and nonwhite. Rioting—like lynching and the civilian posse—was embedded in the institutions and culture of local communal policing. Rioting mobs could also be drunken, recreational, aimless. During the 1840s and 1850s, however, white Americans combined mass rioting and the lynch mob to create a lethal and effective instrument of white settler sovereignty to facilitate the conquest of the western territories and suppress dissent against slavery. In the decades after the Civil War and the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans, white Americans, particularly in the South, conspired with local police to perpetrate racial massacres to assert white supremacy, seize political power, and enforce the strict racial regime of Jim Crow segregation. During the 20th century, the character of rioting changed, as millions of nonwhites migrated to cities. White-instigated disputes over segregated residential boundaries were common, but racial minorities also began to use rioting to defend community from civilian and police violence.

New Rituals of Rioting from Colonial to Jacksonian America, 1800–1850

Scholars reference “the Anglo-American mob tradition” to describe rioting in the American colonies and the new United States.2 This rioting was highly ritualized and focused on harming property rather than persons. Colonial and early US authorities frequently tolerated and on occasion condoned such restrained rioting as legitimate expressions of popular discontent. Knowing this, rioters were careful to act in ways that respected cultural norms and elite expectations. “These pressures of legitimacy,” historian Wayne E. Lee has argued, “led early modern rioters to precede violence with petitions, to carefully select their targets, to favor proxies or even effigies as the focus for their anger.”3 Similarly, European historians of crowds, most notably E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, George Rudé, and Natalie Zemon Davis, have argued that public group violence in 17th-century towns and villages in France and England was sanctioned by communal consensus but that rioters also demonstrated restraint to retain public support and remain in good standing with elites.4

The Anglo-American mob that prevailed in the late 18th century used tightly scripted public violence to protest the perceived arbitrary power of the British Crown and federal government. The primary grievance was economic, specifically burdensome taxes. Colonial mobs marched on governors’ mansions and destroyed consumer goods, famously dumping tea into Boston harbor, to protest new import duties.5 After the Revolution, violent protests against taxes continued, including Shays’ Rebellion in 1787, and the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. Rarely did mobs kill when their targets were other white Europeans. Rather, as Lee observes, early American rioters, like their European counterparts, used carefully staged violence because they “expected a paternalistic response” from public authorities.6 The armed revolts against excise duties, some seeking to unseat local government, deviated from this script. Yet, in asserting communal rights against perceived government overreach, they, too, argues historian Thomas P. Slaughter, demonstrate “the degree of continuity from the Stamp Act crisis through and beyond the anti-excise disorders of the 1790s.”7

Sometime in the second decade of the 19th century, American popular disorder shifted from the “careful riots” studied by Lee to the less-restrained violence that dominated the Jacksonian and pre-Civil War era. One key factor was the rapid urban growth of the first decades of the 19th century. Two population trends of the 1820s to 1840s are worth highlighting: the arrival of Irish Catholic immigrants fleeing hardship and finding unskilled work in new factories, displacing the longstanding craft system of primarily native-born artisans, and the growing number and prominence of African Americans in free northern cities like Philadelphia, as well as in border cities like Baltimore.8 Both groups encountered frequent hostility and violence from native Protestants and whites, respectively.

Changing demographics and structural conditions meant crowds, and their grievances, looked different, too. In Lee’s study of colonial North Carolina, riots were typically made up of white artisans and merchants of middling class with some participation by political elites.9 As cities became larger and more stratified by race, religion, and class, the power of personal ties to cool and contain rebellion—the basis of reciprocal paternalism—grew weaker, while intercommunal divisions sharpened. As riots became less majoritarian and more sectarian, crowds abandoned political theater—mock trials of effigies or methodically leveling elite dwellings—and opened the floodgates of physical violence upon persons.

The historian Paul Gilje observes this “breakdown in the Anglo-American mob tradition” in the month-long Baltimore Riot during the War of 1812. After pro-war Republican mobs in late June tore down the Federalist-Republican building in protest of the newspaper’s anti-war and possibly pro-British stance, crowds remained riotous for several weeks. The mayor and militia commander made repeated verbal pleas to no avail. By late July, rioters had not only destroyed and stripped another Federalist property, but violent offshoots had erupted that had little to do with the original complaint: whites attacked African Americans, Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics fought each other, and armed persons disabled Spanish grain ships suspected of trading with England. In a departure from past riot patterns, the mob invaded the jail holding Federalist prisoners and beat them, killing one.10

The decade between 1834 and 1844 was one of the most riotous periods in US history. The numbers tell a story of unrestrained violence to police racial and religious minorities, to enforce social mores against gambling and drinking, and to decide the outcome of political elections. In the most comprehensive summary published to date, the historian David Grimsted counted 147 riots in 1835, 107 between July and October alone. About sixty of these involved whites attacking abolitionists or African Americans.11 An estimated two dozen major riots took place in 1834 and at least three dozen in 1835, provoking President Andrew Jackson, not exactly known for even-tempered restraint, to denounce “mob-law.” In 1838, one year after a mob murdered abolitionist editor Elijah Lovejoy in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer, warned that such “vicious” popular violence spelled doom for government. Grimsted contends that rioting claimed more than one thousand lives in the antebellum period.12

One is struck by the range of grievances during this era. Rival urban firefighter companies staged elaborate violent battles that sometimes lasted days. Anti-abolitionist fervor drove much of the violence. The Philadelphia mayor and his part-time constables were powerless to stop a crowd from burning to the ground Pennsylvania Hall in 1838 mere days after it opened, in response to rumors that the hall’s abolitionist owners plotted to promote interracial sex in the city.13 In 1842, a Rhode Island lawyer named Thomas Dorr led a makeshift brigade of residents angry over their disenfranchisement by the state’s constitution in a failed attempt to commandeer the arsenal in the state capitol of Providence.14 Mormons and Catholics faced frequent violent assaults, their places of worship torched or destroyed by native-born Protestants. In perhaps the most famous ethnic and religious riot of the era, intense controversy over the use of Catholic Bibles in Kensington schools, a suburb of Philadelphia, culminated in multiple gun battles between crowds and county militia over several weeks that resulted in up to twenty deaths of both nativists and Irish Catholics. Whig and Democratic partisans engaged in frequent rowdy free-for-alls on election day, motivated less by political or ideological differences than what historian Michael Feldberg has called “expressive rioting.”15 Twenty-two people died at the Astor Place Opera House in New York City on May 10, 1849, after the militia opened fire on rioting audience-members embroiled in a dispute over the perceived aristocratic leanings of a British actor.16

The 1830s to 1840s were pivotal decades, too, in the way local government responded to disorder. Examining court records in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, between 1834 and 1854, the historian Thomas P. Slaughter found that the riot complaints tripled compared to any comparable previous period, even though the ratio of prosecutions to accusations changed little from the previous century. From this seemingly contradictory data, Slaughter concludes there was a “growing sensitivity to disorder,” but rather than criminally prosecute offenders, authorities mainly used the riot charge as a catch-all offense to control working-class behavior. Lancaster judges, for example, imposed sizable bonds on defendants for one-to-two years as a sort of parole to enforce “good behavior.”17 In addition to the courts, local executives had a patchwork of control agents they deployed to the scene of trouble: sheriffs, constables, civilian posses, and volunteer county militias.18

Toward the close of what Feldberg called the “turbulent era,” large US cities increasingly centralized control authority in unified municipal police departments. In Philadelphia, that process began after the 1844 riots. According to historian Allen Steinberg, after the horrific riots in suburban Kensington, Catholics made “one of the earliest pleas for a consolidated county police force.” In 1850, the state legislature created a countywide sheriff’s position and funded a small county force of one officer per 150 taxable residents. The 1854 Consolidation Act, joining city and county, officially established the Philadelphia Police Department, authorizing 820 full-time patrol positions salaried according to rank. As in Philadelphia, the new urban police departments were beholden to machine rule, with personnel and enforcement decisions controlled by patronage and party interests.19

Mass Rioting in the Industrial Era

Urban police departments expanded the reach of state authority at the same time that Americans deployed extralegal violence on an increasingly industrial scale. The transformation of lynching from non-lethal public flogging in 1830 to racial terrorism in 1870 was a key factor motivating this change. Long before the mass spectacle murders of racial minorities in the late 19th century, lynching—if the term was used at all—was one type among several of community-sanctioned extralegal punishment, especially common in frontier towns where formal criminal justice institutions were absent or weak.20 The term “lynching” entered national vernacular in 1835 when an increasingly national press, abetted by faster transportation and communication networks, reported on a crowd’s hanging of five gamblers in Vicksburg, Virginia, as punishment for killing a doctor during a local moral panic around gambling.21

Lynch mobs contained many of the qualities that defined rioting—public violence carried out by groups against selected targets—but their core aim was to punish alleged crime. According to historian Christopher Waldrep, lynching in this era meant “the work of a community or neighborhood united against outrageous crimes.”22 Lynching resembled the communal rough justice of colonial “careful riots,” civilian posses, southern slave patrols, and western vigilantism. Most famously, the Vigilance Committee in San Francisco in 1856 rose to power with a lynching. With mass support, they stormed a city jail, seized two Democratic officeholders who had murdered a newspaper editor and US Marshal, and hanged them, citing corrupt and ineffective law enforcement as justification. The Whig-allied nativists on the Vigilance Committee amassed a private army of six thousand and overthrew the Irish-Democratic machine, installing a new regime with a promise to rid the city of crime and corruption.23

The rise of racially sectarian lynching produced a deadlier variety of rioting. Historian Michael J. Pfeifer has argued that lynching became more regular in the mid-19th century, especially in rural, frontier, or southern locales, to supplant non-existent criminal justice institutions or to preempt a growing emphasis in legal circles on due process for the accused. Behind this trend, Pfeifer argues, was an assertion of white male settler sovereignty, or the right to use communal violence as a check on the alleged criminality and deviance of nonwhite and marginal populations.24 Nineteenth-century riots tended to follow a less linear and narrow path, but those that contained this punishment imperative—lynch riots—were the most lethal and destructive of the industrial era.

Western expansion in the 1840s and 1850s and the accompanying increase in sectional tensions created the conditions for a sharp rise in racial mob violence. In 1848, the modern boundaries of California were set with the Treaty of Guadeloupe-Hidalgo, ending the Mexican-American War. That year, miners discovered gold outside of San Francisco, bringing tens of thousands of settlers seeking fortune, many of them young men and immigrants, transforming San Francisco from frontier outpost to major population center in a few years.25 In 1850, California was admitted to the Union as a free state as part of the Compromise of 1850, which enacted the Fugitive Slave Law, giving southern slaveowners extraordinary power to coerce northerners to assist in the recapture of allegedly escaped slaves. Michael Pfeifer has identified fifty-six “mob executions” of blacks in the South between 1824–1862. More than two-thirds took place after 1849. Forty-four victims were enslaved. Murder was the most common alleged crime. Forty victims were accused of murder, fifteen specifically for the murder or attempted murder of the master or members of his family. Over one-fourth of the cases involved an allegation of rape. Pfeifer notes that his data set omits the hundreds more African Americans indiscriminately killed by white southerners in response to slave rebellions, real or imagined.26

Scholars have shown how lynching extended well beyond the South and the black-white binary. The artist Ken Gonzales-Day documented over 350 lethal lynchings in California from 1850 to 1935. Just eight cases involved African American victims, whereas 210 were Native American, Asian, or Latino from North and South America and 120 were white European.27 The historians William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb identified 597 Mexicans killed by lynch mobs between 1848 and 1928, mainly in Texas and the Southwest, the vast majority in the period before 1880, when popular histories typically date the start of the lynching era. In California, 163 Mexicans alone were lynched between 1848 and 1860. Carrigan and Webb calculated that in some states Mexicans faced a much higher risk of lethal mob violence than African Americans in the postbellum South. Carrigan and Webb conclude that the vast majority of victims in their data set were “summarily executed” without “even the semblance of a trial” by mobs who “acted less out of a rational interest in law and order than an irrational prejudice towards racial minorities.”28

Racial minorities had little recourse against mobs before the Civil War but to defend themselves through violence, which carried great risk. Carrigan and Webb note that Anglo hostility toward Mexicans derived from economic competition, tense US-Mexico diplomatic relations, and racism. During the Gold Rush, lawmakers gave Anglos a systematic advantage over non-whites through the Foreign Miner’s Tax of 1851 and the Anti-Vagrancy Act of 1855 targeting “all persons who are commonly known as Greasers or the issue of Spanish or Indian blood.” These laws further conferred impunity on Anglo lynch mobs. Decades before founding legal defense organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens, Mexicans tried to protect their communities and retaliate against lynching through physical violence. This strategy often “proved counter-productive,” according to Carrigan and Webb, because Anglos had the power of law enforcement at their disposal, such as the Texas Rangers, whose tactics—which included lynching—were “tantamount to state-sanctioned terrorism.”29

Despite its inadequacy, community defense provided a counterweight to not only white vigilantism but also state policies supporting white supremacy. Abolitionists in northern cities created Vigilance Committees in the 1830s to assist runaway and free African Americans. Yet, Paul Gilje observes that whites rarely participated in black community defense rioting until the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law.30 The 1850 law enabled slaveowners to compel northerners to join federal posses to recapture escaped slaves. Between 1850 and 1858, the Boston Vigilance Committee rescued four hundred fugitives from federal custody on the street, in courthouses, and from southbound ships.31 Black resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law was violent on a few notable occasions. In 1851, African Americans in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, defended four runaways from a federal posse, in the process killing the Maryland slaveowner. In a trial that became a national sensation, heightening sectional tensions before the Civil War, thirty-eight men were charged with treason, yet all were acquitted.32

During the Civil War, as the Union took steps to end slavery and incorporate African Americans into US society, white northerners helped reinvent lynching as a means of reasserting white supremacy. Pfeifer has argued that this phenomenon was an important precursor to the better-known racial lynching across the South from the 1880s to the 1930s. In September 1861, five dozen Irishmen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, raided the city jail that was keeping two African American men who had fatally stabbed an Irishman during a street altercation over the black men’s interactions with two white women. The mob dragged one of the men, Marshall Clark, to the firehouse and hanged him from a pile driver before a thousand spectators. Indicating prior coordination and planning, the fire companies rang their bells after the death of the Irishman and a firehouse served as the site of Clarke’s mock trial; local law enforcement never interfered with the mob. Local press coverage blamed Republican support for abolitionism, racial equality, and violating the Fugitive Slave Law for inciting the violent extralegal response from the mostly Democratic Irish community.33

Mass urban racial lynching reached a devastating scale two years later in the anti-draft rioting in New York City, a terrifying harbinger of post-war violence and one of the most lethal popular rebellions of US history. In March 1863, Congress passed the Conscription Act to support the Union war effort. The law, however, provided two exemptions: a draftee could present an “acceptable substitute” or pay a $300 commutation fee. By allowing wealthier citizens to opt out, the law appeared to shift the burdens of war onto the working class and the poor. Additionally, in January, President Abraham Lincoln had made ending slavery a central war aim with the Emancipation Proclamation. Weeks after the law’s passage, white rioters attacked African Americans and looted and burned their property after the draft lottery began in Detroit, lashing out at the group deemed responsible for conscription.34

On Saturday, July 11, the federal draft office opened in working-class districts of New York. After weekend meetings, on Monday, July 13, Irish industrial workers went on strike. Led by fire companies, they destroyed draft offices, attacked Republican officeholders, and chanted pro-Confederate slogans. Beginning on Tuesday, July 14, the riot shifted when Irish laborers began brutally assaulting Republican-identified city police officers and soldiers, torching provost marshal offices and police stations, tearing up railroad tracks and severing telegraph lines, and lynching African Americans in a ritual involving, variously, hanging, burning, genital mutilation, and drowning. Scholars have observed that many of the most violent rioters were too young for the draft but joined with older rioters after rioting began on Monday to seek out political enemies and reassert local white Democratic sovereignty. On Thursday, July 16, federal troops arrived from the battlefields of Gettysburg to put down the rebellion. By Friday, it was over. At least 105 people perished over the five days, including three police officers, eight soldiers, and eleven African Americans. Most riot fatalities were working-class whites; at least twenty-three were killed by the military. Anecdotal evidence suggests the total number of dead was likely higher, since bodies were dumped in the Hudson River.35

During the mass hardship, dislocation, and violence of the Civil War, urban white southern women took the unusual step of leading riots. Historian Stephanie McCurry chronicles dozens of Confederate riots from March to April 1863 led by soldiers’ wives to advance what she terms the “mass politics of subsistence.” Typically, women organizers held mass meetings to select the targets, speculator merchants who charged more than government prices, and choreograph the violence to maximize public sympathy. The April 2 Richmond disturbance, which McCurry calls the “biggest civilian riot in Confederate history,” began, according to plan, with a coterie of women entering a store and offering to pay government rates. When refused, they drew their weapons—the riot was on. More than three hundred women raided Richmond stores, carting off large quantities of foodstuffs and other necessities, before a crowd of one thousand men and women. As in colonial-era bread riots, white Confederate women emphasized their prescribed role as maternal guardians and soldiers’ wives to retain popular support and overcome gendered strictures on women doing politics. The 1863 bread riots ultimately succeeded in pressuring public authorities to more strictly regulate the price of consumer goods and provide more generous social assistance to poor white families.36

Urban Lynch Riots and Industrial Conflict after the Civil War

The New York City draft riots helped to establish a new template of disorder: the urban lynch riot. From the 1860s to the 1920s, white Americans regularly used large-scale racial terror to subordinate racial minorities, particularly African Americans, in an era of intensifying industrial production, urbanization, and constant struggle over the rights and meaning of US citizenship after the abolition of slavery. Urban police departments, almost entirely white and, in northern and western cities, predominantly Irish and Italian, frequently enabled racial terror either by directly helping white rioters or at least not trying to stop them. Additionally, violent labor conflict became more routine and deadly as the scale of production dramatically increased, especially in the coal, steel, and oil industries that rapidly expanded to support the effort to build a transcontinental railroad. Facing great danger and hardship on the job, workers used group violence as one strategy to fight their bosses and foreign-born competition.

Mob killings in the late 19th century served a more overtly political purpose after the war, especially in the South. In the 1860s, Christopher Waldrep observes, the murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan were rarely called “lynchings” because they lacked popular sanction from the white community. Also, Republicans in Congress and the US military occupying the former Confederacy made great effort to arrest and prosecute white vigilantes. Nevertheless, the Klan and similar groups terrorized freedpeople after the war. In 1866 mobs of white civilians and police massacred scores of African Americans in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans.37 At the start of the 1870s, Republicans began to lose power in the South as white Democrats won office through fraud, terror, and violence. One of the worst racial massacres in US history arose from a contested election in Grant Parish, Louisiana, in April 1873. Black Republicans holed up in a Colfax courthouse to constitute the new government when a white militia mustered by Democrats opened fire on the occupants, hunting down the ones who fled into the nearby woods, ultimately killing an estimated 150 African Americans. Forty-eight black men were executed afterward as prisoners. Historian LeeAnna Keith has observed that subsequent generations of whites remembered the 1873 massacre as a “riot” to justify the violence as a police action to control disorderly blacks and overturn “carpetbag misrule.”38

In the 1890s African American anti-lynching activists like Ida B. Wells and the Chicago Tribune began documenting and publicizing lynching as a specifically racial and southern phenomenon. Waldrep notes that this activism changed the meaning of lynching, convincing many Americans, including black Americans, to view the practice as criminal and immoral rather than as a “sensible popular response to monstrous crime.”39 In the 1880s and 1890s, after major newspapers like the New York Times started denouncing lynching on due process grounds, white southerners articulated a new racial rationale for the practice, as a necessary means of policing African American criminality, especially for rape and murder. Between 1877 and 1950, as many as 4,075 African Americans were murdered by mobs in the states of the former Confederacy. Scholars credit several factors for lynching’s decline: national press coverage, more robust federal enforcement, the consciousness-raising activism of Wells and civil rights organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the growing use of the death penalty in the South as a substitute method of retributive killing.40

During the demographic and political upheavals of the 1890s to the 1920s, whites used large-scale violent terror to enforce racial hierarchy and limit African American advancement. In these decades, especially after America’s entry into World War I in 1917, one million African Americans migrated to northern and western cities, fleeing the strict caste system of the South and seeking economic opportunity in urban areas and wartime factories. Racial pogroms in this era typically began with a rumor of a black man’s violent crime against a white woman. Starting as a police action, they morphed into wholesale massacres as law enforcement enabled the killing. Using the shorthand of “Black Uplift, White Fury,” the historian William M. Tuttle Jr. has characterized 1917 to 1923 as “the bloodiest era of racial violence in the history of the United States.” Tuttle offers the “conservative” estimate of 735 deaths from massacres and 387 deaths from lynch mobs, totaling 1,122 riot fatalities, nearly all of them African American.41

Southern lynch riots often had an overt political purpose, to consolidate one-party rule and establish de jure Jim Crow segregation, whereas many northern pogroms arose during World War I to contain black mobility. The southern massacres were an integral part of a political project known as Redemption, led by white planters and Democratic leaders like South Carolina US Senator Ben Tillman, who advocated white male dominion over African Americans as a natural right. In Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, where African Americans were the majority of the population and many held elected and appointed public office, white press, politicians, merchants, and common laborers orchestrated an armed political coup against the Fusionists—a racially liberal coalition of Republicans and Populists. The mob destroyed a prominent black printing press and drove black public officials from Wilmington. The massacre ended with a ceremony installing a new white Democratic government. Probably dozens of African Americans were slaughtered, their bodies never recovered.42

The northern lynch riots, by contrast, were rooted in the experiences of the white urban industrial workforce facing new competition from black migrants. In many of these pogroms, white police officers, former antagonists in labor strife, joined with white laborers in ritualized acts of destruction and killing against a common foe. A protracted labor dispute preceded the pogrom in East St. Louis in 1917, after striking white workers at Aluminum Ore Company blamed African American migrants for their economic woes. Many of the strikebreakers used by the employer were black. Over two days in July, white mobs, assisted by police and National Guardsmen, killed thirty-nine African Americans by rope, fire, and gun. An additional nine whites died in the rioting.43 In Chicago in July 1919, white gangs, workers, and police joined to violently crush African American protest after a white man killed a black boy for swimming to the “white side” of a city beach on Lake Michigan. This riot grew out of several years of intense boundary disputes over segregation in recreation and residence, including over two dozen bombings of black homes since 1917. The 1919 riot signaled more effective resistance from African Americans. Twenty-three of the thirty-eight dead were black. Fifteen were white.44

Chicago’s violence was part of a cresting wave of post-emancipation racial mob killings. During the Red Summer of 1919, seventy-eight African Americans were lynched. Ten were military veterans. Eleven were burned alive. Twenty-six major riots took place between April and October, in the North and the South, in cities and the countryside. In Phillips County, Arkansas, African Americans outnumbered whites by three to one but made up 90 percent of the labor force in corn and cotton sharecropping. African American veterans returning from World War I helped to organize the community to assert their rights. After a shootout between black leaders and police resulted in an officer dead, white posses roamed the county killing black people at random. Up to two hundred African Americans died over two days.45

Black assertiveness and social mobility provoked large-scale killing and property destruction in the oil boomtown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. After police arrested a black man accused of raping a young white woman, a white lynch mob came to the jail but were met by armed African Americans seeking to protect the accused. After a scuffle caused an errant gun shot, many in the original lynch mob were deputized by Tulsa police to attack the Greenwood district known as “Negro Wall Street.” Armed black residents repelled some “special deputies” but were ultimately overpowered. White posses had superior numbers and firepower, including machine guns and private planes, with police escort, that dropped dynamite on Greenwood. White mobs torched more than one thousand homes and businesses, leveling the once-prospering black neighborhood. Police arrested six thousand black Tulsans and confined them to three makeshift city internment camps for up to a week. Hundreds more fled the city for good. Historian Scott Ellsworth estimates between seventy-five and 175 died in the pogrom. Most of the dead were African American, but in a testament to black armed resistance, a sizable number were white.46

The Red Summers of 1917 to 1923 marked a turning point in US riot history. Thereafter, the dominant style of rioting was led by the downtrodden and the marginalized against the state and more powerful social groups. Racial violence and mob killings continued, of course, as in Beaumont, Texas, in 1943, and the national anti-desegregation violence of the 1950s and 1960s. But increasingly rioting and especially urban rioting attacked up the social hierarchy rather than down. The geography of riot violence also shifted. Between 1890 and 1970, more than six million African Americans left the South and resettled in northern and western cities. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans made a similar journey north as well, albeit on a smaller scale. During these Great Migrations, concentrated around World War I and World War II, racial minorities faced frequently violent hostility and discrimination from white residents and urban police departments. This confrontation set the stage for the urban rebellions of the 1960s.

Although racial mob killings from 1880 to 1930 inspired little reform among law enforcement agencies, the industrial strife of this era did inspire a movement to centralize and professionalize state-directed riot control. In the summer of 1877, hundreds of thousands of railroad workers went on strike after companies cut wages by 10 percent. Beginning in West Virginia, the Railroad Strike in two weeks affected “about two-thirds of the country’s total rail mileage.” Mobs ripped up railroad tracks, damaged company property, and with knives and guns fought state militias. In Pittsburgh, rioters destroyed the Pennsylvania Railroad Union Depot and Hotel, thirty-nine other buildings, more than one hundred trains, and more than two thousand cars. The estimated Pittsburgh dead ranged from twenty to forty. More than one hundred died nationally in two weeks, including as many as fifty in Chicago. The victims were mainly strikers, killed by militia. In a rare act, President Rutherford B. Hayes called out federal troops to put down the unrest.47

In the late 19th century, local governments could use local police, state militias, and federal troops to break strikes and suppress worker violence, but each of these methods had serious flaws. Local police often sympathized with striking workers and had no training in riot control. Federal troops were well trained and disciplined, but authorities were reluctant to use them due to public fears of military police and restrictions under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The volunteer state militias were superior to local police but unreliable for similar reasons. In the Railroad Strike of 1877, militiamen in some cities set down their arms or gave them to rioters. In subsequent decades, many states reorganized their volunteer militias along military lines, provided new weapons and uniforms, offered training and pay, and renamed them the National Guard. In the labor violence from the 1880s to the 1920s, local governments dispatched the Guard at the behest of employers to put down strikes, often with ruthless and illegal tactics. In the first decades of the 20th century, many state governments created state police agencies, which also served as strike-breaking forces.48

Rescue Riots, Community Defense, and Urban Rebellion in the 20th Century

During the 20th century, a notable shift in rioting took place: marginalized populations, especially people of color living in cities, used rioting to defend their communities against white civilian and police violence. In July 1900 Robert Charles, an itinerant African American laborer in New Orleans, rebuffed police manhandling during on-the-street questioning, fled amid gunshots, killed two police officers during the manhunt, and fled again. Hunted by white posses and police, Charles holed up in an associate’s house on Saratoga Street, where he died in a shootout with three hundred armed vigilantes surrounded by thousands of white onlookers, his corpse mutilated and carted to the city morgue, one week after the initial police stop. Historian William Ivy Hair has documented how at the time of his death Charles had embraced proto-black nationalism and was raising money to settle American blacks in Africa. In his act of resistance, Charles tapped into deep strains of armed self-defense within the African American community.49 He also joined a tradition of mobbing the police dating to the postbellum period. In the 1870s and 1880s, as whites reclaimed their place in southern urban police departments, white patrol officers faced increasingly hostile black crowds who issued taunts, threw rocks and bricks, and occasionally attempted to rescue the prisoner from official custody.50

Rescue riots aimed to protect the community from the state. For most of the 20th century, federal and state courts upheld this communitarian tradition as the individual’s right to resist unlawful arrest, recognizing the supposedly natural inclination of people to react violently to state cruelty. Anti-police mobbing also derived from young men’s desire to prove manhood and toughness. The historian Christopher Thale has chronicled how young Irish men and white patrolmen in New York City in the 1910s viewed street-corner scuffles as “not only a test of individual autonomy and authority, but of masculinity.”51 Likewise, researchers in Philadelphia in 1966 observed that both young men and white police viewed the “battle of the corner” as “challenges to their manhood.”52 Indeed, many of the urban riots of the 1960s began from this masculinist impulse, with African American or Latino crowds acting on a rumor of gendered state violence against a vulnerable member of the community, such as a pregnant woman or girl. Anti-police mobbing provided a means for rioters, typically young men, to protect their communities from frequently violent and racist mistreatment by police.53

During World War II, the largest internal migration in US history transformed America’s racial geography and led to a round of major rioting. Wartime manufacturing drew millions of African American migrants from the Jim Crow South: one hundred thousand to Chicago, sixty thousand to Detroit, twenty-five thousand to Philadelphia and Harlem, and two hundred thousand to Los Angeles.54 Residential segregation, enforced by federal law and street-level violence, created the conditions for intense boundary disputes when nonwhite migrants settled in or near white areas. As historian Victoria Wolcott documents, much urban rioting in the 1930s and 1940s arose from conflicts over access to segregated public recreation.55 The historian Arnold S. Hirsch documents dozens of Chicago riots over public housing desegregation in the 1950s. Famously, Martin Luther King Jr. was pelted with rocks on a march through a segregated white neighborhood in Chicago in the summer of 1966. Similar street violence occurred in Detroit and Philadelphia.56

Summer 1943 seemed to complete the turn toward community defense begun during World War I as the dominant mode of rioting. In 1943, the Social Science Institute at Fisk University documented 242 incidents of interracial violence in forty-seven cities. Most were traditional white mob justice. In Los Angeles, in June, white servicemen and civilians roamed the city attacking young Mexican American men dressed in zoot suits—baggy, brightly colored suits tapering at the ankles, a subversive statement that violated wartime clothing rations and to many whites signaled gang affiliation—in lynch-mob rituals involving physical violence and public humiliation. A week earlier, in Detroit, white and black youths sparred in the parks of Belle Isle. Hours later, one of the largest disorders in US history started. Crowds of African Americans looted stores in Black Bottom on the city’s eastside, and the following day, ten thousand whites amassed on Woodward Avenue, a main thoroughfare, and attacked black pedestrians at random. Detroit police did little to stop white brutality and instead heightened it. President Franklin Roosevelt had to send federal troops to restore order. Thirty-four people died during Detroit’s riots. Twenty-five were African American, seventeen killed by police. Eighty-five percent of the arrested were black, in a city more than two-thirds white.57

The Harlem disorder in August 1943 spotlighted the new riot landscape. When a black serviceman tried to prevent the arrest of a black woman for prostitution, the white officer got off a shot. A false rumor of the soldier’s death spread among Harlem residents, inflaming popular anger over the many black veterans lynched while in uniform in the South. Thousands began looting and burning stores and attacking police officers. City officials cordoned off the area to prevent interracial conflict, toured Harlem with notable African American activists to clear the streets, and instructed police to use restraint. Six people died. The 1943 disorder took place eight years after rioting by African Americans in Harlem in response to a rumor that a white police officer had killed a black boy for shoplifting at a department store. In both examples, rioters focused their fury on police and property.58

Demeaning, violent, and racist police tactics provoked a rise in rescue riots in the mid- to late 1950s, heralding the larger rebellions to come. Crowd rescues became national news. The peak year of public interest was 1961 when the New York Police Department reported 2,525 individual assaults against 492 officers. More than two hundred were done by groups of civilians. A close analysis of 255 police assaults in San Francisco between 1962 and 1965 showed that the most common precipitating police action was either an order to “move on” or physical contact. In some instances, spectators chanted “Birmingham” or “Freedom Now,” referencing famous southern battles over Jim Crow and civil rights. Several spontaneous street protests became serious riots, as in Kinloch, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb, in September 1962; North Philadelphia in October 1963; and Des Moines, Iowa, in May 1964.59

During the 1960s, large-scale rioting in cities and suburbs became a routine and widespread summer phenomenon. The sociologist Seymour Spilerman has counted 820 “racial incidents” in 673 cities between 1961 and 1968 involving at least thirty people and characterized by “Negro aggression.” Using thirty participants for 1964 to 1971, others have summarized the tally as follows: 752 uprisings, 1,802 days of riots, 228 deaths, 12,741 persons injured, 69,099 persons arrested, and 15,835 arson incidents. The more traditional shorter timeline with a higher participant threshold posits 221 deaths in 341 riots between 1963 and 1968. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, appointed in July 1967 and known as the Kerner Commission for its chair, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, estimated eighty-three deaths in 164 disorders in 128 cities in the first nine months of 1967 alone.60

The urban riots of the 1960s are distinctive in US history for several reasons. Departing from tradition, they were mob justice from below against the state, rather than an attempt to preserve social hierarchies. Their scale was national, in cities of every size in every region of the country, and their duration lasted several years. Some disorders were among the most destructive and lethal in US history, in part because the state responded with overwhelming force, including lynching-style violence.61 The urban rebellions also attained such scale because they belonged to a national insurgency against Jim Crow. As historian Malcolm McLaughlin has argued, to riot against white officialdom “was to make a political statement,” forcing scores of towns and cities to reckon with apartheid.62 According to sociologist Carol Mueller, most riots in the peak years of 1967 and 1968 took place in cities with populations below 250,000, and nearly half in cities with fewer than twenty-five thousand African American residents.63

Urban rioting in the 1960s took several forms and elicited a range of responses from authorities. In Rochester, New York, in July 1964, black teenagers, some of them in social clubs or gangs, helped lead and organize rioting on the second night, stockpiling Molotov cocktails and rocks on rooftops. In Hough, Cleveland, in July 1966, rioting started after a white bar-owner refused to serve a black patron a glass of water and police ignored the crowd’s pleas. In a few dozen cities, especially after the rise of Black Power in 1966, black teenagers used rioting as a bargaining tactic to obtain meetings with the mayor and demand concessions, typically better recreation, more employment opportunities, and police reforms like civilian review and an end to investigative arrests.64 Looting was a feature of most riots. In some cities, rioters targeted white merchants especially resented by the community for charging high prices for inferior goods and extending credit at high interest rates. Elsewhere, looters ignored “Soul Brother” signs and wrecked any store with desired merchandise.65

A handful of riots produced mass destruction and casualties. The six-day rebellion in Watts, Los Angeles, in August 1965, led to four thousand arrests, six hundred damaged buildings (two hundred from fire), and thirty-five deaths. Thirteen people were killed while looting, six shot in the back. Los Angeles Police killed nineteen civilians. Seventeen were black, one was Latino, and one was Japanese-American. The National Guard killed eight. The rebellions in Newark and Detroit in late July 1967 combined for sixty-six deaths, twenty-three and forty-three, respectively. Of the dead, fifty-four were African American. Twenty-two were looters, fourteen shot while fleeing. In both cities, police shot into people’s homes. In vivid testimony to the Kerner Commission, victims described police torturing, humiliating, and viciously beating people on the street and at the station house. Some state violence resembled the emasculating rituals of lynching: white Detroit cops used rifle butts to bash black men in the genitals upon arrest. At the Algiers Motel, Detroit police tortured and killed three black teenage boys and taunted their white female companions for socializing with black men.66

Scholars have documented a dramatic increase in rioting in other marginalized communities in the late 1960s and 1970s. Collective violence provided a means for invisible and beleaguered minorities to defy oppressive authority and take a public stand for their rights and dignity. Historian Aaron Fountain has found twelve Latino riots for all of 1966 to 1969 but seventeen in each of 1970 and 1971. Of the eighty-nine total Latino riots Fountain identified between 1966 and 2012, two-thirds involved Puerto Ricans and most took place in the Northeast—New Jersey had seventeen. Many Latino uprisings responded to police violence but tapped into familiar grievances over unequal education, housing, recreation, and employment. Gays and lesbians famously rioted at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969 to protest police harassment, building upon prior activism to help launch the Gay Liberation Movement. Prison riots became more common at the height of Black Power, rising from five in 1967, to fifteen in 1968, twenty-seven in 1970, thirty-seven in 1971, and forty-two in 1972, the most in US history. In September 1971, more than two thousand prisoners rioted at Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York over appalling conditions and the recent killing of African American prison activist George Jackson at St. Quentin. Attica inmates seized control of a prison wing, took guards hostage, and negotiated for better conditions with prison officials. Governor Nelson Rockefeller instead dispatched state police who slaughtered forty-three people, including thirty-three inmates and ten guards.67

An End to Rioting? The State’s Monopoly on Violence Since the 1970s

In retrospect, the burst of rioting in the early 1970s was more of an end than a beginning. Since 1975, rioting has declined overall and large-scale rebellions have almost entirely disappeared. The two major riots of this period—Miami in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1992—combined popular anger directed at the state and other racial groups. Miami had eighteen deaths and $80 million in property damage. In Los Angeles, the unrest spanned several dozen square miles, caused fifty-one deaths and cost more than $1 billion. In both cities, the spark was the jury acquittal of officers responsible for horrific violence—fatal in the case of Miami—against black men guilty of traffic violations. Yet most riot fatalities in both cities were caused by civilians not police. Both uprisings reflected the country’s changing demographics since the Immigration Act of 1965 relaxed immigration restrictions on East Asia and the global South. As in past interracial riots, labor competition between native-born and foreign-born racial groups, long a source of tension, resulted in violent clashes between African Americans and Cubans in Miami and African Americans and South Koreans in Los Angeles. Also, journalist Mike Davis has argued that there were two Los Angeles riots: the more famous one led by African Americans in South Central and the lesser-known one in Mid-City, where 225,000 Mexican and Central American immigrants had settled in the previous decade, struggling to survive on meager earnings from manual labor and service work.68

For scholars puzzling over the relative absence of rioting since the 1970s, Miami and Los Angeles have provided glaring exceptions to a new norm. The historian Michael Katz has identified several factors for why urban unrest dissipated. The boundary disputes, a crucial catalyst for many 20th-century riots, subsided as millions of whites migrated to the suburbs. New immigrants after 1970 maintained a low profile in fear of native xenophobia. The Cuban and Korean populations in Miami and Los Angeles, respectively, were well established, and although many Latinos rioted in Los Angeles, immigrant fears were soon validated when Republicans and Democrats from Southern California proposed immediately deporting undocumented immigrants arrested during the unrest or depriving their US-born children of citizenship. Katz further argues that class stratification within the African American community, combined with greater black political representation, made rioting less feasible and desirable.69

A final factor in the decline of rioting was the dramatic expansion in state capacities to suppress mass civilian violence. In 1965, Congress created the Office of Law Enforcement Assistance to offer modest funds to local criminal justice agencies, including police. Three years later, after hundreds of riots and a sudden increase in criminal violence, a law-and-order Congress formally established the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). Between 1969 and 1980, the agency spent $7.5 billion on a wide range of initiatives. Local authorities used some on education and training and some to hire more police officers and guards, build more jails and prisons, and acquire more powerful weaponry. The federal money, although unprecedented, amounted to 5 percent of total spending on crime control. Local police budgets ballooned from $2 billion in 1965 to $58 billion in 1995 to more than $90 billion in 2015. State and local governments spent $17 billion on incarceration in 1980 and $71 billion in 2013. Rescue riots were perhaps a more tempting option against officers carrying only a baton and a pistol than against heavily armed SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) members riding in armored personnel carriers.70

Yet, aggressive urban policing has not only deterred potential disorder but has arguably provoked retaliatory violence from heavily policed populations. Rioting has thus ebbed but not disappeared, remaining in the early 21st century a communal check on state violence. Deaths of young black men at the hands of police has caused prolonged community defense unrest, mainly looting and burning stores, in a handful of cities since 2000: Cincinnati, Ohio, in April 2001; Oakland, California, in January 2009; Ferguson, Missouri in August and November 2014; Baltimore, Maryland, in April 2015; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin in August 2016.

Discussion of the Literature

The state of US riot history in 2018 is sprawling, hardly a field in any real sense. Perhaps that is progress. In 1970, Richard Hofstadter proclaimed that “the rediscovery of our violence will undoubtedly be one of the most important intellectual legacies of the 1960s.”71 At that time of urban rebellion and political violence, US historians began to study more closely and systematically America’s violent past. Many were inspired by European historians E. P. Thompson, George Rudé, Natalie Zemon Davis, and Eric Hobsbawm, whose signal contribution was to treat disorderly crowds and rioters as rational actors whose violence contained hidden clues to the desires and social worlds of ordinary people and the power relations that structured their lives.72 Richard Maxwell Brown soon published his influential study arguing that American violence was rooted in a vigilante tradition that arose in frontier colonial South Carolina.73 A wave of urban riot histories was published at this time, most notably by Dominic Capeci Jr. on Detroit, Capeci and Martha F. Wilkerson on Harlem, and William Tuttle Jr. on Chicago.74 This work was greatly indebted to social scientific theories on “status deprivation” and crowd behavior innovated by sociologists.75 It also followed the protocols of social history, with painstaking research documenting the lives of ordinary people who belonged to the universe of the riot event. Since the pioneering works of the 1970s, only a few have attempted a grand narrative. The historian Paul Gilje wrote perhaps the only recent synthetic historical monograph on US rioting, published in 1995.76

Perhaps the field’s waning sense of mission represents progress, since America’s violent past is no longer so arresting or surprising. Still, the scholarship to arrive after the initial wave has coalesced around a few lines of inquiry. Instead of deeply exploring the causes and consequences of single events, historians write about rioting as a practice of popular justice and how it relates to dominant political structures or conflicts of a particular moment, such as Wayne Lee on the colonial era, David Grimsted on the antebellum period, Victoria Wolcott on the 1910s to the 1960s, and Malcolm McLaughlin on the 1960s.77 Similarly, the new lynching historiography has moved from case studies to regional or national histories and has mainly focused on uncovering patterns in violence linking crowds to social structures and ideology. Historians Christopher Waldrep and Michael Pfeifer in particular emphasize how lynching rose and fell in concert with changes in dominant legal practice and law enforcement.78 Likewise, historian Alex Elkins encourages riot scholars to trace the historical development of rioting and policing as practices of popular justice that have moved in tandem.79

Primary Sources

Some riots are better documented than others, but most leave a similar paper trail.

Government Archives

State and Local Archives

In the 19th and 20th century, it was common for local or state authorities to order an autopsy of a riot through some commission appointed for the purpose. These bodies produced reports that are often available at local public libraries or archives. Some have been digitized. More than a few commissions left behind substantial records. Court and police records, in addition to providing basic information about the event (number of arrests, property damage, etc.), will offer some detail on who the rioters were (residence, occupation, age, sex, race, etc.). City and state archives, including the papers of public officials, will offer background on the participants in the conflict, the core grievances, and actions taken in the aftermath. For rioting after World War II, municipal human relations commissions closely documented intergroup tensions and conflict. Their papers are often stored in the special collections of public universities. For instance, the Detroit Commission on Community Relations has their complete papers at the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University.

National Archives

Starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the federal government created new agencies in social services and law enforcement, national archives become more relevant and essential, such as the Freedmen’s Bureau or the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some rioting was serious enough to warrant federal attention. The East St. Louis Riot of 1917 crossed state lines and thus prompted the US House of Representatives to appoint a committee, whose records are now stored at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The 1960s urban rebellions led President Lyndon Johnson to create the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. The records are kept at Johnson’s presidential library in Austin, Texas.

Private Collections

Private collections of activists, notables, or organizations will give additional insight into the issues that mattered most to contemporaries. If researching the 20th century, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People made it a part of its core mission to document mob violence. Their papers are invaluable. The national papers are housed at the Library of Congress. Local branch papers are typically stored in special collections at universities. For the 19th century, riot historians rely on newspaper accounts—now digitized but also kept as microfilm at many university libraries or archives—and the letters, diaries, and memoirs of elite individuals, including persons directly involved in the riot.

Further Reading

Brown, Richard Maxwell. Strain of Violence: Historical Studies of American Violence and Vigilantism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Carrigan, William D., and Clive Webb. “The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928.” Journal of Social History 37, no. 2 (2003): 411–438.Find this resource:

Elkins, Alex. “Battle of the Corner: Urban Policing and Rioting in the United States, 1943–1971.” PhD diss., Temple University, 2017.Find this resource:

Gilje, Paul. “The Baltimore Riots of 1812 and the Breakdown of the Anglo-American Mob Tradition.” Journal of Social History 13, no. 4 (1980): 547–564.Find this resource:

Gilje, Paul. Rioting in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Maier, Pauline. “Popular Uprisings and Civil Authority in Eighteenth-Century America.” The William and Mary Quarterly 27, no. 1 (1970): 3–35.Find this resource:

McLaughlin, Malcolm. The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014.Find this resource:

Pfeifer, Michael J. The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Thompson, Heather Ann. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. New York: Pantheon, 2016.Find this resource:

Waldrep, Christopher. The Many Faces of Judge Lynch: Extralegal Violence and Punishment in America. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.Find this resource:

Wolcott, Victoria. Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.Find this resource:


(1.) Charles Tilly, Contentious Performances (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 8–19.

(2.) Paul Gilje, “The Baltimore Riots of 1812 and the Breakdown of the Anglo-American Mob Tradition,” Journal of Social History 13, no. 4 (1980): 547–564; and Gordon S. Wood, “A Note on Mobs in the American Revolution,” The William and Mary Quarterly 23, no. 4 (1966): 637–638.

(3.) Wayne E. Lee, Crowds and Soldiers in Revolutionary North Carolina: The Culture of Violence in Riot and War (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001), 3.

(4.) E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past & Present 50 (February 1971): 78; Eric J. Hobsbawm, Bandits (New York: Delacorte, 1969); George Rudé, The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England, 1730–1848 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1964); Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Rites of Violence: Religious Riot in Sixteenth-Century France,” Past & Present 59 (May 1973): 51–91; and Natalie Zemon Davis, “Writing ‘The Rites of Violence’ and Afterward,” Past & Present 214, no. S7 (2012): 8–29.

(6.) Lee, Crowds and Soldiers, 18.

(7.) Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 227.

(8.) David Montgomery, “The Shuttle and the Cross: Weavers and Artisans in the Kensington Riots of 1844,” Journal of Social History 5, no. 4 (1972): 414–421; and Paul Gilje, Rioting in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 64–67.

(9.) Lee, Crowds and Soldiers, 43.

(10.) Gilje, “The Baltimore Riots of 1812,” 548–557.

(11.) David Grimsted, American Mobbing, 1828–1861 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 4.

(12.) David Grimsted, “Rioting in Its Jacksonian Setting,” The American Historical Review 77, no. 2 (1972): 364.

(13.) Beverly C. Tomek, Pennsylvania Hall: A “Legal Lynching” in the Shadow of the Liberty Bell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

(14.) Grimsted, American Mobbing, 209–210.

(15.) Michael Feldberg, The Turbulent Era: Riot and Disorder in Jacksonian America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), chaps. 1–4; and Gilje, Rioting in America, 77–79

(16.) Gilje, Rioting in America, 74–75.

(17.) Thomas P. Slaughter, Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 144–146.

(18.) Allen Steinberg, The Transformation of Criminal Justice: Philadelphia, 1800–1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), chaps. 1, 2, and 6.

(19.) Steinberg, Transformation of Criminal Justice, 142; and Zachary M. Schrag, “Nativist Riots of 1844,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, 2013.

(20.) Manfred Berg, Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America (New York: Ivan R. Dee, 2011), 49–54.

(22.) Waldrep, The Many Faces, 49–61.

(23.) Philip J. Ethington, “Vigilantes and the Police: The Creation of a Professional Police Bureaucracy in San Francisco, 1847–1900,” Journal of Social History 21, no. 2 (1987): 202–203; Christopher Waldrep, “The Popular Sources of Political Authority in 1856 San Francisco: Lynching, Vigilance, and the Difference between Politics and Constitutionalism,” in Lynching beyond Dixie: American Mob Violence outside the South, ed. Michael J. Pfeifer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 56–63; and William D. Carrigan, “The Strange Career of Judge Lynch: Why the Study of Lynching Needs to Be Refocused on the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 7, no. 2 (2017): 302.

(25.) Ken Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West, 1850–1935 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 25.

(26.) Pfeifer, Roots of Rough Justice, 34, 38–39, 41.

(27.) Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West, 9.

(28.) William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, “The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928,” Journal of Social History 37, no. 2 (2003): 413–414, 416; Carrigan, “The Strange Career of Judge Lynch,” 305; and William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, “Muerto Por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against African Americans and Mexican Americans,” in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison Parker (College Park: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 49.

(29.) Carrigan and Webb, “The Lynching of Persons,” 416–417, 425–426; and Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West, 24–26.

(30.) Gilje, Rioting in America, 88.

(31.) Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of America’s Fugitive Slaves (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 147–150.

(32.) Slaughter, Bloody Dawn, 8–9, chap. 7.

(33.) Michael J. Pfeifer, “The Northern United States and the Genesis of Racial Lynching: The Lynching of African Americans in the Civil War Era,” The Journal of American History 97, no. 3 (2010): 627–631; and Pfeifer, Roots of Rough Justice, 71–76.

(34.) Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 7–11; and Gilje, Rioting in America, 91–92.

(35.) Bernstein, New York City Draft Riots, 5, 17–42, 288–289.

(36.) Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 187, 191–203; and Gilje, Rioting in America, 25.

(37.) Waldrep, The Many Faces, chap. 4

(38.) LeeAnna Keith, The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), xii–xiv.

(39.) Waldrep, The Many Faces, 86.

(40.) Waldrep, The Many Faces, chap. 6, 151–177; Pfeifer, Roots of Rough Justice, chap. 5; estimate comes from the Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, 2nd ed. (Montgomery, AL: Equal Justice Initiative, 2015), 5.

(41.) Ann V. Collins, All Hell Broke Loose: American Race Riots from the Progressive Era through World War II (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012), 5; and William M. Tuttle Jr., “Black Uplift, White Fury: The Shame of America’s Red Summers, 1917–1923” (paper presented at the Mid-America Conference on History, Springfield, MO, October 1, 2004 [revised 2014]), 1.

(42.) Stephen Kantrowitz, “Ben Tillman and Hendrix McLane, Agrarian Rebels: White Manhood, ‘The Farmers,’ and the Limits of Southern Populism,” The Journal of Southern History 66, no. 3 (2000): 499–500; Collins, All Hell Broke Loose, 36–41; and David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson, eds., Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

(43.) Malcolm McLaughlin, Power, Community, and Racial Killing in East St. Louis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Charles L. Lumpkins, American Pogrom: The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2008); and Elliot Rudwick, Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964).

(44.) Collins, All Hell Broke Loose, 95–99; William M. Tuttle Jr., Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (New York: Atheneum, 1970); and Tuttle Jr., “Black Uplift, White Fury,” 6, 25.

(45.) Collins, All Hell Broke Loose, 71, 107–112; Tuttle Jr., “Black Uplift, White Fury,” 6–7; and Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (New York: Henry Holt, 2011).

(46.) Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1982), chap. 3, 71–72.

(47.) Robert M. Fogelson, America’s Armories: Architecture, Society and Public Order (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 20–21; and Philip Taft and Philip Ross, “American Labor Violence: Its Causes, Character, and Outcome,” in Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives; A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1969), 221–301.

(48.) Fogelson, America’s Armories, 34–42; and P. O. Ray, “Metropolitan and State Police,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 11, no. 3 (1920): 453–467.

(49.) William Ivy Hair, Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900, 2nd ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008); Charles E. Cobb Jr., This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible (New York: Basic Books, 2014); Karlos K. Hill, “Black Vigilantism: The Rise and Decline of African American Lynch Mob Activity in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, 1883–1923,” The Journal of African American History 95 (2010): 26–43; Steven Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South, from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); Shannon King, “‘Ready to Shoot and Do Shoot’: Black Working-Class Self-Defense and Community Politics in Harlem, New York, during the 1920s,” Journal of Urban History 37, no. 5 (2011): 757–774; Donna Murch, Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); and Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

(50.) Howard N. Rabinowitz, “The Conflict between Blacks and the Police in the Urban South, 1865–1900,” The Historian 39, no. 1 (1976): 62–76, 70–74.

(51.) Christopher P. Thale, “Civilizing New York City: Police Patrol, 1880–1935” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1995), 270.

(52.) Joseph D. Lohman and Gordon E. Misner, The Police and the Community: The Dynamics of Their Relationship in a Changing Society, Field Surveys IV, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1966), 156.

(54.) Karl E. Johnson, “Black Philadelphia in Transition: The African American Struggle on the Homefront during World War II and the Cold War Period, 1941–1963” (PhD diss., Temple University, 2001), 28; Josh Sides, L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003), 43; Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 23, 41; and Dominic J. Capeci Jr. and Martha Wilkerson, “The Detroit Rioters of 1943: A Reinterpretation,” Michigan Historical Review 16, no. 1 (1990): 52.

(56.) Arnold R. Hirsch, “Massive Resistance in the Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953–1966,” The Journal of American History 82, no. 2 (1995): 533–537, 547–548, 550; Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), chap. 2; Thomas J. Sugrue, “Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940–1964,” The Journal of American History 82, no. 2 (1995): 560–562; and Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 175–177.

(57.) Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 109–112.

(58.) Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 112–113; and Cheryl Greenberg, “The Politics of Disorder: Reexamining Harlem’s Riots of 1935 and 1943,” Journal of Urban History 18 (August 1992): 395–441.

(59.) Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 275–277, 285–293, 306–363.

(60.) Seymour Spilerman, “The Causes of Racial Disturbances: A Comparison of Alternative Explanations,” American Sociological Review 35, no. 4 (1970): 630; William J. Collins and Robert A. Margo, “The Economic Aftermath of the 1960s Riots in American Cities: Evidence from Property Values,” The Journal of Economic History 67, no. 4 (2007): 853; Sidney Fine, Violence in the Model City: The Cavanagh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967, 2nd ed. (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2007), 299; and Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1968), 65.

(61.) Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 430–456.

(62.) Malcolm McLaughlin, The Long, Hot Summer of 1967: Urban Rebellion in America (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014), 10; see also Max Arthur Herman, Summer of Rage: An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots (New York: Peter Lang, 2017); and Mark Krasovic, The Newark Frontier: Community Action in the Great Society (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016).

(63.) Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 402; and Carol Elizabeth Mueller, “Riot Negotiations: Conditions of Successful Bargaining in the Urban Riots of 1967 and 1968” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 1971), 132–138.

(64.) Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 396–430; Todd M. Michney, Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 8–9; and Todd M. Michney, “Race, Violence, and Urban Territoriality: Cleveland’s Little Italy and the 1966 Hough Uprising,” Journal of Urban History 32, no. 3 (2006): 404–428

(65.) Malcolm McLaughlin, The Long, Hot Summer, 164–176.

(66.) Elkins, “Battle of the Corner,” 436–437, 439–442, 448–452.

(67.) Aaron Fountain, “Forgotten Latino Urban Riots and Why They Can Happen Again,” Latino Rebels, May 2, 2016; Pedro Amaury Regalado, “Urban Uprisings, 1960s–1970s,” in 50 Events That Shaped Latino History: An Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic, ed. Lilia Fernandez (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2018), 556–571; Gregg Lee Carter, “Hispanic Rioting During the Civil Rights Era,” Sociological Forum 7, no. 2 (1992): 301–322; Lilia Fernandez, Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 159–167; Marie Gottschalk, The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 178–179; Dan Berger, Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 93; and Heather Ann Thompson, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (New York: Pantheon, 2016).

(68.) Max Arthur Herman, Fighting in the Streets: Ethnic Succession and Urban Unrest in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), 114–156; Bruce Porter and Marvin Dunn, The Miami Riot of 1980: Crossing the Bounds (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1984); Mike Davis, “Who Killed Los Angeles? Part Two: The Verdict is Given,” New Left Review I, no. 199 (May–June 1993): 37–40; and Brenda E. Stevenson, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 279, 288–290.

(69.) Mike Davis, “In L.A., Burning All Illusions,” The Nation, June 1, 1992, 744.

(70.) Michael B. Katz, Why Don’t American Cities Burn? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 91–92; “Police And Corrections Expenditures,” Urban Institute; and “State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education,” a brief from the US Department of Education, Policy and Program Studies Service, July 2016, 1.

(71.) Richard Hofstadter, “Introduction,” in American Violence: A Documentary History, ed. Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace (New York: Vintage, 1970), 3.

(72.) Paul A. Gilje, “The Crowd in American History,” American Transcendental Quarterly 17, no. 3 (2003): 146–157.

(74.) Tuttle Jr., Race Riot; Domenic J. Capeci, The Harlem Riot of 1943 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1977); and Domenic J. Capeci and Martha Frances Wilkerson, Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters of 1943 (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1991).

(75.) Domenic J. Capeci, “Race Riot Redux: William M. Tuttle, Jr. and the Study of Racial Violence,” Reviews in American History 29, no. 1 (2001): 167; and Gilje, “The Crowd in American History,” 148–151.

(76.) Gilje, Rioting in America.

(77.) Lee, Crowds and Soldiers; Grimsted, American Mobbing; Wolcott, Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters; and McLaughlin, The Long, Hot Summer.

(78.) Michael J. Pfeifer, “At the Hands of Parties Unknown? The State of the Field of Lynching Scholarship,” The Journal of American History 101, no. 3 (2014): 832–846; and Carrigan, “The Strange Career of Judge Lynch.”

(79.) Alex Elkins, “Stand Our Ground: The Street Justice of Urban American Riots, 1900–1968,” Journal of Urban History 42, no. 2 (2016): 422–423.