January 19th, 1930
White Mobs Attack Filipino Farmworkers in Watsonville, California
Beginning on January 19, 1930, mobs of upwards of 500 whites roamed Watsonville, California, and the surrounding towns and farms, setting upon Filipino farmworkers and their property in a rage after Filipino men were seen dancing with white women at a newly opened local dance hall.
In the days and weeks before the rioting, politicians and community leaders had ramped up their anti-Filipino rhetoric, calling the farmworkers “a menace,” and demanding that Filipinos be deported so “white people who have inherited this country for themselves and their offspring could live.” A local judge stated, “The worst part of [the Filipino man] being here is his mixing with young white girls from thirteen to seventeen. He gives them silk underwear and makes them pregnant and crowds whites out of jobs in the bargain.”
The Watsonville mob was initially turned away from the dance hall by security guards and the armed owners of the hall, but returned in full force to beat dozens of Filipino farmworkers. The beatings continued elsewhere in the area, and on the night of January 22, a mob ransacked Filipino farmworkers’ houses and shot into the dwellings, killing Fermin Tobera. No one was ever charged with that murder; seven men were later convicted of rioting, but received either probation or 30 days in jail.
The anti-Filipino frenzy continued in California in the months after the Watsonville riots ended on January 23, 1930, with violence breaking out in Stockton, Salinas, San Francisco, and San Jose. In 1933, California amended the law to prohibit marriages between Filipinos and whites. And in 1934, answering in part a long-standing request of California's government, Congress reduced Filipino immigration to the United States to just 50 people per year. In September 2011, the California legislature officially expressed regret and apologized for these events and actions.
August 7th, 1930
Mob of 10,000 Lynches Two Black Men in Marion, Indiana
On August 7, 1930, a white mob lynched Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. The two young black men, 18 and 19 years old respectively, had been arrested that afternoon. They were accused of attacking a young white couple, beating and fatally shooting the man, and attempting to assault the woman. Once the men were detained, word of the charges spread and a growing mob of angry white residents gathered outside the county jail.
Around 9:30 p.m., the mob attempted to rush the jail and was repelled by tear gas. An hour later, they successfully barreled past the sheriff and three deputies, grabbed Shipp and Smith from their cells as they prayed, and dragged them into the street. By then numbering between 5000 and 10,000 people (half the white population of Grant County) the mob beat, tortured, and hung both men from trees in the courthouse yard, brutally executing them without benefit of trial or legal proof of guilt. As the men’s bodies hung, members of the mob re-entered the jail and grabbed 16-year-old James Cameron, another youth being held for the crime. The mob beat Cameron severely and were preparing to hang him alongside the others when a member of the crowd intervened and insisted he was innocent. Cameron was released and the mob later dispersed.
Enraged by the lynching, the NAACP traveled to Marion to investigate, and later provided United States Attorney General James Ogden with the names of 27 people believed to have participated. Though the lynching and its spectators were photographed, local residents claimed not to recognize anyone pictured and no one was charged or tried in connection with the killings. A photograph of Shipp’s and Smith’s battered corpses hanging lifeless from a tree, with white spectators proudly standing below, remains one of the most iconic lynching photographs. After seeing the photo in 1937, New York schoolteacher Abe Meeropol was inspired to write “Strange Fruit,” a haunting poem about lynching that later became a famous song recorded by Billie Holiday.
January 12th, 1931
Black Residents Flee Maryville, Missouri, After Lynching
On January 12, 1931, an African American man named Raymond Gunn was burned to death by a mob in Maryville, Missouri, as local officials escorted him to court to stand trial for the murder of Velma Colter, a white schoolteacher.
Arrested two days after Ms. Colter’s body was discovered, Raymond Gunn allegedly confessed to the murder. Based upon fears that “lynch law” would be invoked after news of Mr. Gunn’s confession spread, he was taken to jail in a neighboring county for protection. Because of attempted mob attacks, Mr. Gunn was transported to another prison with reinforcement from firemen and a tank company of the Missouri National Guard.
On the morning of Mr. Gunn’s arraignment, a mob of about two thousand white men, women, and children gathered outside the courthouse. Despite the previous attacks, Sheriff Harve England did not request assistance from the National Guard. With little resistance from local law enforcement, and sixty members of the National Guard at ease in an armory one block from the courthouse, Mr. Gunn was seized by the mob and burned on the roof of the schoolhouse where Ms. Colter was murdered. In an attempt to defend the gross inaction, a National Guard general argued that he was under the sheriff’s orders and insisted that state law prevented him from intervening without prior approval.
In the days following Mr. Gunn’s murder, twenty-two of the one hundred recorded African American residents of Maryville fled the town. Despite investigations initiated by state officials, no one was ever arrested or convicted of any crime related to the lynching of Raymond Gunn.
March 26th, 1931
In 1931, nine black teens riding a freight train north toward Memphis, Tennessee, were arrested after being falsely accused of raping two white women. After nearly being lynched, they were brought to trial in Scottsboro, Alabama.
Despite evidence that exonerated the teens, including a retraction by one of their accusers, the state pursued the case. All-white juries delivered guilty verdicts and all nine defendants, except the youngest, were sentenced to death. From 1931 to 1937, during a series of appeals and new trials, they languished in Alabama's Kilby prison, where they were repeatedly brutalized by guards.
In 1932, the United States Supreme Court concluded in Powell v. Alabama that the Scottsboro defendants had been denied adequate counsel at trial. In 1935, the Court in Norris v. Alabama again ruled in favor of the defendants, overturning their convictions because Alabama had systematically excluded black people from jury service.
Finally, in 1937, four of the defendants were released and five were given sentences from twenty years to life; four of those were released on parole between 1943 and 1950. The fifth escaped prison in 1948 and fled to Michigan. Clarence Norris walked out of Kilby Prison after being paroled in 1946 and moved north; he received a full pardon from Governor George Wallace in 1976.
November 7th, 1931
Fisk University Dean and Student Die In Car Wreck After Denied Hospital Care Due to Race
On November 7, 1931, Dean Juliette Derricotte of Fisk University in Nashville was driving three students to her parents’ home in Atlanta when a Model T driven by an older white man suddenly swerved and struck Ms. Derricotte’s car, overturning it into a ditch. The white driver stopped to yell at the black occupants of Ms. Derricotte’s car for damaging his own vehicle, then left the scene. Nearby Hamilton Memorial Hospital in Dalton, Georgia, did not admit African American patients, so Ms. Derricotte and the three students were treated by a white doctor at his office in Dalton and then taken to the home of an African American woman to recuperate – though Ms. Derricotte and one of the students, Nina Johnson, were critically injured.
Six hours after the accident, one of the less seriously injured students was able to reach a Chattanooga hospital by phone, and arrangements were made to transport Ms. Derricotte and Ms. Johnson the 35 miles to that facility. However, it was too late: Ms. Derricotte died on her way to the hospital, at age 34, and Ms. Johnson died the next day.
The Committee on Interracial Cooperation opened an investigation into the incident, and Walter White, secretary of the New York-based NAACP, traveled south in December 1931 to learn more. He later concluded, “The barbarity of race segregation in the South is shown in all its brutal ugliness by the willingness to let cultured, respected, and leading colored women die for lack of hospital facilities which are available to any white person no matter how low in social scale.”
October 10th, 1933
Mexican Diplomat, Farmworkers Killed During California Labor Strike
On October 10, 1933, three Mexican nationals were killed during cotton growers’ attempts to break a strike by roughly 15,000-18,000 cotton pickers and cotton gin workers in central California. Ninety-five percent of the strikers were Mexican migrant workers, whose pay had fallen more than 75 percent since 1930, even as the price of cotton rose 150 percent in 1932. The strikers sought to be paid $1 per hundred pounds of cotton picked; the owners offered 60 cents.
Two of those killed in the shooting were pickers, Dolores Hernandez and Pedro Subia; the third was a Mexican consular representative, Delfino Davila. Hernandez and Davila were shot in Pixley, California, when at least thirty armed ranchers confronted dozens of unarmed Mexican laborers who had gathered to hear one of the strike leaders speak. Eight other strikers were also shot and wounded by the ranchers. Subia was killed the same day in a separate incident, when other armed growers and police confronted strikers at a nearby farm. Three other strikers were shot and wounded alongside Subia.
Days earlier, to try to break the strike, growers had evicted the Mexican workers and their families from housing on the growers’ property. The workers and families camped in nearby fields, but growers conspired with local authorities and businesses to refuse the strikers access to food. Even the federal government promised food aid only if the migrant farmworkers acceded to the growers’ demands; over the course of two weeks, seven children of strikers reportedly died from malnutrition.
The strike ended on October 26, 1933, when the growers agreed to pay 75 cents per 100 pounds of cotton. In February 1934, eight ranchers standing trial for the murder of Hernandez and Davila were found not guilty by an all-white local jury. No one was ever tried for killing Subia.
January 28th, 1934
Black Man Cleared of Rape Charge; Later Lynched in Tampa, Florida
On January 28,1934, Robert Johnson, a 40-year-old black man, was arrested in Tampa, Florida, and accused of raping and robbing a white woman. Tampa police subsequently investigated and quickly cleared Johnson of the charges, but nonetheless issued a warrant accusing him of stealing chickens and turkeys. As a result, Johnson was not released, and had to be transferred from the city jail to the county jail.
Deputy Constable Thomas Grave, assigned to move Mr. Johnson, decided to do so after midnight; this was not standard procedure, and Graves later claimed he opted for a late night transfer to avoid waking up early in the morning. Around 2:30 a.m. on January 30th, Graves placed Johnson in the front seat of the police car and began driving to the county jail; on the way, Graves’s vehicle was stopped by three cars full of white men who allegedly disarmed Graves and made him lie face down in the backseat of his car while they kidnapped Robert Johnson.
The mob carried Johnson off to a wooded part of town along the Hillsborough River near Sligh Avenue, where about thirty people were gathered to watch the lynching. Johnson was killed with four shots to the head and one to the body, all fired from the pistol the mob had taken from Deputy Constable Graves.
Governor David Sholtz called for an investigation of the lynching and a grand jury was convened. Though Deputy Constable Graves testified that he was beaten by the mob, the grand jury noted that he bore no bruises or other signs of injury. Nevertheless, the grand jury’s investigation didn’t produce any charges of conspiracy, and no one was prosecuted for Robert Johnson’s murder.
July 5th, 1935
President Franklin Roosevelt Signs Discriminatory National Labor Relations Act
Throughout the 1930s, white Southern Democrats secured amendments excluding the majority of blacks from the benefits and protections of New Deal legislation that built the central pillars of the modern middle class. The Southern congressmen struck agricultural and domestic workers from the law establishing Social Security, barring over 60 percent of the black workforce overall, 85 percent of black women, and almost 75 percent of the Southern black workforce from receiving Social Security benefits. This included retirement benefits, welfare, and unemployment payments.
The Southern Democrats, capitalizing on their control of leadership positions in Congress and their effective veto power over almost any legislation, similarly barred farmworkers and domestic workers from the protections of laws creating modern labor unions, and setting minimum wage and maximum hours. The Southern legislators secured provisions requiring local administration of the GI Bill, small business loans, home mortgage assistance, educational grants, and nearly all forms of federal financial aid that built our modern middle class and the assets that can be passed from generation to generation. Southern Democrats also prevented Congress from including any anti-discrimination language in social welfare programs, such as hospital construction grants, school lunches, and community health services. As explained by Representative James Mark Wilcox from Florida, “You cannot put the Negro and the white man on the same basis and get away with it.”
As a result of this concerted effort by white Southern politicians, the unprecedented comprehensive government program represented by the New Deal disproportionately benefitted whites and largely excluded black people. The impact of this racially-motivated, discriminatory legislating continues to profoundly impact the nation today. According to the Pew Research Center, white households possess roughly 20 times as much wealth as black households, and more than a third of black people have zero or negative wealth, compared to just 15 percent of whites.
March 19th, 1939
Lloyd Gaines Disappears After Court Orders him Admitted to University of Missouri Law School
After graduating from the historically black Lincoln University in 1935, Lloyd Gaines applied for admission to the all-white University of Missouri School of Law, the only law school in the state. The University of Missouri rejected Mr. Gaines's application in March 1936 and offered to subsidize his tuition at an historically black law school or a non-segregated law school in another state.
With the NAACP's support, Mr. Gaines rejected the offer and sued the University of Missouri for admission. He lost in the circuit court and Missouri Supreme Court and appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. In December 1938, the Court ruled in Mr. Gaines's favor and ordered the University of Missouri to accept him to its law school or create an in-state law school for African Americans. The Missouri legislature responded by hastily establishing a separate, unequal law school for African Americans. In October 1939, the NAACP prepared to take legal action to protest the state's actions, only to find that Mr. Gaines was missing. A housekeeper at Mr. Gaines's Chicago residence reported last seeing him on March 19, 1939. He was never seen again.
Family members suspected that Mr. Gaines was abducted and murdered for his activism; others speculated he fled and assumed another identity in response to threats against him and his loved ones. To this day, Mr. Gaines's fate is unknown. Without a plaintiff, the desegregation lawsuit against the University of Missouri was dismissed. It would be another decade before the school would admit its first African American student.