May 30th, 1822

Denmark Vesey's Rebellion Against Slavery Uncovered

Denmark Vesey spent his childhood traveling throughout the Caribbean as an enslaved black servant of a white sea captain, then worked for the captain as a house servant in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Vesey eventually started a family, fathered three children and, in 1799, purchased his freedom with $1500 won in a lottery. His family remained enslaved.

Over the next decade, Mr. Vesey worked as a carpenter and co-founded an African Methodist Episcopal church. In 1820, Charleston authorities ordered the closure of Mr. Vesey's church. Angered by the closure, fed up with the continued enslavement of his children, and inspired by the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Mr. Vesey began planning a rebellion to free enslaved black people in Charleston. The attack was planned for the second week of July 1822.

Mr. Vesey modeled his plan after the Haitian Revolution by exhorting his followers to kill their masters, free other enslaved blacks in the city, and sail to Haiti before whites could retaliate. On May 30, 1822, the plan was foiled when a black house servant named George Wilson informed his master of the pending revolt. Charleston authorities promptly arrested and interrogated dozens of suspected conspirators. Mr. Vesey was captured on June 22 and tortured but he refused to identify his comrades.

A total of 131 men was arrested; 67 were convicted and 35, including Denmark Vesey, were executed. The city destroyed Mr. Vesey's church building. Mr. Vesey and his followers inspired abolitionists and black soldiers through the Civil War.


May 30th, 1943

White Sailors and Soldiers Attack Latino Youth in Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots

World War II fueled a population influx into Los Angeles, California, in 1943 that coincided with an increase in petty crime. White residents blamed Latino youth, who often wore distinctive, colorful garments known as “zoot suits.” Many members of the military stationed in Los Angeles were hostile to wearers of zoot suits because wartime rationing rules forbade the production of such clothing. On May 30, 1943, a scuffle between a group of soldiers and a group of zoot suit wearers sparked a series of conflicts that became known as the Zoot Suit Riots.

During the riots, white sailors and soldiers attacked Latino youth wearing zoot suits, beat them with belt buckles and ropes, and stripped them of their clothes. Law enforcement did not intervene in support of the Latino victims and instead charged them with vagrancy. Los Angeles newspapers encouraged the violence and portrayed Latino youth as deserving of brutal treatment. There are no reports that death or serious injury resulted from the violence.

Critical observers rejected the crime-control justifications for the attacks and linked “zoot suit” violence to historical prejudice against people of color in the United States. A July 1943 article in Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), asserted that “Zoot Riots are Race Riots.” Following the Zoot Suit Riots, similar incidents in which white members of the military and white employees of military contractors would target black and Latino youth with violence occurred in cities throughout the United States. By one estimate, 242 instances of racial violence occurred in forty-seven American cities in 1943 alone.