July 19th, 1919

Race Riot Rages in Washington, DC

On July 19, 1919, rumors began spreading among white residents of Washington, DC, regarding a black man accused of an attempted sexual assault against the white wife of a sailor. Upon hearing news that police had released the black suspect, whites across the city began planning a violent rampage against the black community. For weeks prior, local whites had been angered by several sensationalized sex crime allegations against black men, and this last rumor lit the powder keg.

That night, a first mob of white men moved through a residential neighborhood off of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, gathering weapons and more members as they traveled. The mob encountered a black man named Charles Ralls near Ninth and D Streets in Southwest DC, and beat him severely. The mob beat its second victim, 55-year-old George Montgomery, badly enough to fracture his skull. Growing groups of whites, including civilians and military service members, spread out and continued their violent campaign deeper into the black community for several days.

At the time, Washington’s black community was relatively prosperous, and included many members of the military. As black citizens realized the police were not going to protect them from the attacks, many took up arms in their own defense. By the third day of rioting, armed black groups were confronting white mobs in shootouts and street fights. On the fourth day, federal troops were deployed to quell the violence and the riot ended. The conflict left nine people dead, 30 severely wounded, and 150 beaten.

(African American being stoned by whites during 1919 Chicago race riot.)