August 2nd, 1964

Claims of Police Brutality Spark Riots in Jersey City, New Jersey

The Jersey City Riots began on August 2, 1964, when police attempted to arrest Dolores Shannon, a 26-year-old black woman, in the Booker T. Washington housing project for alleged disorderly conduct. Walter Mays, 34, a black man sitting on his nearby porch, objected that police were handling Ms. Shannon too harshly. Though police claimed Mr. Mays attacked them, witnesses insisted police physically attacked Mr. Mays and then arrested him. A crowd of black people who had gathered at the scene chanted “police brutality!” in protest, and responding patrolmen were pelted with rocks and garbage. In the three days of riots that followed, black community members angered by police mistreatment and economic depression stoned cars and looted from local stores.

Experiencing the most extreme impacts of the city’s economic downturn, Jersey City’s African American community of 280,000 people was primarily comprised of low-income families living in racially segregated neighborhoods plagued by police brutality, limited recreational resources, and poor environmental maintenance from the city government. When the riots erupted, leaders from the local NAACP chapter and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) stepped forward to mediate between the African American community and Jersey City authorities led by Mayor Thomas J. Whelan.

Through these leaders, the black community presented Mayor Whelan with a list of demands: accessible recreational areas for black youth; more black police officers; and better living conditions. NAACP and CORE leaders urged city officials to consider the demands, but Mayor Whelan was resistant and accused the leaders of bringing “hooligan youth” to meet with him. A first meeting, held on August 3rd amidst continuing rioting, lasted just twenty-six minutes and made no progress.

The rioting ultimately ended on the third night of unrest, August 4th, when city officials dispatched 400 police officers to the streets. That same night, black clergy traveled through the city urging an end to the riots using NAACP bullhorns and sound equipment to announce that one of the community’s demands had been met: the city had agreed to re-open two closed local parks.

The Jersey City riot, one of the first race riots to occur after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, left 46 people injured, 71 homes and businesses damaged, and 52 people under arrest.


August 2nd, 1900

North Carolina Votes to Disenfranchise Black Residents

On August 2, 1900, voters in North Carolina cast their ballots in favor of a constitutional amendment that imposed the passing of a literacy test as a requirement to register to vote, with an exception made for illiterate registrants with a relative who had voted in an election prior to the year 1863. The effect of these provisions was to disenfranchise most of the state’s African-American voting population while ensuring that most of the state’s poor white residents would be able to vote.

To the drafters and supporters of the amendment, this outcome was a feature, not a glitch. In the days and months leading up to the special election, campaign events throughout the state encouraged white citizens to cast their votes for disenfranchisement. On the eve of the election. William A. Guthrie, a former confederate officer and candidate for the state Supreme Court, delivered a speech before a crowd of over 12,000 in Concord, NC, proclaiming:

“The people of the east and west are coming together. The amendment will pass and the negro curbed in every part of the state. Good government will be restored everywhere. Then our ladies can walk the streets of our towns in safety, day or night. White women will not be afraid to go about alone in the country. We will teach the colored race that our people must be respected. We have restrained and conquered other races. They obeyed our demands or were exterminated with the sword. We are at a crisis. Let us rise to the occasion. Come together!”

The campaign was also marked by widespread attempts to suppress the African-American vote, with one prominent democrat announcing: “no negro must vote. All white men must vote. We’ll try to bring this about by law. If that don’t go—well, we can try another tack. The white man must and will rule in North Carolina, no matter what methods are necessary to give him authority.” The effect of racially discriminatory voting laws in North Carolina and throughout the South would persist for generations without federal interference until the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965.