September 18th, 1923

Pennsylvania Mayor Orders Black and Mexican American Residents to Leave

Late in August 1923, Mayor Joseph Cauffiel of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, issued an executive order demanding that African American and Mexican American residents who had lived there for fewer than seven years leave town “for their own safety.” As justification, he stated that “we have been sitting on a bomb in this city... I feared an outbreak against the negroes unless I acted quickly... many of the newcomers were bad people, including ex-convicts.”

Following an inquiry by the state governor in response to pressure from the NAACP and the Mexican Embassy, Mayor Cauffiel backtracked on his statements, claiming that he had meant to make a mere “suggestion.” By that time, however, over 2,000 families had left Johnstown. No attempt was made to facilitate their return or compensate them for their losses. Such backlash against African-Americans in the north became more prominent in the years following the great migration, during which demographic shifts brought latent tensions to the forefront.