On Monday, June 12, before order had been restored in Tampa, trouble erupted 940 miles away in Cincinnati.
Beginning in October, 1965, assaults on middle-aged white women, several of whom were murdered, had generated an atmosphere of fear. When the "Cincinnati Strangler" was tentatively identified as a Negro, a new element of tension was injected into relations between the races.
In December, 1966, a Negro jazz musician named Posteal Laskey was arrested and charged with one of the murders. In May of 1967 he was convicted and sentenced to death. Two. of the principal witnesses against Laskey were Negroes. Nevertheless, many Negroes felt that, because of the charged atmosphere, he had not received a fair triaL
They were further aroused when, at about the same time, a white man, convicted of manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend, received a suspended sentence. Although the cases were dissimilar, there was talk in the Negro community that the difference in the sentences demonstrated a double standard of justice for white and for black.
A drive began in the Negro community to raise funds for an appeal. Laskey's cousin, Peter Frakes, began walking the streets on behalf of this appeal carrying a sandwich board declaring: "Cincinnati Guilty—Laskey Innocent." After warning him several times, police arrested Frakes on a charge of blocking pedestrian traffic.
Many Negroes viewed his arrest as evidence of police harassment, similar to the apparently selective enforcement of the city's anti-loitering ordinance. Between January, 1966, and June, 1967, 170 of some 240 persons arrested under the ordinance were Negro.
Frakes was arrested at 12:35 A.M. on Sunday, June 11. That evening, concurrently with the commencement of a Negro Baptist Convention, it was announced in one of the churches that a meeting to protest the Frakes arrest and the anti-loitering ordinance would be held the following night on the grounds of a junior high school in the Avondale District.
Part of the significance of such a protest meeting lay in the context of past events. Without the city's realizing what was occurring, over the years protest through political and non-violent channels had become increasingly difficult for Negroes. To young, militant Negroes, especially, such protest appeared to have become almost futile.
Although the city's Negro population had been rising swiftly —in 1967, 135,000 out of the city's 500,000 residents were Negroes—there was only one Negro on the city council. In the 1950's, with a far smaller Negro population, there had been two. Negroes attributed this to dilution of the Negro vote through abolition of the proportional representation system of electing the nine councilmen. When a Negro received the largest total vote of any of the councilmen—traditionally the criterion for choosing the mayor—tradition had been cast aside, and a white man was picked for mayor.
Although, by 1967, 40 percent of the school children were Negro, there was only one Negro on the Board of Education. Of 81 members of various city commissions, only one was a Negro.
Under the leadership of the NAACP, picketing, to protest lack of Negro membership in building trades unions, took place at the construction site of a new city convention hall. It produced no results. When the Reverend Fred Shuttles-worth, who had been one of the leaders of the Birmingham demonstrations of 1963, staged a protest against alleged discriminatory practices at the County Hospital, he and his followers were arrested and convicted of trespassing.
Traditional Negro leaders drawn from the middle class lost influence as promises made by the city produced petty results. In the spring of 1967, a group of 14 white and 14 Negro business and community leaders, called the Committee of 28, talked about 2,000 job openings for young Negroes. Only 65 materialized. Almost one out of cvery eight Cincinnati Negroes was unemployed. Two of every five Negro families were living on or below the border of poverty.
A study of the West End section of the city indicated that one out of every four Negro men living there was out of work. In one public housing area two-thirds of the fathers were missing. Of private housing occupied by Negroes, one-fourth was overcrowded, and half was deteriorated or dilapidated.
In the 90-degree temperature of Monday, June 12th, as throughout the summer, Negro youngsters roamed the streets. The two swimming pools available to them could accommodate only a handful. In the Avondale section—once a prosperous white middle class community, but now the home of more than half the city's Negro population—Negro youths watched white workers going to work at white-owned stores and businesses. One youth began to count the number of delivery trucks being driven by Negroes. During the course of the afternoon, of the 52 trucks he counted, only one had a Negro driver. His sampling was remarkably accurate. According to a study conducted by the Equal Employment Op- portunities Commission, less than 2 percent of truck drivers in the Cincinnati area are Negro.
Late in the afternoon the youth began to interfere with deliveries being made by white drivers. Dr. Bruce Green, president of the local NAACP chapter, was notified. Dr. Green asked his colleague, Dr. Robert Reid, the director of the Opportunities Industrialization Center, to go and try to calm the youngsters. Dr. Reid found several whom he knew, and convinced, them to go with him to the Avondale Special Services Office to talk things over.
They were drawing up plans for a meeting with merchants of the Avondale area when word came of an altercation at a nearby drugstore. Several of the youths left the meeting and rushed over to the store. Dr. Reid followed them. The owner of the store was complaining to the police that earlier the youths had been interfering with his business; he declared that he wasn't going to stand for it.
Dr. Reid was attempting to mediate when a police sergeant arrived and asked the officers what was going on. One allegedly replied that they had been called in because "young nigger punks were disrupting deliveries to the stores."
A dispute arose between Dr. Reid and the sergeant as to whether the officer had said "nigger." After further discussion the sergeant told the kids to "break it up!" Dr. Reid, together with some of the youngsters, returned to the Special Services Office. After talking to the youngsters again, Dr. Reid left to attend a meeting elsewhere.
Soon after, some of the youngsters headed for the junior high school, where the meeting protesting the Frakes arrest and the anti-loitering ordinance was scheduled to take place.
The police department, alerted to the possibility of a disturbance, mobilized. However, the police were wary of becoming, as some Negro militants had complained, an inciting factor. Some months earlier, when Ku Klux Klansmen had been attracted to the scene of a speech by Stokely Carmichael, a Negro crowd, reacting to the heavy police patrolling, had gathered about the car of a plainclothesman and attempted to overturn it. On Monday, June 12, the department decided to withhold its men from the immediate area of the meeting..
It appeared for a time as if this policy might be rewarded. Near the end of the rally, however, a Negro real estate broker arose to defend the police and the anti-loitering ordinance. The crowd, including the youngsters who had had the encounter with the police officers only a short time earlier, was incensed. When the meeting broke up, a missile was hurled through the window of a nearby church. A small fire was set in the street. A Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window of a drug store.
The police were able to react quickly. There was only one major confrontation between them and the mob. Little resistance was offered.
Although windows were broken in some two dozen stores, there was virtually no looting. There were 14 arrests, some unconnected with the disturbance. Among those arrested was a community worker, now studying for a doctorate at Brandeis University. When he went to the area to help get people off the streets, he was arrested and charged with loitering.
The next morning a judge of the Municipal Court, before whom most of the persons charged were to be brought, said he intended to mete out the maximum sentence to anyone found guilty of a riot-connected offense. Although the judge later told the Commission that he knew his statement was a "violation of judicial ethics," he said that he made it because the "city was in a state of siege," and he intended it to act as a deterrent against further violence.
Maximum sentences were, in fact, pronounced by the judge on all convicted in his court, regardless of the circumstances of the arrest, or the background of the persons arrested. Police were charging most white persons arrested with disorderly conduct—for which the maximum sentence is 30 days in jail and a $100 fine. Many Negroes, however, were charged with violation of the Riot Act—for which the maximum sentence is one year in jail plus a $500 fine. The consequent impression among a major portion of the Negro community was of discriminatory justice.
Tuesday morning Negro leaders presented a list of 11 demands and grievances stemming from the Monday night meeting to the municipal government. Included were demands for repeal of the anti-loitering law, release of all prisoners arrested during the disturbance, full employment for Negroes, and equal justice in the courts.
Municipal officials agreed that the city council would consider the demands. However, they rejected a suggestion that they attend an open-air meeting of residents in the Avondale section. City leaders did not want to give stature to the militants by recognizing them as the de facto representatives of the community. Yet, by all indications, the militants were the only persons with influence on the people on the streets.
Mayor Walton H. Bachrach declared that he was "quite surprised" by the disturbance because the council had "worked like hell" to help Negroes. Municipal officials, whose contacts were, as in other cities, generally with a few middle-class Negroes, appeared not to realize the volatile frustrations of Negroes in the ghetto.
Early in the evening a crowd, consisting mostly of teenagers and young adults, began to gather in the Avondale District. When, after a short time, no one appeared to give direction, they began to mill about. A few minutes before 7:00 P.M. cars were stoned and windows were broken. Police moved in to disperse the gathering.
Fires were set. When firemen reached the scene they were barraged with rocks and bottles. A full-scale confrontation took place between police riot squads and the Negro crowd. As police swept the streets, people scattered. According to the chief of police, at approximately 7:15, "All hell broke loose."
The disorder leaped to other sections of the city. The confusion and rapidity with which it spread made it almost impossible to determine its scope.
Many reports of fires set by Molotov cocktails, cars being stoned, and windows being broken were received by the police. A white motorist—who died three weeks later—and a Negro sitting on his porch suffered gunshot wounds. Rumors spread of Negro gangs raiding white neighborhoods, of shootings, and of organization of the riot. Nearly all of them were determined later to be unfounded.
At 9:40 P.M., following a request for aid to surrounding communities, Mayor Bachrach placed a call to the Governor asking for mobilization of the National Guard.
At 2:30 A.M., Wednesday the first Guard units appeared on the streets. They followed a policy of restraint in the use of weapons. Few shots were fired. Two hours later, the streets were quiet. Most of the damage was minor. Of 40-odd fires reported before dawn, only 11 resulted in a loss of more than $1,000. The fire department log listed four as having caused major damage.
That afternoon the city council held an open session. The chamber was jammed with Negro residents, many of whom gave vociferous support as their spokesmen criticized the city administration. When the audience became unruly, a detail of National Guardsmen was stationed outside the council chamber. Their presence resulted in a misunderstanding, causing many of the Negroes to walk out, and the meeting to end.
Wednesday night there were virtually no reports of riotous activity until 9:00 P.M., when scattered incidents of violence again began to take place. One person was injured by a gunshot.
Despite fears of a clash between Negroes and SAMS—white Southern Appalachian migrants whose economic conditions paralleled those of Negroes—such a clash was averted.
H. "Rap" Brown, arriving in the city on Thursday, attempted to capitalize on the discontent by presenting a list of 20 "demands." Their principal effect would have been total removal of all white persons, whatever their capacity, from the ghetto area. Demand No. 18 stated that "at any meeting to settle grievances . . . any white proposal or white representative objected to by black representatives must be rejected automatically." No. 20 demanded a veto power over police officers patrolling the community.
His appearance had no galvanizing effect. Although scattered incidents occurred for three days after the arrival of the National Guard, the disorder never returned to its early intensity.
Of 63 reported injuries, 12 were serious enough to require hospitalization; 56 of the persons injured were white. Most of the injuries resulted from thrown objects or glass shards. Of the 107 persons arrested Tuesday night, when the main disturbance took place, 75 were 21 years of age or younger. Of the total of 404 persons arrested, 128 were juveniles, and 338 were 26 years of age or younger. Of the adults arrested, 29 percent were unemployed.