Strange Times 71: Large Crowds of Whites

Today we have atrocities in Springfield and misdemeanors at Gimbel’s. Think critically for…

March 12, 1921

  • The University of Chicago suspends the washing of windows on some of its most famous buildings, hoping that dust and cobwebs will promote "a medieval atmosphere."

  • The Fire Department bars the doors to Madison Square Garden after 13,000 racing fans pack it "to suffocation" to watch the ongoing six-day bicycle race, which remains locked in a three-way tie.

  • His fever gone, Caruso eats solid food and rests well, pleasing all concerned with the tenor's care.

  • The Weather: Fair and warmer; Sunday, cloudy and unsettled; moderate south winds.

Most of what I bring you in this newsletter is funny, inspiring, or just plain weird. This article is unfunny, depressing, and all-too-familiar. You will forgive me, I'm sure.

This is not the first time we've seen the Times report on a "race riot" without questioning the accounts of the white authorities, without investigating the origins of the violence, without considering who was killed and why, without demonstrating the slightest critical facility at all.

The result is a front-page account of the shooting of fourteen black Americans, attacked by no one in particular as revenge for crimes committed by "unknown Negroes" who cannot be found. Thousands of soldiers were called in to stop the "excitement." It's not clear whom they were there to protect.

Little information exists online about this massacre—I don't like the term race riot—but I recommend reading anything you can about a better-known attack that occurred in Springfield in 1908, which was partly the inspiration for the founding of the NAACP, or the terror in Tulsa in 1921, which this newsletter will arrive at in a year or two's time.

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio, March 12.—Race disorders broke out here just before midnight tonight, following the shooting of a policeman by a negro who was being searched for firearms.

This was the culmination of a day of excitement following threats of race riots as the outcome of an assault made last Monday on a white girl by an unknown negro.

State officials tonight ordered out the entire Fourth Regiment of the National Guard and troops are being rushed to Springfield from nearby cities by railroad and traction and automobile trucks. The first troops are due to arrive at 2 A.M., and officials announce that the city will immediately be placed under military control.

Within a short time after the outbreak started one negro was in a hospital with a bullet wound, large crowds were milling about the streets and heavy firing was going on in the Yellow Springs Street negro district.

Late reports to the police were that fourteen negroes were shot in the battle between whites and negroes in that area.

Both negroes and officers took positions behind trees and buildings, pot firing at each other in the dark and with the scant aid of nearby street lights.

The police arrested a white man whose name could not be learned, who was scattering dynamite just outside the negro section. He said he was going to use the explosive to blow out stumps.

Everett Larie, white, just before midnight found the rear porch of his home at 719 Orchard Street aflame, he reported to the police.

At 1:20 o'clock a local National Guard company with a machine gun mounted on a motorcycle went to the Euclid Avenue district, where it was reported a band of negroes had formed and were marching into the city. Later reports said the negroes could not be found.

At 1:30 o'clock this morning the firing had ceased and the city was reported quiet. Large crowds of whites who had been on the streets early in the evening had been disbanded by the police. At one time the crowd made a move toward the City Hall and the jail, but was broken up. It re-formed, but was again broken up.

Tonight's disorders followed racial disorders for the last two nights, resulting from the assault, Monday night, by an unknown negro on Marge Ferneau, 11 years old. No arrests have been made in the assault case.

Following the shooting of Policeman Joseph Ryan by an unknown negro every available policeman and officer was rushed to the negro district, where shots were heard.

Lieut. Col. Harry Horner, Assistant Adjutant General, and Major Roy Chezeldine of London had been called to Springfield and had two Springfield machine gun companies ready for action when they were called on. Company C of London, twenty-five miles from Springfield, was ordered to proceed here at once, and the Marysville company was ordered here by motor truck.

Reports early in the day that an outbreak was likely to occur at any moment led the city manager, Edgar E. Parsons, to swear in 150 special officers and put Sheriff's officers, reserve firemen and American Legion men on duty with orders to search all suspicious looking persons for weapons and arrest those having them.

Springfield, a city of 60,000 population, has a negro population of approximately one-fourth. The negroes are grouped in various sections of the city, there being no single negro quarter.

A pair of shoplifting stories—the first of which feels like the opening of one of the Wodehouse stories where Bertie is living in New York—to close us out. I have no idea who Harold Lastrange is, but I should like to meet him anytime.

Henry Rodriguez, 19 years old, who said he lived at 56 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, and was the son of an importer in Spain, who had sent him here to learn American business methods, pleaded guilty in Special Sessions yesterday to stealing articles valued at $49 at Gimbel Brothers, on March 7. He was sentenced to the workhouse for three months. Ethel Cummings, a detective of the Stores' Mutual Protective Association, told the Court that while she was observing Rodriguez taking things from the counters he tried to flirt with her and she had pretended to meet his advances until she got a policeman and had him arrested.

Frank Moran, 53, of 316 East Forty-second Street, who said he was an "old-time actor" and singer, was sentenced to the penitentiary for six months to three years for stealing fifteen pairs of silk stocks from James McCreery & Co. An agent of the Stores Mutual Protective Association told the Justices that Moran had been arrested fourteen times within twenty years.

"I seem to have an irresistible impulse to help myself when in a department store," Moran admitted to the Justices.

"Yes, gentlemen, it is an incurable disease, and woe is me since I was on the stage as Harold Lastrange."

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