Memphis riots of 1866

The Memphis riots of 1866 were the violent events that occurred from May 1 to 3 in Memphis, Tennessee. The racial violence was ignited by political, social and racial tensions following the American Civil War, in the early stages of Reconstruction. After a shooting altercation between white policemen and black soldiers recently mustered out of the Union Army, mobs of white civilians and policemen rampaged through black neighborhoods and the houses of freedmen, attacking and killing men, women and children.

Federal troops were sent to quell the violence and peace was restored on the third day. A subsequent report by a joint Congressional Committee detailed the carnage, with blacks suffering most of the injuries and deaths: 46 blacks and 2 whites were killed, 75 blacks injured, over 100 black persons robbed, 5 black women raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches and 8 schools burned in the black community. Modern estimates place property losses at over $100,000, also suffered mostly by blacks. Many blacks fled the city permanently; by 1870, their population had fallen by one quarter compared to 1865.

Public attention following the riots and reports of the atrocities, together with the New Orleans riot in July, strengthened the case made by Radical Republicans in U.S. Congress. The events influenced passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to grant full citizenship to freedmen, as well as passage of the Reconstruction Act to establish military districts and oversight in certain states.

Investigation of the riot suggested specific causes related to competition for housing, work and social space between Irish immigrants and their descendants, and the freedmen. The white gentry also sought to drive freedpeople out of Memphis and back onto plantations where their labor could be exploited. Through violent terrorism, the white community at large sought to force blacks to respect white supremacy as the time of fully legal slavery was nearing its end.

Full article...


The Civil War and Reconstruction (1860-1877)

Spread the Word