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How the Police Shooting of a Black Soldier Triggered the 1943 Harlem Riots

June 5, 2020 in History

By Alexis Clark

When a rumor catapulted into an explosion of frustration and rage, a fabled black neighborhood in Manhattan turned into a battleground.

In 1943, the United States, heavily engaged in the fight against Nazism and fascism in World War II, was also dealing with a serious conflict at home. Black Americans across the country faced segregation, discrimination and economic hardship. Though the struggle for equality was heavily concentrated in the Deep South, black people in the North faced debilitating racial oppression as well.

Harlem, a neighborhood celebrated for its conclave of black artists and scholars, had undergone a dramatic demographic shift in the decades leading up to World War II. According to census data, in 1910, black people represented 10 percent of the Central Harlem population, while white people comprised 90 percent. By 1940, after millions of black people had migrated from the South for a better life up North, the numbers had reversed.

Central Harlem’s black population skyrocketed to 89 percent, while the white population dipped to 10 percent. Yet, despite the white flight, the majority of businesses in Harlem remained white-owned and housing and job prospects for black Americans became continuously bleak.

Altercation at the Braddock Hotel Leads to Shooting

On the evening of August 1, 1943, years of racial oppression erupted into riots in Harlem after a white police officer fired a gun at a black soldier in the lobby of the Braddock Hotel located on West 126 Street.

Overturned and blazing, this car was one of many that were wrecked during the unrest that swept through the northern Manhattan neighborhood.

View the 9 images of this gallery on the original article

On the evening of August 1, 1943, years of racial oppression in Harlem erupted in the lobby of the Braddock Hotel located on West 126 Street. Once a popular destination for black celebrities and musicians in the 1920s, the hotel had declined in stature and developed a reputation for prostitution.

That night, a black woman named Marjorie Polite, checked into the establishment. Unhappy with her room, Polite requested another one, but it too didn’t meet her standards. After she received a refund for her accommodations and checked out, Polite asked for the $1 tip back, which she allegedly had given to the elevator operator. After he refused to return it, Polite began to argue.

James Collins, a white policer officer who patrolled …read more

Source: HISTORY

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