July 21-22, 1964 – WOR On the Scene Reports from Harlem – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
July 21-22, 1964 – Harlem had been under siege since the 16th of July when it began after James Powell, a 15-year-old African American, was shot and killed by police Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan in front of Powell’s friends and about a dozen other witnesses. Immediately after the shooting, about 300 students from Powell’s school who were informed by the principal rallied. The shooting set off six consecutive nights of rioting that affected the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In total, 4,000 New Yorkers participated in the riots which led to attacks on the New York City Police Department (NYPD), vandalism, and looting in stores. Several protesters were severely beaten by NYPD officers. At the end of the conflict, reports counted one dead rioter, 118 injured, and 465 arrested.
Tuesday night, July 21, through Wednesday, July 22 in Brooklyn started by a meeting of all V.I.P. of Black organizations with Captain Edward Jenkins, commanding officer of the 79th precinct, at the Bedford YMCA. Over the day, they looked at plausible explanations of the riot’s cause and also at Lieutenant Gilligan’s case.
That night, CORE’s demonstration was replaced by Black Nationalist speakers who, every week, were present at this very same spot. The difference is that on a regular Tuesday there was no crowd to listen to them. Tuesday, July 21, was certainly an opportunity out of the ordinary for the Black Nationalist Party to spread its ideas to the Black community. After a 20-minute speech, the crowd started to be agitated even though the speaker, becoming worried about the situation, changed the tone of what he was saying and tried to convince the crowd to remain calm. The riot started again and police charged the mob while angry rioter threw bottles and debris at them. Everything was under control by 2 A.M. on Wednesday.
On Wednesday night, a troop of mounted police was set at the four corners of the intersection of Fulton and Nostrand. The buildings were lower and the street wider, reducing the risk of using horses for crowd control. A sound truck with a NAACP logo had been driving down the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant during the day and parked where the Black Nationalists had set a podium on the day before. When the crowd that had formed in front of the truck was of a reasonable size, Fleary, one of the NAACP workers, addressed the crowd. He claimed that Bedford-Stuyvesant was a “community of law”. Furthermore, he insisted that riots weren’t how they were going to get what they wanted. The mob seemed to generally agree with him until a group of men, among them four were wearing a green beret, appeared across the street and approached the sound truck. They started to rock the truck while the mob got more and more agitated. Fleary will remain the only community leader affirming the presence of external agitators. When Fleary lost the control of the microphone, the police charge to rescue the NAACP crew had the effect of starting another riot.
Here are two brief reports, given by WOR reporters in the field between Tuesday night of July 21 and the early hours of Wednesday morning July 22.
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