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Race Riots in the 1940s-2000s

In the history of the United States, 1945-1964 was a period of economic growth and prosperity. In political terms, it was the period of the Cold War confrontation between the great victorious powers after World War II, as well as the triumph of the Movement for civil rights for blacks, which put an end to the laws of racial segregation in the southern states. During the 1940s the situation in the U.S. was tense as the country experienced an extreme need in the working power. The hope for the younger population was immense, but the conflicts and racial intolerance became the major barrier on the way of the prosperous future of the whole country.

The most vivid example of the result of numerous conflicts between people of different skin colors is presented in the history of Detroit. The city was a benefit and prosperity promising center with a significant number of manufactories and industrial enterprises that were giving jobs to the population. Most of the African Americans were planning to get a good job as well as start making good money and helping the country at the same time. Some of them decided to go and fulfill their military service, but all they got in return from the country they loved was the racial prejudice and segregation that was evident everywhere. The soldiers were living separately depending on their race. Some of them could not get a supervising job because of their skin color. In Detroit, African Americans experienced not only a lack of working places but also had a difficult problem of housing. The eastern part of Detroit was filled with more than 200 thousand black workers that were forced to live in unhygienic conditions in overcrowded places. The situation escalated to the limit on the evening of June 20, in the park, where a few fights between black and white teenagers took place. The number of conflicting people grew from 200 to 5 thousand participants. In such fights, white teenagers were often supported by sailors from the local naval base. By midnight, the police were no longer able to stop the rioters. After that, black residents of Detroit began smashing shops owned by the white and attack all people with white skin. The whites started to break and burn shops, houses, and vehicles belonging to the blacks. 25 black and 9 white residents of Detroit were killed. The number of wounded reached 700, and the damage was estimated at $2 million. Only the arrived six thousand contingent of federal troops managed to stop the riots.

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The living conditions and economic instability of the country during the years of World War II were significant, but still not the major reasons for the racial conflicts that emerged during 1940 – 2000 throughout the whole territory of the USA. The politics of racial segregation continued and caused a number of conflicts that could be provoked at any time with the help of the economic crisis, political instability or poorness of the colored population of America. The racial violence was a common feature in the U.S. after World War II and could be observed in any state or city. To prove the fact that race riots were predominantly results of the race problems in the U.S., it is important to have a look at the facts of the period starting on December 1, 1955. On this day, Rosa Parks, a 42- year-old African-American seamstress of one of the departments of Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, was arrested and then fined for refusing to give way to a white passenger on a bus as it was required by the local law. After Rosa Parks’ arrest, Ed Nixon, who headed the local union of Sleeping Car Porters, called the black community to boycott public transport in protest. Bus Boycott in Montgomery soon was headed by young black priest Martin Luther King. Thanks to the efforts of King and members of the committee, the boycott protest of the black population lasted for 381 days and went into history as the Walking in the name of freedom. The protesters had to go to work on foot, but some black citizens of Montgomery were transported to and from work by black taxi owners according to bus fares. Thus, local bus companies suffered heavy losses.

Negotiations with the authorities of the complete desegregation of public transport did not give the expected results. Conversely, the use of the taxi at reduced fares was forbidden, and taxi drivers, who were transporting boycott participants, were deprived of licenses. The black drivers were detained for minor, sometimes flimsy traffic violations. After that the whites started the politics of intimidation and threats of boycott organizers. In January 1956, the bomb was thrown into the house of King. They also remembered the anti-boycott law of 1921 and arrested more than a hundred members of the boycott. The trial of anti-boycott law violators attracted the attention of the public around the world to the problem of segregation in the United States.

The boycott leaders filed a lawsuit in federal district court, which in December 1956 stated that laws of segregation on city buses were unconstitutional. Buses in Montgomery were integrated. However, white racists began to bombard them. The extreme violence filled the white population. As a result of it, an African American girl was brutally beaten; a pregnant woman was wounded in the leg; the bombs exploded in the districts, where the black people lived. The violence stopped only after it was roundly condemned by the local newspaper by a range of white priests and the local business association. The above-mentioned facts of violence prove that the main reason for conflicts and the civil rights movement was not the state of economics and political problems. The main problem lies in people and the historically formed attitude to people of different skin colors.

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One more sphere, where the rights of the blacks were oppressed, was education. After World War II, the African American youth experienced significant difficulties with studying at colleges. Moreover, after graduation that could not get a job as the answer they got was “No Negroes Accepted”. The situation was the same in relation to schools and children even in 1957, when a federal court-ordered integration of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nine black children have been selected for admission to Central High School in Little Rock, but the local police would not let them in classes according to the order of the State Governor. After some hesitation, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower mobilized soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division to enforce the judgment. Soldiers accompanied the “Little Rock Nine” to class. When the kids finally went to Central School, they were met by an angry and insulting crowd of white students. A similar crash occurred in New Orleans in November 1960, when four African-American girls were enrolled in a primary school in the Ninth Ward Franz. The youngest population of America, including primary school students, was not aware of the economic problems of the country; moreover, they had enough places to study and they were reluctant to accept other children to their school just for the color of their skin. The conflicts in the educational sphere prove that the major reason for these conflicts and growing violence was the racial prejudice and conflicts between the black and white populations of America.

To coordinate actions aimed at eliminating segregation and gaining political rights, in 1957, there was created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The conference headquarters resided in Atlanta having dozens of branches and thousands of activists. M. L. King was elected as its president. The same year, the U.S. Congress passed the first since the 1860s, the federal Voting Rights Act of blacks. In 1958 and 1959, the grandiose marches were organized in Washington for the desegregation of secondary school youth. More than 40,000 people attended the marches. On August 10, 1965, the African Americans in all states received the right to vote. All the major issues of equality were solved.

The peace between the representatives of different nations is very fragile, and without major problems, the reason can be easily found even in the smallest conflict. On August 11, 1965, in the area of Watts, Los Angeles, California highway patrol officer Minikus Lee stopped the car, driven by a 21-year-old unemployed African American Marquette Fry. The driver was intoxicated. However, he refused to leave the car and provided resistance. A crowd of onlookers gathered nearby. After an hour, there were thousands of people throwing squad stones and bottles at police and shouting: “Burn them!”

By the evening, the crowd rose to tens of thousands of people. Along the boulevard, black youths stopped cars with white drivers, beat them, overturned and burned the cars. The blacks attacked journalists and police units. On the second day of the riot, thousands of lawless “freedom fighters” already looted food, liquor, department stores, plundered and burnt local businesses. The result of four nights was as follows: 34 killed, 1072 injured, 977 buildings damaged and burnt, 4000 of the blacks arrested.

In total, during 1966-1967 years, the country went through 207 black riots, 33 of them demanded the intervention of the territorial police, nine – the intervention of the army. Two riots in Newark and Detroit on a scale of casualties, destruction, and arrests surpassed riots in Watts. To calm down the riot in Detroit, the government sent 4700 of Green Berets. The results shocked the country: 43 people killed, 7000 people arrested, 2700 destroyed buildings and 1300 looted businesses.

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Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh, during the city inspection, said: “Detroit looks like Berlin in 1945”.

The objective reason for the above-described riots can always be associated with either the historical period or the political and economic environment. This does not mean that this was the actual reason. It is possible to say that the events were caused by a negative chain reaction that began on the basis of hatred and anger inside the society.

Black riot in Los Angeles is another example of the fact that even in modern American society, there is a problem of racially motivated conflicts. In addition, the role, in this case, is played by the socio-economic situation of the lower layers of the population, caused by the economic crisis. African Americans make a significant part of such a population in America. The prologue to the sad events that took place in Los Angeles in 1992 became an incident that occurred in March 1991. On that day, a police patrol car stopped the car with three passengers, one of whom resisted the police actions. It was a young man, a representative of the African-American population of the United States, named Rodney King. Rodney was severely beaten for disobedience by four police officers. The young man suffered 56 beats so that he was hospitalized with fractured facial bones, a broken leg and numerous bruises and lacerations. However, despite the obvious abuse of the police officers they were justified on April 29, 1992. Events began to develop rapidly. The same day, when the sentence was passed, thousands of blacks poured into the streets of Los Angeles and staged mass demonstrations, which then escalated into riots and unrest. Due to 5500 arson burned buildings, the city was enveloped in thick smoke. Los Angeles airport was temporarily unable to continue its work. Many people did not participate directly in the clashes, just used their chance and looted shops with electronics, perfume, and clothes. The next day the riots began in San Francisco. This rebellion was the only violent episode of its kind of social unrest in the United States in the 20th century, leaving the urban unrest of the sixties far behind, both because of its sheer destructiveness and because riots in April – May of 1992 were multi-racial uprisings of the poor. According to the newspaper “San Francisco Examiner”, Willie Brown, a known representative of the Democratic Party in the Legislative Assembly California said: “For the first time in American history, most of the demonstrations, as well as most of the violence and crime, especially robberies wore multiracial nature. They involved all – the blacks, the whites, the Asians, and Latin Americans”.

To sum it up, racial violence and riots are characteristic features of American history during the period of the 1940s-2000s. The conflicts between people of different skin colors can be provoked by the economic and political structure problems, but the fact is that the main reason for the riots is the violence towards people of different races. The problem has historical roots and cannot be resolved even in the nearest future. The actual reason can be covered by a number of problems that would not show the real position of things. The answer can be observed through the number of historical examples presented by the riots of the 1960s and the educational sphere conflicts. The crisis and economic problems are also characteristic features for the poor layers of the society, the major part of which consists of the African Americans, Mexican, Latin Americans and other representatives of national minorities.