Fifty Years Before Ferguson
How the media talked about a dead teenager, fifty years ago last month:
The shooting occurred at 9:20 A.M. outside a six-story white brick apartment house at 215 East 76th Street, opposite the Senator Robert F. Wagner Junior High School, where summer school classes were in progress
The dead boy was James Powell, a student at the school, who lived at 1686 Randall Avenue, the Bronx. The police said the youth had been shot twice, in the right hand and in the abdomen, by Lieut. Thomas Gilligan of Brooklyn’s 14th Division.
The trouble began when Patrick Lynch, superintendent of the building at 215 East 76th Street, sprayed water on three youths, while he was washing down the sidewalk, according to Deputy Chief Inspector Joseph Coyle.
“The lieutenant warned him but the youth raised the knife,” [said Coyle].
Inspector Coyle said that Lieutenant Gilligan had been cut on a finger as he and Powell closed in on each other.
Lieutenant Gilligan, who is 36 years old and lives in Manhattan, has received 19 citations for outstanding police work since he joined the force.
Shirley Robinson, a 14-year-old Negro student at the Wagner summer school, said that the superintendent had provoked the boys by deliberated spraying water on them.
“The superintendent then said — and I heard him — ‘I’m going to wash all the black off you.’”
“I saw the boy go into the building and he didn’t have any knife then,” she said. “When he came out, he was even laughing and kind of like running.”
Officials of several civil rights groups went to the East 67th Street station house to learn the facts of the shooting.
Neighbors and friends described the youth as “a nice guy” who never got into trouble
— NEGRO BOY KILLED; 300 HARASS POLICE; Teen-Agers Hurl Cans and Bottles After Shooting by Off-Duty Officer Lieutenant Kills Negro Youth, The New York Times, July 17th, 1964.
About 200 Negro teen-agers conducted an animated but orderly demonstration in Yorkville yesterday to protest the fatal shooting on Thursday of a 15-year old Negro boy by an off-duty police lieutenant.
The police said the boy had gone after the lieutenant, who was in civilian clothes, with a pocket knife and had ignored a warning to stop.
They said the youth was emerging from the building after having chased the superintendent into an apartment. The superintendent, Patrick Lynch, was said to have inadvertently sprayed water on young Powell and several other Negro youths as he hosed down the sidewalk in front of the building.
As the crowd of teen-agers grew, Chris Sprowal, chairman of the Downtown chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, grabbed a megaphone and cautioned the demonstrators “to behave like ladies and gentlemen.”
“People around here just wanted you to get into trouble,” the tall, slender Negro yelled.
The police said yesterday that young Powell had been in some trouble, and had a juvenile record.
— TEEN-AGE PARADE PROTESTS KILLING; 200 March in Yorkville as Police Watch — Shooting of Boy Being Investigated, The New York Times, July 18th, 1964.
Shots fired into the air by policemen to disperse the milling crowds echoed through streets littered with overturned garbage cans and broken glass
The men from the tactical patrol force sent to the scene are members of a group of about 200 handpicked men, all over six feet tall, all trained in judo and all under 30 years of age.
— THOUSANDS RIOT IN HARLEM AREA; SCORES ARE HURT; Negroes Loot Stores, Taunt Whites — Police Shoot in Air to Control Crowd, The New York Times, July 19th, 1964.
The slain boy’s mother, Mrs. Annie Powell, wept as she arrived at the Levy and Delany Funeral Home… She became hysterical as she neared her son’s coffin.
“The fact that the boy was killed is a terrible thing,” a woman said on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 68th Street. “But they aren’t helping things by boing around the streets like wild animals.”
— Mother Hysterical at Boy’s Bier, The New York Times, July 19th, 1964
Early, today, James Farmer, the national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, said he was attempting to reach Governor Rockefeller to discuss the possibility of having the National Guard sent into Harlem. Governor Rockefeller, vacationing in Wyoming, was unavailable.
Just before the funeral began, bottles began crashing to the street. Suddenly there were shrieks from the corner of Seventh Avenue and 132d Street, and patrolmen, waving nightsticks, charged into crowds that were pouring out from behind barricades.
The crowd broke up when shots were fired into the air. Three busloads of specially trained anti‐riot policemen drew up and helped put down the outburst, but not before one man was knocked to the ground.
Later three persons were wounded by gunfire and three policemen were injured in fighting at 129th Street and Lenox Avenue. The pattern was the case that prevailed much of the night: missiles and gasolinefilled bottles thrown at the police, with shots returned.
— VIOLENCE FLARES AGAIN IN HARLEM, The New York Times, July 20th, 1964.
At 12:30 A.M., in a blur of debris, racing mobs and gunshots, a policeman crouching beside a patrol car on Lenox Avenue, just north of West 125th Street, yelled to his partner: “Are we shooting at them?”
— Policemen Exhaust Their Ammunition In All‐Night Battle, The New York Times, July 20th, 1964.
Moreover, there will have to be even harder work in the future if the fundamental tensions behind the passions that began exploding last Saturday night are to be eradicated.
— Editorial: Tragedy in Harlem, The New York Times, July 20, 1964.
“Now it is a case of outright scare tactics,” he said. “This won’t work, because the Negro is not afraid. If the tactics are not changed, this could escalate into something very, very serious.”
— Malcolm X Lays Harlem Riot To ‘Scare Tactics’ of Police, The New York Times, July 20th, 1964.
Only a dozen persons, relatives and close friends of the family, attended the brief graveside services, conducted by the Rev. Theodore Kerrison, pastor of the St. Augustine Baptist Church in Harlem.
Mrs. Annie Powell, the mother of the boy, shouted at one point during the service, “Oh God, look how I brought my boy to you.”
Overhead a police helicopter, outlined against the overcast sky, kept a vigil.
— Few Present as Boy Shot by Policeman Is Buried, The New York Times, July 21, 1964.
After the marchers had been dispersed, and as the daylight turned into dusk, large groups of people milled about 125th Street, the main business street in Harlem.
— VIOLENCE ERUPTS FOR THIRD NIGHT; Attacks Draw Police Fire in Harlem Again — Outbreak Follows Brooklyn Rally Violence Erupts for Third Night After a Peaceful Day in Harlem, The New York Times, July 21st, 1964.
I believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans will join in preserving law and order and reject resolutely those who espouse violence no matter what the cause. Evil acts of the past are never rectified bu evil acts of the present. We must put aside the quarrels and the hatreds of bygone days; resolutely reject bigotry and vengeance; and proceed to work together toward our national goals.
— Statement by President Johnson, July 21, 1964.
About 250 white teen‐agers hurled rotten eggs last night at l6 members of the Congress of Racial Equality who were picketing Police Headquarters.
“Go back to Harlem,” some shouted.
— Teen‐Agers Throw Eggs at CORE Unit Picketing the Police, The New York Times, July 22nd, 1964.
— Statement on Harlem Riot, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, July 21st, 1964.
Acting Mayor Paul R. Screvane asserted yesterday that the Harlem disorders of the last several days had been incited in part by “fringe groups, including the Communist party.”
Mr. Screvane hailed President Johnson’s action in assigning Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to check possible violations of Federal statutes.
The Acting Mayor suggested that the agents might investigate the source of money for some rallies and some “very inflammatory … anti‐American … and seditious statements.”
— SCREVANE LINKS REDS TO RIOTING Says Other ‘Radical Groups’ Also Incited Violence — Mayor Returns to City, The New York Times, July 22nd, 1964.
The recent violence in Harlem, Mr. [Adam Clayton] Powell (no relation) told a news conference is “not a race riot.” He said the disturbances represented “the built‐in, continuing resentment of the black people of the black ghetto of New York against the Police Department of New York and its policies of a half‐century ago.”
— Powell Says Riots Can End if Mayor Meets 5 Demands, The New York Times, July 23rd, 1964.
Relative peace returned to the city last night for the first time since rioting and looting made Harlem a battlefield last Saturday night. Only isolated incidents broke out
— Relative Calm Is Restored To Riot‐Torn Areas Here, The New York Times, July 24th, 1964.
An aide to Mr. Rockefeller said the National Guard had taken certain steps to make itself more readily available if it is needed.
— POLICE BAN MARCH IN HARLEM TODAY; SPONSORS DEFIANT; Leftists Still Plan Protest on Department — Rights Chiefs to Discuss Riots, The New York Times, July 25, 1964.
The race struggle had reached a climax and no immediate way out was indicated.
— ‘Hot Summer,’ The New York Times, July 26th, 1954.