Report Summary on Memphis Riots (Coursework Sample)
Assignment: Do summary on article and do a short opinion on it
Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Tennessee (Links to an external
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869
National Archives Microfilm Publication M999, roll 34
"Reports of Outrages, Riots and Murders, Jan. 15, 1866 - Aug. 12, 1868"
Memphis, Tenn. May 22 '66
Maj. Genl. O. O. Howard
Commissioner B. R. F. & A. L.
Washington, D. C.
In accordance with the instructions contained in S. O. No. 64, Ex. II, War Dept., B. R. F.
& A. L. dated Washington, D. C. May 7, 1866 and your letter of "confidential
instructions" of the same date, I have the honor herewith to submit a report of an
investigation of the late riots in Memphis.
I reached Memphis May 11th and I found General Fisk, the Asst. Commissioner for Ky.
And Tenn. here. He had already directed his Inspector General Col. C. T. Johnson to
institute an investigation and I found the Colonel had commenced his work and was well
At the suggestion of General Fisk I immediately conferred with Colonel Johnson and we
determined to make a joint investigation and report. We have taken some affidavits and
as many more could have been procured if we could have taken the time.
I have the honor to be
Your Obdt. Servant
(sd) T. W. Gilbreth
Report of an investigation of the cause, origin, and results of the late riots in the city of
Memphis made by Col. Charles F. Johnson, Inspector General States of Ky. And
Tennessee and Major T. W. Gilbreth, A. D. C. To Maj. Genl. Howard, Commissioner
Bureau R. F. & A. Lands.
The remote cause of the riot as it appears to us is a bitterness of feeling which has
always existed between the low whites & blacks, both of whom have long advanced
rival claims for superiority, both being as degraded as human beings can possibly be.
In addition to this general feeling of hostility there was an especial hatred among the city
police for the Colored Soldiers, who were stationed here for a long time and had
recently been discharged from the service of the U. S., which was most cordially
reciprocated by the soldiers.
This has frequently resulted in minor affrays not considered worthy of notice by the
authorities. These causes combined produced a state of feeling between whites and
blacks, which would require only the slightest provocation to bring about an open
The Immediate Cause
On the evening of the 30th April 1866 several policemen (4) came down Causey Street,
and meeting a number of Negroes forced them off the sidewalk. In doing so a Negro fell
and a policeman stumbled over him. The police then drew their revolvers and attacked
the Negroes, beating them with their pistols. Both parties then separated, deferring the
settlement by mutual consent to some future time (see affidavit marked "A"). On the
following day, May 1st, during the afternoon, between the hours of 3 and 5, a crowd of
colored men, principally discharged soldiers, many of whom were more or less
intoxicated, were assembled on South Street in South Memphis.
Three or four of these were very noisy and boisterous. Six policemen appeared on
South Street, two of them arrested two of the Negroes and conducted them from the
ground. The others remained behind to keep back the crowd, when the attempt was
made by several Negroes to rescue their comrades. The police fell back when a
promiscuous fight was indulged in by both parties.
During this affray one police officer was wounded in the finger, another (Stephens) was
shot by the accidental discharge of his pistol in his own hand, and afterward died.
About this time the police fired upon unoffending Negroes remote from the riotous
quarter. Colored soldiers with whom the police first had trouble had returned in the
meantime to Fort Pickering. The police was soon reinforced and commenced firing on
the colored people, men, women and children, in that locality, killing and wounding
Shortly after, the City Recorder (John C. Creighton) arrived upon the ground (corner of
Causey and Vance Streets) and in a speech which received three hearty cheers from
the crowd there assembled, councilled and urged the whites to arm and kill every Negro
and drive the last one from the city. Then during this night the Negroes were hunted
down by police, firemen and other white citizens, shot, assaulted, robbed, and in many
instances their houses searched under the pretense of hunting for concealed arms,
plundered, and then set on fire, during which no resistance so far as we can learn was
offered by the Negroes.
A white man by the name of Dunn, a fireman, was shot and killed by another white man
through mistake (reference is here made to accompanying affidavit mkd "B").
During the morning of the 2nd inst. (Wednesday) everything was perfectly quiet in the
district of the disturbances of the previous day. A very few Negroes were in the streets,
and none of them appeared with arms, or in any way excited except through fear. About
11 o'clock A. M. a posse of police and citizens again appeared in South Memphis and
commenced an indiscriminate attack upon the Negroes, they were shot down without
mercy, women suffered alike with the men, and in several instances little children were
killed by these miscreants. During this day and night, with various intervals of quiet, the
The city seemed to be under the control of a lawless mob during this and the two
succeeding days (3rd & 4th). All crimes imaginable were committed from simple larceny
to rape and murder. Several women and children were shot in bed. One woman (Rachel
Johnson) was shot and then thrown into the flames of a burning house and consumed.
Another was forced twice through the flames and finally escaped. In some instances
houses were fired and armed men guarded them to prevent the escape of those inside.
A number of men whose loyalty is undoubted, long residents of Memphis, who
deprecated the riot during its progress, were denominated Yankees and Abolitionists,
and were informed in language more emphatic than gentlemanly, that their presence
here was unnecessary. To particularize further as to individual acts of inhumanity would
extend the report to too great a length. But attention is respectfully called for further
instances to affidavits accompanying marked C, E, F & G.
The riot lasted until and including the 4th of May but during all this time the disturbances
were not continual as there were different times of greater or less length in each day, in
which the city was perfectly quiet, attacks occurring generally after sunset each day.
The rioters ceased their violence either of their own accord or from want of material to
work on, the Negroes having hid themselves, many fleeing into the country.
Conduct of the Civil Authorities
The Hon. John Park, Mayor of Memphis, seemed to have lost entire control of his
subordinates and either through lack of inclination and sympathy with the mob, or on
utter want of capacity, completely failed to suppress the riot and preserve the peace of
the city. His friends offer in extenuation of his conduct, that he was in a state of
intoxication during a part or most of the time and was therefore unable to perform the
high and responsible functions of his office. Since the riot no official notice has been
taken of the occurrence either by the Mayor or the Board of Aldermen, neither have the
City Courts taken cognizance of the numerous crimes committed.
Although many of the perpetrators are known, no arrests have been made, nor is there
now any indication on the part of the Civil Authorities that any are meditated by them.
It appears the Sheriff of this County (P. M. Minters) endeavored to oppose the mob on
the evening of the 1st of May, but his good intentions were thwarted by a violent speech
delivered by John C. Creighton, City Recorder, who urged and directed the arming of
the whites and the wholesale slaughter of blacks.
This speech was delivered on the evening of the 1st of May to a large crowd of police
and citizens on the corner of Vance and Causey streets, and to it can be attributed in a
great measure the continuance of the disturbances. The following is the speech as
extracted from the affidavits herewith forwarded marked "B" . . . "That everyone of the
citizens should get arms, organize and go through the Negro districts," and that he "was
in favor of killing every God damned nigger" . . . "We are not prepared now, but let us
prepare and clean out every damned son of a bitch of a nigger out of town . . . "Boys, I
want you to go ahead and kill every damned one of the nigger race and burn up the
The effect of such language delivered by a municipal office so high in authority, to a
promiscuous and excited assemblage can be easily perceived. From that time they
seemed to act as though vested with full authority to kill, burn and plunder at will. The
conduct of a great number of the city police, who are generally composed of the lowest
class of whites selected without reference to their qualifications for the position, was
brutal in the extreme. Instead of protecting the rights of persons and property as is their
duty, they were chiefly concerned as murderers, incendiaries and robbers. At times they
even protected the rest of the mob in their acts of violence.
No public meeting has been held by the citizens, although three weeks have now
elapsed since the riot, thus by their silence appearing to approve of the conduct of the
mob. The only regrets that are expressed by the mass of the people are purely financial.
There are, however, very many honorable exceptions, chiefly among men who have
fought against the Government in the late rebellion, who deprecate in strong terms, both
the Civil Authorities and the rioters.
Action of Bvt. Brig. Genl. Ben P. Runkle, Chief Supt., Bureau R. F. and A. L., Sub-
District of Memphis
General Runkle was waited upon every hour in the day during the riot, by colored men
who begged of him protection for themselves and families, and he, an officer of the
Army detailed as Agent of the Freedmen's Bureau was suffered the humiliation of
acknowledging his utter inability to protect them in any respect. His personal
appearance at the scenes of the riot had no affect on the mob, and he had no troops at
He was obliged to put his Headquarters in a defensive state, and we believe it was only
owing to the preparations made, that they were not burned down. Threats had been
openly made that the Bureau office would be burned, and the General driven from the
town. He, with his officers and a small squad of soldiers and some loyal citizens who
volunteered were obliged to remain there during Thursday and Friday nights.
The origin and results of the riot may be summed up briefly as follows:
The remote cause was the feeling of bitterness which as always existed between the
two classes. The minor affrays which occurred daily, especially between the police and
The general tone of certain city papers which in articles that have appeared almost
daily, have councilled the low whites to open hostilities with the blacks.
The immediate cause was the collision heretofore spoken of between a few policemen
and Negroes on the evening of the 30th of April in which both parties may be equally
culpable, followed on the evening of the 1st May by another collision of a more serious
nature and subsequently by an indiscriminate attack upon inoffensive colored men and
Three Negro churches were burned, also eight (8) school houses, five (5) of which
belonged to the United States Government, and about fifty (50) private dwellings,
owned, occupied or inhabited by freedmen as homes, and in which they had all their
personal property, scanty though it be, yet valuable to them and in many instances
containing the hard earnings of months of labor.
Large sums of money were taken by police and others, the amounts varying five (5) to
five hundred (500) dollars, the latter being quite frequent owing to the fact that many of
the colored men had just been paid off and discharged from the Army.
No dwellings occupied by white men exclusively were destroyed and we have no
evidence of any white men having been robbed.
From the present disturbed condition of the freedmen in the districts where the riot
occurred it is impossible to determine the exact number of Negroes killed and wounded.
The number already ascertained as killed is about (30) thirty; and the number wounded
about fifty (50). Two white men were killed, viz., Stephens, a policemen and Dunn of the
The Surgeon who attended Stephens gives it as his professional opinion that the wound
which resulted in his death was caused by the accidental discharge of a pistol in his
hands (see affidavit marked "B"). Dunn was killed May 1st by a white man through
mistake (see affidavit marked "B"). Two others (both Policemen) were wounded, one
slightly in the finger, the other (Slattersly) seriously.
The losses sustained by the Government and Negroes as per affidavits received up to
date amount to the sum of ninety eight thousand, three hundred and nineteen dollars
and fifty five cents ($98,319.55). Subsequent investigations will in all probability
increase the amount to one hundred and twenty thousand dollars ($120,00.00).
(signed) Chas. F. Jackson
Col. And Insptr. Genl. Ky. & Tenn.
T. W. Gilbreth
Report Summary on Memphis Riots
The report was prepared by Col. Charles F. Johnson, Inspector General States of Ky. And Tennessee and Major T. W. Gilbreth, A. D. C. To Maj. Genl. Howard, Commissioner Bureau R. F. & A. Lands.
The main aim was to investigate the cause of riots in Memphis. According to the report, the main cause of the riot is the rivalry between the low black and white people. The hostility is stimulated by the urge for superiority between the two races (National Archives, 1886). The rivalry has been evident at different levels. There has been hatred among the colored soldiers who had to hang their boots and the city police. There is a need for a remedy from the recurrent small riots as more serious inter-race war may emerge.
The immediate cause for the report is the scenario that happened on 30th April 1866. According to affidavit A, Negroes faced police brutality by being forced to walk on the sidewalk at gunpoint. The police also used their pistols to attack the Negroes (National Archives, 1886). The incident caused a riot by a group of intoxicated Negroes who likely discharged soldiers the next day (National Archives, 1886). The police handled the crowd and arrested two men of color. The other rioting crowd tried to rescue the arrested men, and in the process, t\one policeman was wounded in the finger while the other one accidentally shot himself and died later. During the riot, several innocent Negroes were shot and killed. After a while, the city recorder John C. Creighton arrived and made a speech that incited the white people to kill and lead out the people of color (National Archives, 1886). In the night, the Negroes were hunted, robbed, and killed by the police in conjunction with white citizens and white citizens. The riot continued until 4th May, and the Negroes were in terror, and some fled.
The mayor of Memphis city was unable to restore peace and order. He is reported to have been intoxicated most of the time as the riots went on (National Archives, 1886). The authorities never reported the incident, and the city courts never held anyone accountable for the crimes committed (National Archives, 1886). The sheriff of this county had tried to oppose the mob but was overcome by the violent speech by John C. Creighton, which is in affidavit B. General Runkle could not protect the people of color as he had no troops on his discharge and his appearance in the rioting mob made no difference (National Archives, 1886). The articles in the city paper seemed to encourage the killing of Negroes.
There were adverse results during the mob riots. Three Negro churches, eight schoolhouses, and fifty homes were burnt. People of color were robed o their money by the police and others. About 30 Negroes were killed and 50 injured, and only two white men were killed (National Archives, 1886). The Negroes and the government lost a sum of ninety-eight thousand, three hundred and nineteen dollars and fifty-fiv
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