Jump to content

Infamous Riots in our city


Recommended Posts

Seems every large metropolis has had its share of civil unrest & strife and Houston certainly has had a few incidents that we aren't exactly proud of. Here are at least two that come to mind, though years apart they sure made headlines. Read on...

Night of Violence

Houston Riots 1917

Police brutality was related to the worst example of racial violence in the city

Edited by Vertigo58
Link to post
Share on other sites

Compared to what was going on in the rest of the country at the time, this was pretty tame.

T.S.U. Riot, May 1967

Throughout the South, the quiet campuses of Negro colleges are smoldering with the unrest and resentments of an unquiet generation. One night last week, Houston's Texas Southern University, which is 95% Negro, erupted into a campus-style Watts. By morning, 488 students were arrested, one student and two policemen were wounded and a rookie cop was dead.

About 50 students were gathered in front of the student union when a rumor went through the crowd that a policeman had shot a six-year-old Negro child that day. Someone heaved a watermelon at a police cruiser, and the crowd dispersed to shout the shooting rumor through the campus. It was too late to tell them that the six-year-old was actually a white child wounded by a white boy who was target-shooting.

Students poured out of their dormitories. More police arrived. Rocks and bottles flew. Then shots flashed from Lanier Hall, a men's dormitory, wounding Officer R. D. Blaylock in the thigh.

Soon it was full combat between police and snipers in the hall. Some 500 police stormed the dormitory, pouring more than 3,000 rounds of shotgun and carbine fire into the building. Officer Dale Dugger, 32, took a bullet wound in the cheek. Patrolman Louis Kuba, 25, was hit in the forehead and died six hours later. "It looked like the Alamo," said one policeman. Somehow, only one student was wounded. After the cops had raged through the dormitory, virtually all of its 144 rooms were wrecked

Link to post
Share on other sites
Compared to what was going on in the rest of the country at the time, this was pretty tame.

T.S.U. Riot, May 1967

Throughout the South, the quiet campuses of Negro colleges are smoldering with the unrest and resentments of an unquiet generation. One night last week, Houston's Texas Southern University, which is 95% Negro, erupted into a campus-style Watts. By morning, 488 students were arrested, one student and two policemen were wounded and a rookie cop was dead.

About 50 students were gathered in front of the student union when a rumor went through the crowd that a policeman had shot a six-year-old Negro child that day. Someone heaved a watermelon at a police cruiser, and the crowd dispersed to shout the shooting rumor through the campus. It was too late to tell them that the six-year-old was actually a white child wounded by a white boy who was target-shooting.

Students poured out of their dormitories. More police arrived. Rocks and bottles flew. Then shots flashed from Lanier Hall, a men's dormitory, wounding Officer R. D. Blaylock in the thigh.

Soon it was full combat between police and snipers in the hall. Some 500 police stormed the dormitory, pouring more than 3,000 rounds of shotgun and carbine fire into the building. Officer Dale Dugger, 32, took a bullet wound in the cheek. Patrolman Louis Kuba, 25, was hit in the forehead and died six hours later. "It looked like the Alamo," said one policeman. Somehow, only one student was wounded. After the cops had raged through the dormitory, virtually all of its 144 rooms were wrecked

Edited by JLWM8609
Link to post
Share on other sites
Galveston and Sylvan Beach.

Does anybody else remember the student "riots" in Galveston and at Sylvan Beach in La Porte in 1961? They were the local ripples of the spring break rioting that started in California and Florida around 1960 and spread to other beach areas around the country.

People all over the country were stunned by the pictures and news film showing students on a rampage in the streets and fighting with police. I've never been able to figure out why all that happened, because there was nothing political or social going on at the time, the last year or so of the Eisenhower administration.

I was a senior at Pasadena High School in 1961, and I remember the Galveston riot that happened on May 1st during the annual Splash Day Festivities. Contrary to its present day association with the gay community, the original Splash Days were a big promotion the Galveston Chamber of Commerce sponsored every year to kick off the beach-going season. They had a "Miss Splash Day" beauty contest, live entertainment and a lot of other stuff, and it was all great fun that pulled a lot of people and families to Galveston.

In 1961, hundreds of students there for Splash Days got into a fight with police when the cops tried to arrest some of them for being drunk and obnoxious. They ran up and down Seawall Blvd for hours and cops arrested as many as they could catch. Some reports said as many as 800 were arrested, and it made the national news. When the same thing happened again the following year, Splash Days were cancelled for good, and the entire event just died.

In approximately the same time-frame -- also 1961 I think -- a similar, but smaller riot happened at Sylvan Beach in La Porte. Hundreds of students there for some kind of event ran wild and trashed the Sylvan Beach Pavilion. La Porte police, Harris County Sheriff's Deputies and DPS troopers were called in to break it up. They even had to use tear gas. It was the beginning of the end for the Sylvan Beach Pavilion, which was a very popular place for banquets and school proms. It closed within a few years because it lost so much business.

Edited by FilioScotia
Link to post
Share on other sites
Does anybody else remember the student "riots" in Galveston and at Sylvan Beach in La Porte sometime around 1960? They were the local ripples of the spring break rioting that started at Fort Lauderdale in Florida in the late 50s and spread to other beach areas around the country.

I think the Splash Day riot was May 1961. Before my time, but it was big enough that I've heard about it.

This site says 800 people were arrested. A poster here says the National Guard was called in.

(Splash Day sidenotes: President Bush got teased for referencing Splash Day a couple years ago. At Splash Day 1946, part of Murdock pier collapsed, injuring many people.)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Does anybody else remember the student "riots" in Galveston and at Sylvan Beach in La Porte in 1961? They were the local ripples of the spring break rioting that started in California and Florida around 1960 and spread to other beach areas around the country.

People all over the country were stunned by the pictures and news film showing students on a rampage in the streets and fighting with police. I've never been able to figure out why all that happened, because there was nothing political or social going on at the time, the last year or so of the Eisenhower administration.

I was a senior at Pasadena High School in 1961, and I remember the Galveston riot that happened on May 1st during the annual Splash Day Festivities. Contrary to its present day association with the gay community, the original Splash Days were a big promotion the Galveston Chamber of Commerce sponsored every year to kick off the beach-going season. They had a "Miss Splash Day" beauty contest, live entertainment and a lot of other stuff, and it was all great fun that pulled a lot of people and families to Galveston.

In 1961, hundreds of students there for Splash Days got into a fight with police when the cops tried to arrest some of them for being drunk and obnoxious. They ran up and down Seawall Blvd for hours and cops arrested as many as they could catch. Some reports said as many as 800 were arrested, and it made the national news. When the same thing happened again the following year, Splash Days were cancelled for good, and the entire event just died.

In approximately the same time-frame -- also 1961 I think -- a similar, but smaller riot happened at Sylvan Beach in La Porte. Hundreds of students there for some kind of event ran wild and trashed the Sylvan Beach Pavilion. La Porte police, Harris County Sheriff's Deputies and DPS troopers were called in to break it up. They even had to use tear gas. It was the beginning of the end for the Sylvan Beach Pavilion, which was a very popular place for banquets and school proms. It closed within a few years because it lost so much business.

The Sylvan Beach Pavilion was still going -- maybe not going strongly -- in the spring of 1981, for that's when and where my senior class (Clear Creek HS) had its senior banquet.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Someone heaved a watermelon at a police cruiser? I'm not saying it didn't happen, but it strangely sounds like something someone would have written to make a "joke" about a riot composed of blacks back in the 60's, what's your source for this info?

I agree with your assessment of the watermelon claim. It does sound like someone's idea of a joke, and I think I know who may have said it.

In another forum here on the HAIF, I have written extensively about the late Houston radio news personality Richard Dobbyn, who was News Director at KIKK AM/FM in the late 60s. Dobbyn was known for saying racist and inflammatory things in his newscasts, and one of his most infamous came during the TSU riot.

At one point, Dobbyn said "the City of Houston needs to send some steamrollers over there and blacktop Wheeler Street." Although I don't know for certain that he also made the watermelon remark, it sounds like something he would have said.

Link to post
Share on other sites
For JLWM: You asked about my source for the posting about the TSU riot in May 1967. I was from a Time Magazine article published about a week after the event.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...,843792,00.html

Time Magazine's reporting of the watermelon claim doesn't mean it didn't originate as a joke. Reporters covering something like a riot always repeat things they heard, and it's common for complete untruths to be repeated so often they become part of the story.

In the sixties, saying a black student threw a watermelon at a police car just had to be somebody's idea of a joke. It's just so stereotypical of racial jokes of those times.

In those days even otherwise respectable people weren't above making racist and inflammatory jokes. Less respectable people even said them on the radio, as I pointed out about KIKK News Director Richard Dobbyn in my posting just before this one. His outrageous call for "blacktopping Wheeler Street" made national news, and it was even the subject of a seminar at the next convention of the National Association of Broadcasters the following year.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What would be interesting is if there were a way to find credible witnesses that happended to be there when these most recent events occurred. As time passes we miss out on the true stories from the people that were present. Once the media gets a hold of a situation, the public seldom gets the real skinny. Sometimes were lucky if there are even photos available as some parties possibly destroy evidence. :(

Link to post
Share on other sites

Lee Otis Johnson was purported to be behind the riots at TSU. However, he was conveniently absent when the rioting began. The cops claimed he was responsible, but had no concrete proof.

For that incident, and for other illegal activities he was suspected of, Johnson became famous for the 30-year sentence he received for selling a single joint to an undercover cop.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree that oral histories can be significant in documenting historical events, though there's no guaranteeting that any given witness, no matter how credible, will recollect the event accurately. It's probably good to approach all first-hand and second-hand accounts with a certain degree of skepticism, and to accept the fact that it is very difficult or impossible to record the "objective truth" of any given situation (if one even believes in objective truth) - the best we can hope to do is compile and try to give appropriate weight to the various subjective accounts and other forms of documentation.

Personal reminiscences shared in a forum like this are a great way to circulate information about places and events that might well disappear otherwise. I especially like when someone reports on something that an older relative or friend told them - it's good to do what we can to preserve the stories of older generations. I think it's great that schoolchildren are often given the assignment of "interviewing" an older relative about his/her life - the interviewee usually enjoys it, and such interviews, if preserved, can be valuable historical records in addition to a treasured personal momento. But I don't see any reason to leave it to schoolchildren - I hope everyone considers recording (and, if possible, transcribing and sharing) some oral histories in their own circle of family and acquaintances.

Apologies for the lengthy soap-boxing. To get back on topic...

I have no basis for knowing whether the watermelon incident occurred or not, but HPD appears to believe a specific person was arrested for the act:

"In May, 1967, there existed an atmosphere of racial unrest in the Houston area, particularly around the campus of Texas Southern University. Demonstrations were held on May 15th and 16th at TSU, at the Holmes Road city dump (over a long promised incinerator) and at Northwood Junior High School on Homestead Road (over false rumors of a black juvenile being shot by a white man). On Tuesday, May 16th, Criminal Intelligence Officers R.G. (Bobby) Blaylock and James O. (Bo) Norris were among many CID officers assigned to monitor these demonstrations. On this date, 29 people were arrested for illegally demonstrating at the Holmes Road site. CID Officers A.L. Blair and C.F. Howard had received information regarding large amounts of weapons being brought onto the TSU campus. Intelligence also revealed that there were members of the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who were agitating students on campus. Blaylock and Norris were assigned to report to the TSU campus to monitor the activity.

There were numerous uniformed marked units in the area and CID Officers Blaylock, Norris, Blair, Howard, and others were monitoring the activity. At approximately 10:30 p.m., a Charles Freeman began agitating a large crowd of students near the Student Activity Building. Then, a large watermelon was thrown by a Douglas Wayne Waller onto the hood of a police car. At this time, Waller was arrested and found to be carrying a pistol. Freeman, Floyd Henry Nichols, Trazawell Franklin, and John Parker continued agitating the crowd over the alleged Scenic Woods shooting. The crowd was going along with their prompting as rocks and bottles were being thrown at the officers, which had now become a large contingent. Unfortunately, the violence escalated as shortly thereafter shots were heard coming from the nearby Men's dormitory. The gunfire continued and Officer Bobby Blaylock was hit in the left buttocks. He was removed from the scene and taken to Ben Taub Hospital.

There were now several hundred Houston Police Officers in and around the TSU campus. As can well be imagined, confusion and chaos reigned. The shots continued from the upper floors of the Men's dorm. Chief of Police Herman Short arrived to direct the police operation. Black leaders were summoned to aid in keeping the situation from worsening. However, as they attempted to speak to the riotous crowd, they were turned back by a hail of gunfire in their direction. They were never able to negotiate.

At 2:20 a.m., a group of officers were near the northwest corner of the University Center Building. They were lined up along a wall awaiting directions from supervisors at the scene. Chief Short, like all of the other officers, took cover wherever possible. The Chief directed officers to fire only when fired upon and only above the building or directly at a known source of the gunfire.

Houston Post reporter Charley Schneider and Nick Gearhardt, KHOU-TV news director, were with this group of officers. Schneider stated that there were two officers and a TV newsman in front of him and Officer Louis Kuba was directly behind him with his hand on Schneider's shoulder. Heavy fire continued from the dorm and then Schneider felt Kuba's hand become limp. Turning, he saw the officer slumping backward into Gearhardt's outstretched arms, an expressionless look on his face and blood pouring from his forehead. Schneider reported in a Post article the following day, 'There was no riot at TSU. It was war.'"

From this site (emphasis added).

Link to post
Share on other sites
If an HPD history site says it happened, then I guess it happened. But it still sounds like a bad joke to me.

Could be they were racist cops, and could be they made it up. What makes me think it might be an accurate story is that there were reporters on the scene not that long after - and, if there wasn't any watermelon around, seems like they'd find it hard to believe someone stopped to clean it up in the middle of a riot. Dirty cops could presumably come up with a less easily denounced false basis for arrest. I understand why it caught your attention, though. Maybe it was just a picnic, or maybe it was an ironic watermelon. A sure sign I need to stop speculating - the ironic watermelon theory.

Edited by tmariar
Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahh, shoot, how could I forget. From the 1/25/18 Houston Press:

RICE STUDENTS BLOW FUSES

SMASH WINDOWS, THREATEN

WALKOUT OF MEN AND CO-EDS

[...]

The discontent of the student body on account of what they term "Red Tape" military regulations, put into effect at the institute by Captain Reagan, military instructor, has spread to practically all companies.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Could be they were racist cops, and could be they made it up.

That's more probable than you know. In the 1960s, HPD cops felt free to be openly racist because they were led by the most brazenly racist police chief I've ever encountered, Herman Short.

I chased police news for KIKK radio in those days, and my boss was the aforementioned Richard Dobbyn, who injected his racist views into every newscast he did, especially if a story was about Dr. Martin Lucifer King, as he called him, or if it had anything to do with blacks, hispanics or the weekly body count from Viet Nam. The dead enemy troops weren't North Vietnamese, or Viet Cong. Dobbyn called them "chinks".

You had to know Dobbyn to really appreciate him. And you want to know who his biggest fan was? Herman Short. At least once a week Short would come up to me in the HPD Press Room and tell me how much he liked listening to Dobbyn's newscasts, because "Dobbyn tells it like it is."

I'm telling all this to underscore how openly racist HPD was, from top to bottom, and I'm saying it's completely believable for me that in 1967, a white HPD cop would make up the excuse of a black student throwing a watermelon. These were cops who would talk openly of the small untraceable pistol they carried around with them to "throw down" next to the body of somebody they'd shot if the guy didn't have a gun. They did it so they could claim they shot him in self defense, and it happened fairly often, and you won't be surprised to know that most of the time the victim was black.

They got away with it for many years, and you won't be surprised to know that it took the police shooting of an unarmed white teenager to bring an end to that shameful practice. A cop shot the boy after a wild car chase, and used a "throw down" gun that -- it was learned later -- had been confiscated from a robbery suspect the year before, and was supposed to be locked up in the police station property room downtown. The boy's parents raised hell with police and the DA, the media got involved, and the truth finally came out several years later. Several officers were fired and one was brought up on charges. I've always believed that if that boy had been black, it would have been forgotten.

Incidentally, this story was made into an excellent movie for TV in 1981, with an all-star cast. The Killing of Randy Webster. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082615

And here's the original NY Times review of that movie. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...750C0A967948260

Some local reporters didn't have completely clean hands in those days either. I knew several who were as racist as any KKK'er. During the police siege of the People's Party II HQ on Dowling Street, which ended in the death of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, one radio reporter borrowed a gun from a cop and joined in the shooting. He claimed the cop only asked him to "hold the gun" for a minute. To their credit, other reporters gave him holy hell.

My friends those were not happy times in Houston.

Edited by FilioScotia
Link to post
Share on other sites
Someone heaved a watermelon at a police cruiser

"It looked like the Alamo"

I'm sorry, but as serious as that account was, I couldn't help but laugh hysterically at these two snippets!

I mean, with the watermelon thing, if there isn't a worse thing that black students could've done to perpetuate an old stereotype...and its just funny.

And with the Alamo comment, well I've seen TSU. It isn't a spanish-style mission. And I kind of doubt that the police used howitzers...

EDIT: ...and then I read the rest of your posts, so the seed of doubt is planted. Still, it was at least funny in the moment.

Edited by TheNiche
Link to post
Share on other sites
When did this occur?

"During the police siege of the People's Party II HQ on Dowling Street, which ended in the death of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, one radio reporter borrowed a gun from a cop and joined in the shooting."

Strange. Fred Hampton was killed in Chicago in 1969. Don't know about any incident at the Dowling St. People's Party II HQ in Houston, though.

[Edit: Just found more info here - sounds like it was Carl Hampton who was killed in Houston.]

Edited by tmariar
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

Two "incidents" come to mind, but they don't really qualify as riots.

There was an extended protest at UH where students were protesting the demolition of numerous trees at the site of a new Arts building. I believe the result was that the design was changed to preserve one of the trees. I remember that an art student saved one of the felled tree trunks and incorporated it into a fanciful sculpture a couple of years later. Anyway that lasted for a number of days with students occupying the site. This was the year before I started at UH, so I missed out on this one.

There was an "almost" riot on Dowling St in the summer of 1970. There was a Black Panther-like group known as People's Party II who had their headquarters on Dowling. The head of People's Party II, Carl Hampton, was killed in a confrontation with Houston Police. I remember that the Space City! made quite an issue of this at the time. I remember this because I did some work for Space City! from time to time and happened to be in their office/house when this all happened. A lot of people thought at the time that it was all going to "come down" that night. Nothing much came of it but I always lamented that the Carl Hampton thing was brushed aside so completely.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Update, I talked with Mrs. Audrey H. Lawson, the wife of Rev. Lawson about 2 or 3 weeks ago and brought up the incident. When I asked her about the watermelon being thrown at the cruiser, she said that didn't happen. When I get a chance, I'll ask Rev. Lawson about it too, perhaps I will see him this Sunday.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The incident on Dowling St. did happen and the young man was killed by HPD, the headquarters for the Black Panters was on Dowling across from Emancipation Park.

My family were members of the Historical St. John Baptist Church located several blocks away from the Park. HPD stormed into the 4 story church without permission and took the church over using the roof to shoot at protestors, the Houston Chronicle did an article on the incident showing a deacon from the church pointing out damage done to the church by HPD. They give no respect for a house of god simply because it was black. At this time St. John was the house of worship for some of the wealthiest and most prominent blacks in the state of Texas, but loss many of it's prominent members after this incident.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...
Update, I talked with Mrs. Audrey H. Lawson, the wife of Rev. Lawson about 2 or 3 weeks ago and brought up the incident. When I asked her about the watermelon being thrown at the cruiser, she said that didn't happen. When I get a chance, I'll ask Rev. Lawson about it too, perhaps I will see him this Sunday.

I finally saw and talked with Rev. Lawson on sunday. I asked him about the incident and told him about the claim of the watermelon. He asked me "who said something like that?" I told him it was printed in "Time", he just shook his head and told me no watermelon was thrown.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 7 months later...
I think the Splash Day riot was May 1961. Before my time, but it was big enough that I've heard about it.

This site says 800 people were arrested. A poster here says the National Guard was called in.

(Splash Day sidenotes: President Bush got teased for referencing Splash Day a couple years ago. At Splash Day 1946, part of Murdock pier collapsed, injuring many people.)

Was Houston the city where that uprising at a nursing home happened? I remember people called it "The Cane Mutiny."

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 8 years later...

I'm telling all this to underscore how openly racist HPD was, from top to bottom, and I'm saying it's completely believable for me that in 1967, a white HPD cop would make up the excuse of a black student throwing a watermelon. These were cops who would talk openly of the small untraceable pistol they carried around with them to "throw down" next to the body of somebody they'd shot if the guy didn't have a gun. They did it so they could claim they shot him in self defense, and it happened fairly often, and you won't be surprised to know that most of the time the victim was black.

They got away with it for many years, and you won't be surprised to know that it took the police shooting of an unarmed white teenager to bring an end to that shameful practice. A cop shot the boy after a wild car chase, and used a "throw down" gun that -- it was learned later -- had been confiscated from a robbery suspect the year before, and was supposed to be locked up in the police station property room downtown. The boy's parents raised hell with police and the DA, the media got involved, and the truth finally came out several years later. Several officers were fired and one was brought up on charges. I've always believed that if that boy had been black, it would have been forgotten.

Incidentally, this story was made into an excellent movie for TV in 1981, with an all-star cast. The Killing of Randy Webster. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082615

And here's the original NY Times review of that movie. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html...750C0A967948260

 

I had never seen this movie before, despite having lived here when Randy Webster was killed and remembering the subsequent fallout when the facts were later exposed. So I was pleased to run across it being aired very late last night on the "Decades" subchannel (20.3). I suspect it would be pretty eye-opening viewing for anyone too young to recall how HPD used to operate with relative impunity forty years ago. It's noteworthy that the concept of a "throw-down" was apparently still uncommon enough then among the general public that it has to be explained in the movie. 

 

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Houston history, and fortunately the full-length movie is also on YouTube (the picture quality was better on the Decades airing, but it was also cropped to fit a 16:9 aspect ratio, whereas the YouTube video is the correct full-frame 4:3):

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...