Day in the History of Racial Injustice

Illustration of an attack on black Memphians. Harper’s Weekly, 26 May 1866

The Memphis massacre of 1866 was a series of violent events that occurred from May 1 to 3, 1866 in Memphis, Tennessee. The racial violence was ignited by political and social racism following the American Civil War, in the early stages of Reconstruction. After a shooting altercation between white policemen and black veterans recently mustered out of the Union Army, mobs of white residents and policemen rampaged through black neighborhoods and the houses of freedmen, attacking and killing black soldiers and civilians and committing many acts of robbery and arson.

A sketch from Harper’s Weekly of a freedmen’s schoolhouse burning during the Memphis Massacre 150 years ago this month. (Tennessee State Library & Archives)

No criminal proceedings took place against the instigators or perpetrators of the Memphis riots. The United States Attorney General, James Speed, ruled that judicial actions associated with the riots fell under state jurisdiction. But, state and local officials refused to take action, and no grand jury was ever invoked.

The sign, a private marker placed by the NAACP, and approved by the National Park Service, as it now stands in Army Park.
Christopher Blank/WKNO-FM

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