By M. Swift
The place: Beaumont, Texas. The Year 1943. In late 1941, the U.S entered World War II following the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan. This also resulted in all industrial powerhouses in the country working together in the war effort—a powerhouse such as Beaumont, TX which focused its efforts on shipbuilding.
The war occurred at the start of the Second Great Migration when Black people were moving into the west and into the north was better social environments and work opportunities. While racism was still experienced in the north and out west—as we’ll get into—there was more space to navigate and thrive compared to the rural and urban southeast of the 1940s-1960s.
It was a combination of the industrial side of the war effort and Black people moving to new areas that is the basis for the Beaumont race riot. This meant competition for the White labor force and things were strained very quickly. On June 15, 1943, the White workers of the Pennsylvania Shipyard had a confrontation with Black workers that bore similarities to many other incidents of riots from this time.
The Beaumont Race Riot
As was sometimes the case with events such as lynch mobs pulling prisoners from jail cells or full-blown race riots in this period, the Beaumont race riot was precipitated by a White woman claiming that a Black man sexually assaulted her. It turns out that there was another incident ten days earlier where a Black man was accused of rape by the daughter of a White shipyard worker and shot by police.
Even though the second woman couldn’t identify which Black man assaulted her, a crowd of over 4,000 shipyard workers and others showed up at City Hall. From there, the mob broke off into groups and attack Black citizens and destroyed property in those neighborhoods. In all, it is said that over 100 homes and Black businesses were either looted or razed.
The state’s National Guard was called in by Mayor George Gary and acting Governor A.M. Aiken Jr. declared martial law on the city. With a force 1,800 guardsmen, 100 police officers, 75 Texas Rangers, a curfew was put into place that night. What passed for order in Beaumont given the climate was reestablished on June 20.
Between June 15 and June 20, 21 people were killed and 206 were arrested. There was a trial on June 20 and only 29 of the rioters were violent crimes. As you probably guessed, no one was found responsible of the murders that occurred.
Today Black people make up the majority in Beaumont, Texas at 47.1-percent as of the 2010 U.S Census. White people make up 38.7-percent of the city’s 118,000 plus residents.
M. Swift primarily writes on moments and important figures in Black history for Your Black World. He also writes heavily on wrestling, comics, gaming, and Black sci-fi and fantasy.