feature: nyc draft riots anniversary: the white riots that left dozens of black people dead in 1863

July 12, 2016

Today marks the 153rd anniversary of the New York draft riots– turned race riots- in 1863, and in wake of the borderline race riots currently persisting in 2016, one could (facetiously) call it serendipitous that we recognize this shameful moment in history, as it repeats in our present: 

With the American Civil War (1861-1865) in full throttle, tensions were high and morale was slipping. As was custom, the government would draft its citizens into the war, yet those of higher class could hire a replacement- sparing themselves from the terrors of war while benefitting from its outcome. (Hmmm, not foreign to present day, though circumstances may vary)  The lower class of 1860’s Manhattan was similar to the concrete jungle of today; a diverse mixture of ethnicities- including immigrants and African Americans- simply trying to survive. Though, governmentally, all lower class stood in the same boat, race was a potent divider.

The Irish in particular resented both the wealthy class for avoiding the war, and the black people for ‘taking their jobs’. To top it off, with the passing of the Enrollment act in March of 1863, where congress created a draft; African Americans were excluded because- HELLO- they were still considered 3/4’s of a person, so therefore, not a citizen. White immigrants had already begun to steadily build up their anti-black sentiment, but when the first drafts were pulled in July, they bubbled over into all-out bloodshed.

The war in the South was now on the streets of the East, and- similar to the 21st century- the tyranny of the government seeped into the consciousness of the people, who then required a scapegoat and target for all of their anger; and who better to receive it than those who’s powers already been stripped. 

Now, on the streets of Manhattan, where over 120 African Americans were killed in the riots of 1863, we march for the 114 black men alone – not even counting the women, and other people of color- murdered by police in only half of 2016 (192 days so far).

Though undeniable progress has been made for the societal status of people of color in America, those who say ‘look how far we’ve come’, need to open a history book to look how long its been, look who’s still dying, and look how far we still need to go.

By Cree B. McClellan, AFROPUNK contributor