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Houston Has Its Own History of Race Riots

Murder trial after the Houston Riot of 1917.
Murder trial after the Houston Riot of 1917.

As tear gas and rubber bullets flew on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, this week, I couldn't help but be thankful for the relatively peaceful streets of Houston. Sure, we have crime like most big cities and racial tensions do, at times, rise. For instance, when protesters took to the streets of River Oaks after the death of Trayvon Martin. Despite some concerns at the time about looting and violence, it was entirely peaceful. But, that hasn't always been the case.

In the past Houston has been marred by race riots--three in particular--that turned violent, resulting in injuries and deaths to civilians and police. With the civil unrest in Ferguson this week, it seemed like a good time to remind ourselves that Houston wasn't always such a quiet, diverse place.

Houston Riot (1917)

What we now call Memorial Park was once Camp Logan, a military encampment in the early 1900s. When police were involved in the beating of a black woman and a black solider from the camp, 156 soldiers, enraged by the actions of police, stole weapons and took to the streets of Houston in an armed conflict that left 20 people dead including four police, four soldiers and 12 civilians.

The unrest caused Martial Law to be declared in the city and the entire camp to be packed up and shipped out of Texas. It was the bloodiest riot in Houston history, culminating in the court martial and hanging of numerous soldiers involved in the incident.

 

TSU Riots (1967)

Even those of us too young to have been around for the sixties are familiar with the general unrest of that decade. Brought on by racial tensions throughout the south. Houston was not immune to the violent protests that seemed commonplace across America. Unfortunately, these particular riots on the campus of Texas Southern University on May 17, 1967 were the result of misinformation rather than injustice.

A rumor spread across campus that a six-year-old black child had been killed by police. Turns out it was a white boy who shot and wounded another white child. Students began to gather and chant, but it escalated when someone in the crowd allegedly through something at a police car. Then, a shot was fired at a cop car. After that, a full-blown panic ensued and a hostile standoff with police resulted in the death of one officer and the wounding of one students and two other cops. All over something that didn't actually happen.

Moody Park Riots (1978)

Houston's most recent racially-motivated riots came 36 years ago after the brutal beating death of Vietnam veteran Joe Campos Torres at the hands of Houston police. After his body was found floating in Buffalo Bayou, what began as a party in the east side park soon devolved into fights and car fires.

The riots spread across 18 blocks around the park and 15 people were injured including former news reporter Jack Cato. Two of the police officers responsible for Torres's death were eventually convicted of negligent homicide and the riots led to sweeping changes inside HPD.


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