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Tue, 03.19.1935

The 1935 Harlem Race Riot Occurs


*The Harlem riot of 1935 took place on this date, 1935. It has been described as the first "modern" race riot in Harlem because it was committed primarily against property rather than persons.  

At 2:30 in the afternoon on March 19, 1935, an employee at the Kress Five and Ten store at 256 W. 125th Street  (just across the street from the Apollo Theater) caught 16-year-old Lino Rivera shoplifting a 10-cent penknife; the boy was a Black Puerto Rican. When his captor threatened to take Rivera into the store's basement and "beat the hell out of him," Rivera bit the employee's hand.

The manager intervened, and the police were called, but Rivera was eventually released. In the meantime, a crowd gathered outside around a woman who had witnessed Rivera's apprehension; she was shouting that Rivera was being beaten. When an ambulance showed up to treat the wounds of the employee who had been bitten, it appeared to confirm the woman's story. When the crowd noticed a hearse parked outside the store, rumors began to circulate that Rivera had been beaten to death. The woman who had raised the alarm was arrested for disorderly conduct, the Kress Five and Ten store closed early, and police dispersed the crowd.   

That evening a demonstration was held outside the store, and after someone threw a rock through the window, more general destruction of the store and other white-owned properties ensued. Three people died, hundreds were wounded, and an estimated $2 million in damages was caused to properties throughout the district. Black-owned homes and businesses were spared the worst of the destruction.  During the Great Depression, minorities in Harlem and elsewhere in New York suffered as they struggled with unemployment. Non-whites were often fired first and hired last in fluctuating employment, and conditions were bleak.  

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