Mar. 6, 1863: Race riot breaks out, killing at least 2 and injuring dozens

race riotOn this day in 1863, a spectacular race riot rocks Detroit.

Occurring during the days of the American Civil War, the set of disturbances will be reported by the Detroit Free Press as “the bloodiest day that ever dawned upon Detroit.”

The spark that sets off the conflagration is unrest related to racism and the military draft. Blacks here have been serving on the Union side. At the end of the day, at least two innocent people are dead and dozens are beaten, most of whom are African-American.

One account alleges that an angry white mob attacked a home where African-American women and children were present, propelling black men to react with vengeance.
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The tragic event will result in the creation of a full-time police force.

The city’s population in 1860 was 45,619, only 1,402 of whom are African-American, according to public records.

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman, the author of On this Day: African-American Life in Detroit, is a native Detroiter and former news reporter. He served on the Detroit Charter Revision Commission. He lives in Detroit with his wife, Kim Trent, and their son, Jackson Coleman.