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Wooster Avenue Riots – Akron, Ohio in 1968

When I tell you guys that knowledge is power… I really mean it!  Last week I was over my niece’s house & her boyfriend’s mom (who is actually from Puerto Rico) was telling us about the Wooster Avenue Riots that happened right here in Akron, OH back in 1968.  I was surprised because I never even heard about any riots here.  I let it go in one ear and out the other but something I saw on Face Book made me remember what she told us.  I started doing a little research and immediately found a lot of information about these riots.  The 1st thing I noticed about the information I read was that the riots actually started on July 16, 1968 (which is my birthday… well I wasn’t born until 1984 but you know what I mean).

The Akron Beacon Journal also did a write up on the riots also on my birthday this year… CHECK IT OUT HERE

There is really a lot of information out there & I read the entire article… but let me paste this small excerpt.  The Mayor of Akron at the time (Mayor Ballard) wrote the Akron Commission of Civil Disorders and he requested that a citizens’ commission provide him with an assessment of the causes of the civil disorder in Akron and he also wanted it to be attached with recommendations concerning steps that could and should be taken to reduce or eliminate the alienation and division which existed in the city at the time.


REVIEW OF THE CIVIL DISTURBANCE PERIOD IN AKRON

On July 16, 1968, many citizens thought of Akron as a major
industrial city with renowned and reputable corporations; with serviceable
schools and a variety of churches; with many kinds of services, types of
people, and community activities; with a growing university; well-known
sports events; extensive urban renewal; and with problems that would someday
be solved. On July 23, Akron was a city that had experienced a civil
disturbance. While a few people were genuinely apprehensive, most citizens,
black and white,did not really expect a civil disorder–a kind of “it can’t
happen here” attitude was common. Quickly, this attitude changed to one of
uncertainty and raised such questions as “Why?” “Was it necessary?”
Could it have been avoided?” and “Will it happen again?” This confusion
was at least partially the result of the fact that Akron has generally not
been a city of extremes—wealth but not ostentation; poverty but not
extreme degradation; economic stability but some unemployment; responsible
leadership, but rarely daring or imaginative.
This same moderateness had been thought applicable to race relations
in the city–much indifference and apathy but not extreme hostility or hate.
Akron’s black citizens, however, have suffered the same discrimination and
experienced the same prejudicial atmosphere as that which has characterized
American cities in general. Conditions contributing to the impatience
and resentment of the black people toward their treatment were not
significantly worse in July, 1968, than they were in June, 1968, or July,
1967. But the possibility for trouble was greater–disturbances elsewhere,
talk of disturbances here, and the fear of disturbances on the
part of both black and white citizens–although many failed to realize it.

The mood around the country during June and July was one of hostility and
rebellion and many scenes of violence were being seen over television.
There had been student revolts at California, Columbia, Ohio state, and
many other college campuses. Resurrection City in Washington was
experiencing disrupted marches, arrests, and internal dissension. A riot
occurred at the Ohio Penitentiary in June. Racial dissension among the
Cleveland Browns was highly publicized.
In Akron, protests were voiced about welfare, recreation, and
leadership from the Poor People’s Headquarters and Community Action
Council. There was a continuing dissatisfaction among many of the people
affected by various urban renewal programs. On Tuesday, July 16, police
broke up a fight between groups of black youths from rival North and West
side gangs and also dispersed gangs in the downtown area. Early Wednesday
morning, large crowds gathered on Wooster Avenue, police were called in
increasing strength, rocks were thrown, windows broken, tear gas pellets
were fired, and Akron had a civil disturbance. Before daylight National
Guard troops had been called, Command posts were established, a state of
emergency proclaimed by the Mayor and a curfew imposed. Between Wednesday
and the following Tuesday a number of businesses were firebombed, hundreds
of persons were arrested, including many young people, and there were
innumerable confrontations between blacks and law enforcement officers.
The lifting of the curfew on Tuesday was in doubt until the last minute
but the decision to do so probably averted a major confrontation and more
violence. The evening ended with a street dance and a release of pent-up
emotions on all sides.
There is little evidence that the disorders were planned and even
less that they were deliberately started in the middle of July, although

there were some persons and groups who were receptive to trouble and willing
to encourage and accentuate it. There is also little evidence to suggest
that Communist, subversive, or outside influences instigated the beginning
or were ve’I!y important at any time. Small numbers of youthful blacks were
continuously involved in the disturbance with some adult support. Some of
these people had maintained contact with militants in other communities. A
larger number of young black people were sporadic participators while most
black adults were highly ambivalent, worried but not entirely disapproving.
Certainly many black citizens avoided the disturbed areas so they did not
provide any support to those in the streets but neither did they openly
oppose their aggressive actions. Recurring confrontations during the
disturbance occurred between youthful spokesmen and the older, established
leaders in the black community, stemming from the dissatisfaction of the
former with the slow progress in removing the discriminatory patterns of
centuries and their impatience.
The actual motivating factors of the major participants were
complex and varied. They included resentment against discrimination toward
blacks in all areas of community life, some anti-Semitism, personal
animosities, opportunism and hoodlumism, a lot of youthful excitement,
and the general contagion arising from an emotional buildup. It is not
possible to state categorically that the events of July were racially
inspired, but one cannot ignore the fact that the participants were primarily
from a historically suppressed minority concentrated in a ghetto-like
section of the city. Without denying that many people suffered economically,
socially, and emotionally, the limited physical destruction and minimum

of personal injuries do not suggest either a well-planned plot to riot
or a major black-white confrontation. It is also likely that in spite
of a number of cases of excessive force and questionable decisions by
individuals, the effective coordination and control shown by the Akron
Police, Summit County Sheriff’s Department, and the National Guard
contributed to the limited damage and few injuries. It would be only
speculation to suggest what might have happened if the law enforcement
agencies involved had followed any other course of action.
There were several occurrences that may have prolonged the length
of the disturbances. One factor that intensified the resentment of both
participant and observer blacks was the unequal and inconsistent application
of the curfew, especially in relation to different sections of
the city and apparently to different classes of people. Another major
irritant during the course of the disorder was the failure of the law
enforcement officers to distinguish those black citizens who, at considerable
personal risk, were attempting to ease the tensions and disperse those
who were creating it from those who were active contributors to the
disorders. There were also crimes committed and other individual actions
which took place during the disturbance that were actually incidental to
it, but nevertheless added to the rumors and general uncertainty about
what was happening. While the police are convinced that the use of
chemicals minimized the need for physical force, many blacks are certain
that there was an excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas. It is
interesting to note that press, television and radio coverage was not
referred to in any way by the witnesses, other than a referral to something
they might have read or heard, as influencing the course of the disturbance.

After the hearings got under way in late September, it quickly
became obvious to the Commission that witnesses were much more interested
and concerned about preventive and corrective measures for the community
than in concentrating on placing blame and isolating specific causes.
The Commission generally responded to this orientation for two reasons:
First, the Commission believed that its proper function was to seek out
the fundamental causes rather than to determine the responsibility for
specific actions and events; and second, this orientation placed the
emphasis on the future rather than the past.

To read the full reply from the Akron Commission of Civil Disorders, please CLICK HERE

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