August 30, 1966: Benton Harbor Riot

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Benton Harbor

In the state of Michigan sits the predominantly Black neighborhood, Benton Harbor. Benton Harbor’s predominantly White ‘twin city,’ St. Joseph, sits across the river. In addition to the physical divide (the river) between the two cities, there has been a racial divide between them for some time. On this day in Black history, August 30, 1966, that racial divide resulted in a riot that has left both cities at odds with each other.

Racial Tensions

Whether in Benton Harbor or in St. Joseph, Black locals knew that they were unwelcome. Benton Harbor was more heavily policed than St. Joseph and the police force comprised of mostly White men. On the other side of the river, Black residents of St. Joseph were also harassed by the police, as well as their White neighbors. Additionally, the Black Benton Harbor residents who visited St. Joseph were also harassed by White officers and residents.

Riot

After being harassed one too many times, 300 young Black Benton Harbor and St. Joseph residents gathered to protest their mistreatment by the police and White residents. Their protest began on August 29th and only escalated from there. The protesters were met with resistance and a riot broke out on the 30th. The protesters were attacked by the police and the White residents, so they counter-attacked with rocks. As the riot continued, a young Black man named Cecil Hunt was shot. A truck-full of White counter-protesters drove alongside the crowd and shot him. The police arrested the three men who were in the truck, as well as a fourth counter-protester. Due to a lack of evidence, Hunt’s killer was never brought to justice.

National Guard

Black leaders urged the protesters to stop rioting but they did not listen. After decades of harassment and discrimination, the residents of Benton Harbor had had enough. The rioting persisted, prompting then-governor George Romney (former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s father) to call on the National Guard for support. By September 5th, the rioting had ended for the most part but the racial tensions were even worse now. Benton Harbor, Michigan, riot, race riot, Black History

2003

37 years after the 1966 riot, another riot broke out in Benton Harbor. It is said that in April of 2003, a Black man named Arthur Partee died as the police attempted to arrest him. In June of that same year, another Black man, Terrance Shurn, supposedly led the police on a high-speed pursuit. His motorcycle apparently crashed into a wall and Shurn died on impact. Residents of the still-predominantly Black Benton Harbor did not believe either story surrounding the men’s deaths. As a result of suffering two losses at the hands of law enforcement, as well as having information withheld from them, Benton Harbor residents started a series of riots. Governor Romney once again dispatched the National Guard in order to quell the rioters. After two days, the rioting ended.

Modern-Day

The Benton Harbor Riots of 1966 and 2003 were bookends to what seems like a never-ending story. Benton Harbor is still inundated with racism and discrimination. Black Benton Harbor and St. Joseph residents live in fear for their lives and in anticipation of another race-related riot. Hopefully, the human race will learn from the mistakes that were made in our past. [caption id="attachment_8141" align="aligncenter" width="668"]Benton Harbor, Michigan, riot, race riot, Black History Image from a news report on a 2016 police shooting in Benton Harbor, Michigan.[/caption]]]>

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