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  • Writer's pictureNia Clark

S4 E8 The 1863 New York Draft Riots and Massacre

Depiction of the New York Draft Riots, The Illustrated London News, 1863

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln's government passed a new conscription law requiring certain male citizens to report for military duty if chosen through a lottery. Wealthy men could buy their way out. Black men were not considered citizens and were exempt from the draft. When New York City conducted it's first draft lottery on July 11, 1863, the anger of aggrieved poor white residents had boiled over. By July 13th, a mob of thousands of primarily Irish Catholic rioters directed their anger first, toward military and government buildings before turning on anyone in their way, police and soldiers included. Finally, the mobs turned their sights onto Black men and women, their homes and businesses. The violence continued for three days until about 4,000 federal troops arrived in New York City fresh from the Battle of Gettysburg to quell the ravenous hordes. Estimates of the death toll range from 74 to 1,200. Some experts estimate that dozens of Blacks were killed. 11 Black men are on record as being lynched. Several thousand Black residents were made homeless. Millions of dollars worth of property were destroyed, including an orphanage for African American children. The 1863 New York Draft Riots and Massacre holds the distinction as one of the worst insurrections in U.S. History aside from the Civil War, and certainly the worst riot in New York’s history. Guests in this episode include, Author, Historian and Northwestern University Professor, Leslie Harris.

"After the riots, the wealthiest New Yorkers, members of the Union League Club, they are, I think, embarrassed by what happened. They try to make it up to Blacks. There is...the first Black troops that are going to go south through New York parade. But it is really a dark time in New York. I call that last chapter, the failures of the city. It really is a failure. It caps a couple of decades of struggle and real fear that Blacks have. Is this city a place where we can survive? And in1863, the answer seems to be no for many." ~Leslie Harris

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Guests in this episode

Leslie Harris

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