The Hotel Bristol
By Lonnie Braxton II
“In an effort to “clean up” every Negro on the street! A mob of 400 or more white sailors aided and abetted by several hundred-civilians, ex-service men and marines started a fight Thursday night that filled the principal streets of the city with a howling night of excited men and made it necessary to sound the riot call on the fire alarm at 10:36.” The May 30, 1919 edition of The Evening Day.
In the summer of 1919, violent anti-Black riots broke out in at least twenty-five cities throughout the United States. This summer of racial violence has come to be known as “The Red Summer.”
On one such night of terror, May 29, 1919, some five thousand rioters surrounded the Hotel Bristol at 92 Bank Street, trapping inside dozens of Black people seeking protection from the angry mob. Rioters attacked Black individuals unable to find shelter in the Hotel Bristol. Other rioters entered the building and grabbed Black servers, throwing them outside and brutalizing them.
Most of the headlines in press reports at the time laid blame for the violence on Black servicemen, e.g. “Negro Sailors Attack Whites at New London—Worst Riot in Years—U.S. Marines, With Loaded Rifles, Press Crowd Back.” Further, these recountings of the incident blamed Black sailors for the severe beatings that the victims received at the hands of rioting white men.
However, in the days after this incident, the Associated Negro Press conducted an investigation, finding that Black sailors had previously lodged complaints of a pattern of attacks by white sailors. The Associated Negro Press’s reporting found that, on the night of the riot, two white sailors accused a group of Black sailors of ambushing them as they crossed Long Cove Bridge. In reality, local police had arrested two white sailors for fighting and disorderly conduct earlier that night. It appears that this arrest inspired friends and acquaintances of the arrested white sailors to foment unrest which culminated in a raid on the Hotel Bristol. By no coincidence, at the time of this attack the Hotel Bristol was a popular social spot for Black sailors.
One month after the riot at the Hotel Bristol, a second race riot in New London erupted on the Fort Trumbull Peninsula. Although this riot wasn’t as widely reported in the press, we know that the City of New London again requested assistance from the U.S. Marine Corps to end the violence, as their truck hit a fire hydrant and the City of New London billed the Navy for the damages.
Red Summer of 1919: How Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs – HISTORY