2013 is a year of many anniversaries in Black history, but not all events are spoken of equally. With so much focus on Harlem at the current moment, now is a great time to revisit a time tumult in the history of the neighborhood. This year marks the 70th anniversary of 1943 Harlem riots. At the time derided as mere “race riots” this uprising in Harlem had at its core the issue of police violence in the community. The spark for the riot was the arrest and rough treatment of a Harlem woman, Marjorie Polite.
In the summer of 1943, Marjorie was arrested for disorderly conduct in the Hotel Braddock on West 126th Street. The arresting officer, James Collins decided that Ms. Polite was being a little too loud in demanding a refund for a room she was not happy with. Robert Bandy, a Black soldier on leave, and his mother Florine Roberts noticed the commotion, and the tight hold on Marjorie. He confronted officer Collins to let her go. When Bandy intervened physically, a struggle ensued, ending with officer Collins shooting him in the shoulder. He was not fatally wounded.
Now the rumors flew around Harlem that a soldier was shot and dying, and that became the rallying point. This incident tapped into the rage seething beneath the surface, and spread rapidly. It went on for two days, and was by some scholars worse than the 1935 Harlem riots. Many recount this story only from the vantage point of Mr. Bandy and officer Collins, but that is only part of the story 70 years ago, Harlem was shaken, and Marjorie Polite was the spark.
Margie Polite, Police Violence and the 1943 Harlem Riots
Or Does It Explode?: Black Harlem in The Great Depression, by Cheryl Lynn Greenberg
Note: This author has no known relation to Ms. Marjorie Polite