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May 1, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Race riots of July 1862

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

Others weren’t nearly as lucky. Stones and clubs were used to pound random black men. Some reports indicate that white children as young as 10 participated in the carnage. Beatings weren’t the only retaliatory measure used. Houses belonging to blacks were vandalized and their gardens and other property destroyed. By the end of the 30 hours, more than 200 whites had joined the rampage and, as far as Peters can tell, at the very least three blacks had been murdered. No one knows what happened to the men who shot Lansford and Locke. Their history died along with the lives of the other causalities that following night. 

It would be easy to blame the shooting as a trigger for what ensued on that July 22 night. But let’s not kid ourselves. Even as Indiana supported the Union cause, race relations at the time along the Ohio were anything but worthy of pride. Blacks weren’t welcome by many in the state, let alone as residents of the river city with the southern business ties. In 1851, a huge majority of Hoosiers voted in favor of a law that prevented any additional black people from settling in the state, effectively criminalizing newly escaped slaves or freemen from making Indiana their home. 

Other racially charged violent acts had occurred prior to this instance and blatant discrimination was a way of life for most blacks. Just a glimpse of the Daily Ledger can give you a feel for the bigotry. 

While the brutality of the riots and the complete randomness of the attacks stand out in the newspaper accounts, so do the tales of unselfish heroism. In particular, the owner of a local boarding house, Mary Israel, sheltered a black man who had escaped the violent mob. According to Peters, she resisted their unsuccessful attempts to withdraw her boarder by barricading the doors and refusing to let in the crowd. 

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