Brawls of Cincinnati

We’ve watched with interest and a degree of sadness as brawls between hundreds of teenagers play out in shopping malls across the country from Colorado to Connecticut, Tennessee to Texas, and North Carolina to New Jersey. Luckily, Cincinnati and surrounding areas of southwestern Ohio have been spared. But as a city, we haven’t always been that lucky.

Our first recorded riot was in 1792 when 50 soldiers and settlers brawled over a merchant being beaten by a soldier. Had not the spring floods driven folks from their houses, there may never have been a riot that day.

Cincinnati riot 1884 barricade on court street

Cincinnati Riot of 1884. Barricade on Court Street

The Cincinnati Riots of 1829 saw Irish immigrants go up against African-Americans over jobs. The Irish had arrived as immigrants decades earlier to work on the Miami and Erie Canals, and in the steamboat and shipping industries, while a growing number of free blacks and former slaves from Kentucky and Virginia used the Ohio River to seek similar work.

By 1841 our city had grown to be the sixth largest city in the U.S. but in August a long drought period had increased unemployment because the river level’s drop had put many men out of work. Blacks continued to compete for work; housing along the river grew even more overcrowded. On August 1, a group of Irishmen got into a fight with some blacks and over several days the brawl grew into more neighborhoods lasting into September.

In 1853, our German immigrants rioted over a visit of then-Archbishop Bedini, emissary of Pope Pius IX to Cincinnati, because they were riled up over an anti-Bedini article in the newspaper. A demonstration was carried out at Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral. A marcher fired a shot, the police charged, and the ensuing brawl resulted in 2 police and 15 German demonstrators wounded and 1 killed. Two years later, tempers flared again when defamatory remarks from an anti-immigrant editor of the Cincinnati Times caused a riot in Over-the-Rhine; several more died.

Cincinnati was home to one of the most destructive riots in American history when in 1884 a jury refused to convict two young men who robbed and murdered their employer in the West End. One was finally hung, but not before a was juror beaten and another pelted with rotten eggs (though they pelted the wrong man). When 10,000 people attended a meeting at Music Hall to protest the court’s leniency, five people died and the jail was set on fire. A day later, the mob was so out of control that militia called in from Columbus came with Gatling gun to clear the streets. Into the next day, the riots continued until Federal troops arrived and workers went back to their jobs. In what is described as “Fire and Fury: The Reign of Terror” in Cincinnati, 56 people had died and over 300 were wounded.

Brawls and riots calmed until Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Avondale Riot of 1968. But it was only the calm before the storm. In 2001, the Queen City was home to one of the largest urban riots since the L.A. Riots of 1992. After a 19-year old, unarmed, African American was shot and killed by the police during a misdemeanor arrest, we endured four nights of rioting and looting ultimately costing millions of dollars of property damage and lost revenue to downtown businesses. The Cincinnati Riots of 2001 have made a lasting impact on our city.

Most of the information provided here comes from Wikipedia. If you’d like to learn more about the “brawling” history of Cincinnati, just follow the links provided or, for a quicker summary, read this 2001 article published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.