Saturday, January 24, 2015

Revisiting the Beaumont Riot of 1943

The extended riot took place June 15th-16th, 1943. Stoked by a fatal white police officers-black suspect incident ten days earlier.

On June 5th, the daughter of a worker at one of Beaumont's World War II boom town shipyards alleged that a black man had raped her. When the suspect resisted arrest, he was shot and killed by police.

Cutting into those high tensions June 15th, another local white woman accused a different black man of rape. In short order that evening, several thousand workers at the Pennsylvania Shipyard marched toward downtown and City Hall, with many more citizens joining them along the way.

Per the Texas State Historical Association, this is what eventually transpired:

Even though the woman could not identify the suspect among the blacks held in the city jail, the workers dispersed into small bands and began breaking into stores in the black section of downtown Beaumont. With guns, axes and hammers, they proceeded to terrorize black neighborhoods in central and north Beaumont.

Many blacks were assaulted, several restaurants and stores were pillaged, a number of buildings were burned and more than 100 homes were ransacked. More than 200 people were arrested, 50 were injured and two – one black and one white – were killed. Another black man died several months later of injuries received during the riot.

Seven decades later, an African-American screenwriter (Gordon S. Williams) has teamed with director Wyatt Cagle and co-executive producer Kenneth Dupuis to make a fictional short set against the Beaumont 1943 riot backdrop. Their project The Example will retell this dramatic story through the eyes of two fathers.

Another chilling strand that will likely be tapped in the narrative is the fact that later that June, two diametrically opposed Beaumont events were scheduled to take place. At one end, a chapter of the Klu Klux Klan intended to convene June 29th and welcome "imperial emperor" William Simmons as keynote speaker. At the other, the local black community, whose segregated neighborhoods were ravaged in the riot, was readying an annual "Juneteenth" celebration for Saturday June 19th.

When the filmmakers officially launch their fundraising efforts, they will have the benefit of some non-profit framework support provided by From the Heart Productions, the organization that each year hands out spring, summer and fall Roy W. Dean grants.

[H/T: KBMT-TV Channel 12]

[Image via Facebook]

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