When we talk about periods of great unrest in America, the only thing that usually comes to mind is the civil rights movement. While it was undoubtedly a pivotal event in many ways, we forget that it was just one of the many different revolts and uprisings that have marked the history of this country.
There have been a number of such uprisings in the nation’s history, but today we are going to focus on the most momentous. While not all of these American uprisings have achieved their intended goals, in one way or another they have permanently changed the country.
7. The uprising on May 1, 1886
For example, if you compare the modern work week to the horrific working conditions of the early industrial age, you probably wonder what you did to have so much luxury. If you are not living in a dictatorship, even in the worst country, employees have to work for a maximum of 10 hours and a normal two-day weekend.
While most people believe it was just a natural product of the changing times, it really wasn’t. Without the May 1, 1886 uprising, we would still be working 14-hour, 7-day shifts.
Perhaps one of the most violent labor movements in the country, the uprising was the result of wage fluctuations and deteriorating conditions in the late 19th century. It started on May 1st (hence “May 1st”) and there were large organized and employee strikes in major American cities demanding better working conditions and a normal 8-hour work day. The situation also became violent in many locations, although the focus was on Chicago, where a bomb explosion killed at least seven police officers and four protesters and injured around 200 others. Known as ‘Haymarket Affair‘It resulted in the arrest and execution of eight anarchists.
While the strikes were being crushed, the event marked a turning point in the history of labor rights. This led to even more general strikes and protests across the country, eventually forcing many states and companies to give in to the demands. May 1st is still celebrated worldwide as International Workers’ Day and is directly responsible for many occupational safety measures such as minimum wages, weekends, safety standards and the 8-hour working day.
6. The New York City Draft Riots, 1863
The New York City Draft Riots were possibly just one of the smaller riots within the larger American Civil War – a major rebellion in itself – though it was by far one of the deadliest. While the causes were too many to count, the catalyst was the new bill passed by the federal Congress to aid the war effort.
This turned out to be a breaking point for Irish dockers in the city – especially in Manhattan – as they feared freed slaves might come into town and take their jobs away. The violence began on the night of July 13, 1863, when about 1,200 to 1,500 of them took one Rampage against black businesses and real estate in and around Manhattan. It was one of the most racially charged periods in New York history, with hundreds – if not thousands – of black citizens dying in four days of violent violence.
The riots were also a turning point for the racist makeup of New York City, and its effects are still visible. It is estimated that over 20% of the region’s black population have either left the country or moved directly as a result of the unrest.
5. The Dakota Uprising, 1862
The Dakota Uprising was possibly just one of the many Native American tribal uprisings in American history, although it was by far one of the most serious. Although it is mentioned in our history books, they do not tell us how close it is to success.
In the wake of difficult economic conditions, increased taxes, and a particularly harsh summer in Minnesota in 1862, thousands of Dakota troops armed and attacked local authorities and government agencies across the state. While they are often portrayed as a disorganized gang of Indian rebels, they were actually quite adept at fighting and organizing. President Lincoln had to send a separate unit to quell the uprising, which some reports say killed over 500 settlers and 150 Dakota Indians.
4. Los Angeles Riots, 1992
Despite America’s racial history, Los Angeles has always been a cosmopolitan, racially diverse city, with the exception of the police. In the city’s long history, there have been many cases of police violence against the city’s sizeable minority population, and almost all of them have been protested by the local community. Such are the riots of 1992 also began, except this time it turned out that things were much more violent than usual.
It all started after four police officers were acquitted who were accused of brutally beating a black driver. An event that was captured on camera and broadcast on news channels across the country. The footage was really what turned the protests into a riot, as it directly contradicted the official statements of the officers involved. In the end, around 50 people were killed, more than 2,300 injured and many millions of property destroyed, making it one of the worst civil unrest in American history.
3. The German coastal uprising, 1811
If we were to ask you about the largest slave revolt in American history, there’s a good chance most people will hear, “What slave revolt?” While the institution of slavery and its role in the country’s economic history has been widely debated, we somehow miss the revolts, which makes it seem like the white abolitionists are the only opposition to slavery in the country. They weren’t, as in the long history of the country there have been many cases of slaves organizing and trying to free themselves, although almost all of them failed.
However, the largest of them – the German coastal uprising of 1811 – came surprisingly close to success, though we hardly talk about it anymore. It was started by a hiatus slave named Charles Deslondeswho organized a small group of slaves in the mostly German region of the Mississippi coast (hence the name) and marched on New Orleans. They were soon joined by other revolutionaries as their numbers grew from a small, aimless gang to a well-armed force of nearly 500 men.
As expected, the uprising sparked an equally strong response from the government and independent local militias, funded by the slave owners. In the end, dozens of escaped slaves were killed in retaliation, and their decapitated heads were placed on pike along the Mississippi to serve as a stern example to others.
2. Stonewall Riots, 1969
The history of LGBTQ rights in America has never been really smooth, though the 60s were an especially bad time to be frank about it. Openly gay was illegal in almost all states at the time, and there was a growing wave of hate crimes and police raids against anyone who was not 100% straight
Bars like the Stonewall Inn in the village of Greenwich, New York, served as a safe haven for the community. The mafia-run inn wasn’t a particularly large house, but it still served as an important hub for LGBTQ culture in the city.
It was also the site of one of the most important violent protests in American history, sparked by a police raid in 1969. While it wasn’t the first raid of its kind, it was different than when it was over, everyone standing around didn’t just go home – as the police probably expected – but instead began throwing beer bottles and debris at them. They were eventually joined by other local residents, leading to a full-blown riot. The situation got so bad that at some point the police had to barricade themselves in the bar and call for reinforcements, as there were around 400 people revolt outside.
Even if dispersed soon enough, the Stonewall Riots would eventually be remembered as one of the turning points in the history of LGBTQ rights in the country. It sparked a wave of protests and political changes in major cities across America and served as a catalyst for all future LGBTQ movements. Pride Month – an annual, global event that takes place in June – is actually meant to be remember the Stonewall Riots.
1. The civil rights movement
The civil rights movement for racial equality, which peaked in the 1960s, was unlike most of the riots on this list in that it was – at least initially – largely a peaceful and nonviolent matter with no intention of questioning the federal agency put. Regardless, it remains one of the most momentous protest movements in our history, and for good reason.
In a sense, the movement went on and on, but it wasn’t until the late 50’s and early 60’s that the black community really organized itself with clear demands and capable leaders. There have been many large protests and demonstrations across the country almost across the country decade. In addition, the movement overlapped with other protests that took place around the same time, such as the protests against the Vietnam War and second wave feminism, further adding to its numbers.
The movement peaked in 1968 after the appointment of Martin Luther King Jr., causing violence and unrest in over 100 cities. It remains an immensely important event for racial relations in America and abroad, and its implications for our politics are still clearly visible. In a way, this year’s George Floyd protests could be seen as a renewed form of the same movement.
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