On Thanksgiving 1942, an off-duty black soldier struck a black woman with a bottle following an argument in a Phoenix café. An MP attempted to arrest the soldier, but he resisted with a knife. When the MP shot and wounded the soldier, black servicemen protested. MPs soon rounded up about 150 black soldiers at random, most of whom had nothing to do with the incident, to transfer them to the nearby Papago Park Military installation. Before the soldiers could be moved they became inflamed and broke ranks when a jeep full of armed blacks appeared. A shot was fired and the riot was underway. Soldiers disbursed as handguns, rifles, and high caliber automatic weapons furiously “snapped and barked.” A “hunt” for everyone involved in inciting the riot ensued.
All available Phoenix police officers joined MPs in apprehending suspects. Twenty-eight blocks were cordoned off and searched. Several black soldiers hid in the homes of friends. To “flush them out,” MPs mounted armored personnel carriers. One observer later recalled that “they’d roll up in front of these homes with the loudspeaker they had on these vehicles, they’d call on him to surrender. If he didn’t come out, they’d start potting the house with these fifty-caliber machine guns that just made a hole you could stick your fist through.” Three men died and eleven were wounded in the riot. Most of the 180 men arrested and jailed were released, but some were court-martialed and sent to military prison.
Bradford Luckingham, Minorities in Phoenix: A Profile of Mexican American, Chinese American, and African American Communities, 1860-1992 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994); Matthew C. Whitaker, Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).
Arizona State University