Editor’s note: This is part of a yearlong series about life in and around Nacogdoches in 1919.
The violence started quickly under cover of darkness.
With a volley of gunfire, a burglary and a string of arsons, Longview — like other cities across the nation — erupted in a race riot between July 10 and July 18, 1919, that would be quelled in part by troops from Nacogdoches.
Racial tensions boiled over across the nation in the summer of 1919, known by historians as Red Summer. The first riot happened in Milen, Georgia, in April. Charleston, South Carolina, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, soon followed. About 25 cities including Chicago and Washington, D.C., became racial battlegrounds that summer.
“Nationwide the racial tensions were really growing at that time,” said Dr. Scott Sosebee, associate professor of history at SFA. “It was a tinderbox waiting to be lit.”
The tinderbox was stoked by African American World War I veterans returning home to a country where they were second-class citizens, as well as labor disputes due to an economic crunch caused by the end of the war.
“The economy had just gotten all ramped up with the war. All of the sudden it’s over with and we’re trying to deescalate from that,” Sosebee said.
The riot begins
On July 10, 1919, The Chicago Defender — a legendary black newspaper that published its final print edition this past week — printed a story about the death of Lemuel Walters in Longview.
The story said that Walters had been lynched over his relationship with a white woman. Walters, the article said, was locked in the Gregg County Jail when the sheriff handed him over to a white mob on June 17.
“They were really pressing hard on the violence,” Sosebee said of black-owned newspapers around the turn of the century. “That’s what happened in Longview.”
Samuel L. Jones, a correspondent for The Defender, was held responsible for the article. The same day it was published, he was beaten by two men, supposedly the brothers of the woman Walters was dating.
A mob of about a dozen angry white men approached Jones’ home about 1 a.m. July 11. They were met with a volley of gunfire. The riot had begun.
At least three of the white men were wounded. Some returned fire as they retreated. One faction of the mob broke into a hardware store to steal guns and ammunition. Another went to the fire station to sound the alarm and call reinforcements.
A larger mob returned and burst into Jones’ home. It was empty. The mob set the place ablaze along with the home of Dr. Calvin P. Davis, a black physician. Several other residences were burned as well as a dance hall where the men suspected blacks had stored ammunition.
The violence caused Gov. William Hobby to dispatch National Guardsmen from Nacogdoches, Harrison and Cherokee counties to Longview.
“It’s interesting to me that he didn’t call out units from Gregg County. It suggests that some of the members of those might have been involved with the violence went on,” Sosebee said.
The men from Nac
About 25 men from Nacogdoches County were deployed to Longview to bring peace to the city, according to various newspaper accounts from the time. Reports identify the men as part of the 7th Cavalry, a part of the 1st Texas Cavalry Brigade under command of Gen. Jacob F. Wolters.
The men at Nacogdoches had been recruited for service in France in 1918 by William Edgar Thomason, who resigned his post as state representative to become a cavalry officer before rejoining the Legislature in 1919. The Great War ended before his troops could be mobilized for overseas service, though the U.S. did not utilize mounted troops at any significant level along the Western Front.
Later newspaper accounts of the cavalry competing in rifle competitions list a single member of the 7th —Algie Hinckley — as one of the top marksmen in the state. He was 20 years old at the time the riot broke out. When not serving as an elite mounted rifleman, Hinckley worked on the farm of his stepuncle, James Hamilton Davis in the Harmony community, about eight miles southwest of Nacogdoches.
Hinckley died in 1938 and is buried in Douglass. He left behind his wife and two daughters — Joyce Pauline Hinckley Collins and Oleta Hinckley Bergstrom. Collins died in 2011, and her sister died in 2012.
Hobby initially ordered the Texas Rangers to Longview the Friday the riot broke out. The Rangers couldn’t arrive until Saturday morning, so cavalrymen were dispatched and arrived before sundown Friday.
“Hobby was really walking a very tight political line in those days. Hobby was kind of aligned with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He couldn’t alienate the more conservative wing. Sometimes what Hobby did was take a harder line on racial issues than what he was personally inclined to do,” Sosebee said.
A National Guard headquarters was established on the downtown square in Longview.
The presence of the Guard could not stop the violence initially.
“These troops might have been able to bring peace to Longview and prevent the necessity of martial law if it had not been for the killing of the well-known black man, Marion Bush. Bush, age 60, was the father-in-law of Dr. Davis and a 30-year employee in the molding room of the Kelly Plow Company,” Kenneth R. Durham Jr. wrote for the East Texas Historical Journal in 1980.
His death prompted Hobby to send 150 more Guardsmen to Longview. He put Brig. Gen. R.H. McDill in command during the time of martial law. Residents had to adhere to a curfew. Groups of three or more were prohibited from gathering in the streets. All Longview residents — including police officers — had to turn in their firearms at the county courthouse.
Rangers arrested 17 white men on charges of attempted murder and 21 black men were arrested and sent to Austin temporarily for their own safety. Nine white men were also charged with arson.
“They never tried anybody. It very quickly got swept under the rug,” Sosebee said.
The riot made headlines around the world, but in the following century has been largely forgotten. No historical marker stands in the Longview neighborhood that was once a racial battlefield. Outside of Durham’s 1980 account, little scholarship has been produced about the riot.
“Not enough has been written about that riot,” Sosebee said.