Three Sides of the police Seen During Race Riots

In 1966 the Atlanta Crime Prevention Bureau assigned H. L. Bolton, a black police officer, to the Vine City area as part of a door-to-door, “getting to know people” program (Chase). Bolton organized three youth baseball teams, turned fire hydrants into sprinklers on hot days, attended social clubs, and got to know area residents by talking with them on their porches. From 1966-68, Vine City became a hotspot in the civil rights movement, and Bolton spent time directing activists living in the neighborhood to official channels. Bolton said of the demonstrations, “You take a lot of verbal abuse at times, but you know you have to. Just one officer acting too hastily and a demonstration can become a riot” (Chase).

Riots became a reality in September, 1967. The Atlanta Journal Constitution notes that residents “of the usually stable Negro community had expressed shock” (Nordan). Police responded to the Molotov cocktails and bricks with tear gas and billy clubs. During a riot that October, several stores were looted, windows were smashed, and garbage was set on fire. State Senator Leroy Johnson claimed to have quieted those responsible, when police became involved after the police chief’s car window was smashed by a brick. According to the next day’s paper, “Several residents insisted that if the police had remained outside the area the situation would have been controlled” (Nordan).

After several riots, many residents threatened to burn down a house occupied by members of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), asserting that SNCC was inciting violence with hate literature and a soundtruck that broadcast messages of “black power” and “What has your white Jesus done for you today?” (referring to white Vine City resident Hector Black). Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Regional Council, two major civil rights organizations, refused to work in the neighborhood until SNCC left. This time police emphasized to the agitated residents that it would be wrong to physically throw SNCC members out and suggested creating a petition.

Chase, Tom. “Policeman Lends Hand to Vine City.” Atlanta Journal Constitution. July 25, 1966.
Gaines, Orville. “Police Turn Peacemakers in Vine City.” Atlanta Journal Constitution. Sep 11, 1966.
Hebert, Dick. “7 Arrested in Melee in Vine City.” Atlanta Journal Constitution. Oct 23, 1967. Page 1.
Nordan, David. “Negro Leader is Optimistic About Peace in Vine City.” Atlanta Journal Constitution. Oct 24, 1967. Page 1.
Shipp, Bill. “SNCC Soundtruck Assails Vine City.” Atlanta Journal Constitution. July 7, 1966. Page 1.