For a few hours on the night of October 7, 1862 in the village of Binghamton, N.Y., law and order vaporized when a mob of white men attacked black residents, their homes, and their churches. The trigger for this race riot was an interracial fight at the circus in town. According to the Broome Republican, the rioters’ expressed goal was to “clean the negroes out.”
Right after the circus performances ended, “all the colored persons present” were attacked. Many suffered bloody injuries at the hands – and stones and clubs – of 20 to 30 rioters. There was no organized resistance as the victims fled for safety. In addition, there were no arrests, or police presence or response.
After the rampage on the circus grounds, the attackers moved into the village itself, and found a single African American man — Henry Jones – who was “going to the circus for the purpose of helping his colored friends.” Jones made a “desperate resistance” but injuries to his head forced him to flee. Jones remained a Binghamtonian, and became a regional civil rights activist in the post-war, no doubt influenced by this riot.
The racial violence continued when blacks’ houses were stoned, forcing their occupants to vacate. The home of Moses Wright was rendered “unfit to be occupied.” But the rioters did not rest, proceeding to their next two targets, Binghamton’s two black houses of worship.
The community’s A.M.E. Zion, and the A.M.E., churches were not immune from attack, and both suffered broken windows and doors. Some seats in the latter were destroyed, “and the Bible [was] thrown on the floor and torn.” Both churches were refurbished, although there is no word on white residents helping the congregations in their tasks. In July the following year the A.M.E. church was able lead a region-wide Union Sabbath School Celebration.
At this point, the riot subsided, perhaps due exhaustion. On October 15, the Broome Republican noted that a few perpetrators were arrested, and more warrants had been issued. However, there are no reports of trials or pleas. Still, in April, 1863, 21 African American men – including Jones – left Binghamton to enlist in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. They were unwavered, and their resilience compelled many of these men to return to their home town at war’s end.
Illustration: Beer’s Map of Binghamton (1876).