Archive: 33 cops, 85 others hurt as gangs riot, loot stores in North Phila.

A police officer puts his club to the head of a man while ordering him to move along during the riot. As looting continued, police were told to use their nightsticks.

(This story was first published on August 29, 1964.)

An argument between a man and his wife was the spark that touched off the worst rioting and looting rampage in the history of Philadelphia.

It started at 22d St. and Columbia Ave., in the heart of the Negro section of North Central Philadelphia, and spread -- in two massive waves -- over a 20-block area.

By dawn, more than 100 persons were injured, 33 of them policemen. And the rioting was still continuing.

At first, it was the wild rioting, and wanton destruction. Bricks, stones, bottles and debris rained down on police.

Roving gangs smashed windows, overturned cars and set fires before police managed to bring them under control. This lasted until about 2:30 am.

Then came the looting. There had been some looting earlier but now it was in earnest, almost methodical.

The looters, many of them teenagers and women, worked almost as if their efforts were coordinated, according to police. They would strike at one place and when police rushed to the scene and arrested a few, another band struck a few blocks away.

Prime target for the men in the mobs were bars. At least eight in one four-block area were sacked. And one State liquor store, at 20th St. and Columbia Ave., was broken into but it was not immediately known how much bottled goods was taken.

By 9:30 am, there was still sporadic looting but most of it had given way to curious sightseers and souvenir hunters.

At the height of the violence, more than 1,000 screaming, jeering Negroes were involved. Some 1,000 policemen -- all the available cops in the city -- were rushed into the area to stop the rioting and looting. It was a tough job that lasted all night and well into today.

By 9 am, looting suspects, many of them still clutching items in their arms, had been hauled into the 22nd District Police Station at 17th St. and Montgomery Ave.

And, at mid-morning, the police scorecard read:

-- 118 injured, including 33 policemen.

-- Hundreds of stores looted.

-- Thousands of windows smashed.

-- Scores of autos damaged, many of them police cars, and one taxicab set afire and destroyed.

-- An estimated $500,000 in damage.

Police Commissioner Howard R. Leary rushed into the area to personally direct the police action.

Efforts by responsible Negro and civic leaders to quell the violence were greeted with jeers and flying bricks.

The nightmare began at 9:30 last night with a family squabble in a car in the middle of the intersection at 22nd St. and Columbia Ave. 

A car driven by Rush Bradford, 34, of Nicholas St. near 20th, was stopped there and was blocking traffic.

Patrolmen Robert Wells and John Hoff investigated and found Bradford’s wife, Odessa, 34, with her foot on the brake and hands on the wheel, arguing with her husband and refusing to let him move the car.

When the Negro policemen attempted to get the Negro woman from the car, they were jumped by a passerby, who attempted to get Hoff’s nightstick. A crowd began to form around the struggle, and the police radioed for help.

Six patrol cars responded to the call. The group continued to grow. More than 100 Negroes were now on the scene, jeering at the police.

A highway patrol lieutenant tried to speak to the crowds and then the rocks and bricks started to fly from the rooftops where crumbling chimneys supplied plenty of “ammunition.”

Benjamin Tayale, 41, of 1904 W. Nicholas, who is both chairman of the Police Community Relations Committee of the North City Congress and a member of the police commissioner’s community relations committee, was at the scene when the trouble broke out. Tayale tried to calm the rioters, but a chant of “We want Cecil, we want Cecil,” (broke out). (Cecil Moore, is president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.)

Police put out a call for “every available car in the city.” The crowd had swelled to 500 persons by 10:30 pm but 50 policemen managed to bring it under control -- temporarily.

But the comparative calm was like that before a storm. At about 11:15 pm, again at 22nd and Columbia, a band of young Negroes tossed a bottle and two bricks through the window of a highway patrol car, and pelted a car driven by a Daily News reporter.

Again, the bricks and rocks rained from the rooftops. Deputy Commissioner Frank Rizzo arrived to take charge of 200 police. Metal riot helmets were issued to the cops to protect them from flying bricks.

Then the riot took on another aspect, roaming sporadic destruction and looting by smaller bands.

The masses moved west on Columbia Ave. to 23rd St. and Ridge Ave. At the same time, a spur group of rioters went north along 22nd toward Montgomery, thus covering a two square block area.

The violence was again quelled for about 15 minutes. But another wave hit just before 1 am. More police enforcements arrived with Commissioner Leary, Stanley Branch, chairman of the Chester Committee for Freedom Now, and Judge Raymond Pace Alexander.

When Branch got out of his car, he was pelted by bricks.

“All hell was breaking loose,” Branch said. “I asked Commissioner Rizzo to let me talk to the people over a bullhorn. I pleaded with them (the rioters) to please go home. Instead they threw bricks, bottles...”

Judge Alexander was jeered from the hood of an auto at 23rd and Columbia when he told the rioters that he had “lived in the neighborhood under poorer conditions than you.”

Meanwhile, the roving bands of looters spread out, smashing and stealing from stores and shops. A gang headed northwest on Ridge Ave. to 29th St. Two other groups went along Columbia and Montgomery aves., up to 29th St., and another band went east on Columbia to 10th st.

The pattern was the same, smash windows -- primarily pawn shops, variety stores and clothing stores -- and stealing in sporadic waves.

Police, now on expanded shifts and overtime, rushed from spot to spot with every new incident reported.

As the waves of looters spread, Rizzo and his men were attempting to form a perimeter around the main trouble area. He sent men out from 23rd St. and Columbia Ave. at every new report.

No shots were fired by the police but several reports of shootings were received by police. A man identified as Harry J. Oullin of 2502 N. Hollywood St., was shot in the leg outside his home by a roving gang of brick-heaving young Negroes, he told police.

When the first news of the riot was broadcast over the radio, police noted groups gathering in south, central and northwest areas of the city, apparently incited by word of the initial riot.

Occasional bricks were tossed through windows (but) nothing could compare with the action at 22nd-23rd and Columbia.

PTC bus driver Alfred Mikulla, 32, of 612 W. Lindley St., stopped to pick up a passenger at 26th and Columbia. The “passenger” tossed three bricks into the bus while other missiles pierced the windshield. Mikulla was treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

At about 4:15 am, Cecil Moore arrived at 17th St. and Columbia Ave. and promised he would check into the arrests of Mrs. Bradford and the others who allegedly touched off the disturbance.

His attempt to appease didn’t stop the looting. Moore turned to police and said, “We never anticipated this. This is a catastrophe.”

The rioting had subsided some but the rioting raiders continued to strip stores in the heart of the business section, along Columbia Ave. from 29th to Broad sts.

The thieves hit clothing stores, carrying out armfuls of suits. One refrigerator was removed from an appliance store and a hat shop was “cleaned out.” The only unaffected businesses were those like restaurants which are open all night.

The Rev. W. P. Stevenson, an official of the African Methodist Church, toured the hard hit areas and reported most of the trouble was caused by teenagers. He said, “From what we observed there was not a dozen adults in the crowd of looters.”

Rizzo, wearing a steel helmet and continuing to patrol the trouble spots at dawn today, commented, “I think it’s a disgrace. The whole Negro community has so much to lose by the actions of so few people...”