A True Thanksgiving Day Story—America’s Forgotten Sixties Black Riot
11/24/2022
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Earlier: MLK, Antifa, And The City Burning Riots Of The ’60s

“Don’t make the black kids angry.” Aside from being good advice generally, these words were the title of a book by the late Colin Flaherty, a man who grasped why racial integration, whether forced or “encouraged,” results in something less than peace, love and understanding. Sporting events are a case in point. As America descends further into anti-whiteness, it is worth remembering how a long-forgotten riot at a football game in the nation’s capital 60 years ago got us to where we are.

More than 50,000 fans filled the stands of District of Columbia (now Robert F. Kennedy) Stadium on November 22, 1962 for the annual Thanksgiving battle for local high school football supremacy. One school was public and all-black (it had been a white school before desegregation in 1955); the other was Catholic and almost all-white. A lot more was on the line than bragging rights. Knowing what we know now, the black-on-white mass attack that began near the end of the game, and continued for hours, seemed almost fated to happen.

To make a long story short, the white team won. That’s why the riot happened. But I digress.

In the early Sixties, black Civil Rights activists, led by Martin Luther King Jr., took their nationwide crusade to a new level. That John F. Kennedy rather than Richard Nixon, was president mattered little. The drive for legal and social equality was making its mark locally as well. Segregated for decades, Washington, D.C. neighborhoods were becoming integrated. An ongoing metro area housing boom was one reason. A more far-reaching one was the effects of two Supreme Court rulings: 1) Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), which declared race-restricted private covenants in real estate transactions to be unenforceable; and 2) Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which invalidated the longstanding “separate but equal” doctrine for use of public facilities.

Was the city better off? Washington native son Pat Buchanan, in his 1988 autobiography, Right from the Beginning, suggested it was not:

In the 1950s, there were no food stamps or Medicaid payments or rent supplements. The relief agencies were the churches. But no one starved; no “homeless” froze to death; no shake-down artist extorted millions out of the White House by threatening to starve himself to death; and everyone worked. Black teenage unemployment was 9 percent in 1948. Today, it runs between 35 and 50 percent.

Numbers mattered. Blacks were only 28.2 percent of the District of Columbia population in 1940, but comprised 35.0 percent in 1950, 53.9 percent in 1960, and 71.1 percent in 1970. To say this long-term shift had implications for public safety would be an understatement. Black enrollment in public schools rose accordingly. As for whites, many were Catholic—like Pat Buchanan, Gonzaga Class of 1956—and attended the city’s Catholic schools.

The tradition of the Thanksgiving city title game began in 1955, the year after Brown v. Board of Education. This was no coincidence. Public and parochial school officials believed that by fielding their best teams for a city championship, they could mitigate prejudice and build good will. Abe Rosenfeld, a former D.C. school board member, recalled:

I can’t tell you how much good that football game was doing for this area. We had 50,000 people regularly coming out to that game. Like the Redskins, it was one thing that everyone in the area, from Maryland, Virginia or the District, identified with…community spirit, really, across the river, across the District line.

 Bring Back the City-wide Championship, Washington Post (Editorial) November 23, 1981

The inaugural game, played at Griffith Stadium (razed a decade later and replaced with Howard University Hospital), pitted Gonzaga and Cardozo, and ended in a 6-6 tie. If there was fan violence, it wasn’t evident.

It would be a very different story seven years later.

A capacity crowd of 50,033 had assembled in the virtually new D.C. Stadium, home to the NFL’s Washington Redskins and major league baseball’s expansion Washington Senators, to watch their high school heroes fight it out on the gridiron that Thanksgiving of 1962. Eastern High, the city league champion, was the team to beat. It had won the city title game the previous four years. Its opponent, St. John’s College High, the top Catholic league team, had lost in 1961 to Eastern, 34-14. St. John’s now had its rematch.

Crucially, the entire Eastern team was black, though its coach, Dick Mentzer, was white. The St. John’s team was white, save for two blacks. There was no integration when it came to fan loyalty. The blacks were rooting for Eastern; whites were rooting for St. John’s. There was no integration either when it came to seating. The blacks sat on one side of the stadium; the whites sat on the other.

St. John’s was not to be denied. They won 20-7, dominating play far more than the score indicated. Eastern mustered only 87 yards on offense and didn’t even get a first down until the third quarter. By contrast, St. John’s rolled up 270 yards on the ground alone. The black teens and adults in the crowd were growing agitated. The white guys weren’t supposed to win—not like this!

Late in the game, all hell broke loose [Could the City Football Title Game Return to RFK? , by Dave McKenna, Washington City Paper, October 14th, 2011]. Two players, St. John’s running back Jay Calabrese (white) and Eastern lineman Calvin Harris (black), exchanged fisticuffs. Harris was ejected for fighting (more like assault), but Calabrese was not. Harris, rather than head off to the locker room, stormed back onto the field with the intent of beating Calabrese. Bad move. Harris wound up on a stretcher and was escorted off the field by police.

Black fans couldn’t control themselves any longer. A large number of them jumped out of the stands and charged onto the field, assaulting St. John’s players. Other black fans moved toward white fans sitting on the opposite side of the stadium. Friendship was not on their minds.

The riot was on.

One eyewitness, Kevin Dowd, a senior at Gonzaga and an older brother of future liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, explained years later:

You could see something bad coming for a couple minutes, so I headed for the exits early. As soon as the game ended, the Eastern people charged straight across the field like Pickett at Gettysburg.

Lucky his kid sister (10 years old) wasn’t there.

The melee lasted for hours, resulting in an estimated 400 injuries and at least nine arrests. St. John’s fans—that is to say, white fans—got the worst of it. They were assaulted by blacks not just inside the stadium, but on the parking lot and surrounding streets as well. St. John’s players weren’t any safer. To protect them, D.C. police prevented the team bus from leaving the parking lot. Black predators had been waiting outside the stadium for them. When the bus finally left, the situation remained dangerous. St. John’s coach Joe Gallagher recalled:

We hadn’t gone a block and every window in the bus had been broken out with rocks. I told my kids to keep their helmets on and stay down. I was laying on the floor of the bus. It really was quite terrifying.

No Contest, by Dave McKenna, Washington City Paper, November 3, 2000

The late Raymond Wolters included this riot—and the relative lack of MSM coverage—in his 1984 book The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of School Desegregation, in which he wrote that

several thousand blacks “brandishing sticks and other assorted implements . . . raced across the field to have a go at the whites sitting together on the other side. . . . ‘Get the whites. Get the whites,’ they cried. . . . ‘There’s a white,’ they’d yell and run over and beat him up. . . . One man was attending to his four-year-old daughter when a Negro tapped him over the head until he fell down. Other Negroes broke his daughter’s ribs. . . . These ‘scuffles’ continued for two hours, during which time the police rather lost track of what was going on, partly because there was so much going on.” During the melee 346 people were injured, all but 30 of them whites. There were 13 broken noses, 2 broken jaws, and 20 stabbings [‘There’s A White,’ New Republic, December 15, 1962].

The Post portrayed the incident as having little importance. Newsmen who witnessed the brawl (except for one who anonymously wrote the above description for the New Republic) did not report what they had seen. Instead, the Post quoted a deputy police chief’s assertion that the turmoil was not racially motivated, although it conceded that others “felt the racial element was involved” [33 Injured In Fights at Stadium: Nine Arrested In Disorders At Title Game Blows Exchanged, Washington Post, 23 November 23, 1962].

Congress formed a special committee to investigate the debacle. The subsequent report, District of Columbia Stadium Riot: Report of the Committee of the District, released in January 1963, was steeped in avoidance. Rather than call out blacks for their sociopathic behavior, lawmakers assumed moral equivalence between the rioters and the rioted upon. “The reputation of the Capital city of the world’s greatest democracy was tarnished,” declared the committee. “Our city is the most important city in America to demonstrate that Negro and white can work together, live together and play together as symbol of democracy to nations throughout the world.” As if the rioters could have given a hoot about “democracy.”

The committee ultimately put most of the blame on Eastern High coach Dick Mentzer for rousing the crowd’s spirits too much.

That’s it—blame the white guy. As if he, and not the blacks, chose to commit assault and battery.

Local black activists heard by the committee, predictably, offered MLK-style veiled warnings. To black leaders, noted the report, the riot “reflects ominous overtones and mirrors the challenge of much of America’s unfinished business—full participation in all aspects of community life and the exercising of total responsibility in community affairs.”

District of Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Carl F. Hansen (who was white) likewise peddled a “root causes” rationalization. Implying that Calabrese should have been ejected along with Harris, he cited “community conditions” as the real culprit for the riot:

These conditions are overcrowding in homes and in schools; poverty, ignorance and depravation in the presence of advantages available to others; joblessness, particularly among the young; mobility and family instability; irresponsibility; and the most devastating handicap, the absence of hope among many young people.
[DC Stadium Riot Report, P. 39]

Somewhat more attuned to reality was syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, quoted not only by Washington City Paper’s McKenna, but Pat Buchanan in a chapter on 1960s racial violence in his 2014 book The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority:

Almost no national attention had been given to it, but racial violence had erupted in Washington, DC, on Thanksgiving Day, 1962, after the city title football game between Catholic League champion St. John’s and the public school champion, Eastern. The largest sports crowd in DC history, 50,000, had attended the game at the new stadium, now called RFK. After St. John’s rolled to an easy victory, Eastern fans poured out of the stands and stormed across the field to attack the people on the St. John’s side. Drew Pearson described what happened:

“Immediately, Negro spectators descended from the grandstand, swept across the field like an angry army, and with fists, knives, rocks, pieces of pipe proceeded to beat up white spectators.… Simeon Booker of Ebony Magazine stated frankly: “The explosion of hate stemmed mostly from my own people” [Races: Explosion of Hate Friday, Time Magazine, December 7, 1962].

 “This was the worst race riot Washington has seen since the riots immediately after the end of World War I over 40 years ago,” said Pearson [Points Up Capitol’s Ugly Backyard, Beckley WV Post Herald, December 4, 1962].

National coverage was almost nonexistent. But Moscow’s Izvestia, in the article “Bloodshed in Washington,” said the riot “revealed that racial hatred flourishes in American society.” I learned about it from family who had been at the game. Pearson compared the rampage at the DC stadium to the white riots at Ole Miss, when Governor Ross Barnett sought to block the desegregation of the school only two months earlier.

Izvestia said not only that the riot “revealed that racial hatred flourishes in American society” but that “the schools present a model of discrimination and violence” [There’s a Riot Going On | Can an all-star game rewrite an ugly chapter in D.C.’s athletic history? by Dave McKenna, Washington City Paper, December 12, 2008].

That sounds like quite a few American educators today!

Curiously, damning footage has gone missing. Kevin Dowd—now a Trump supporter—noted many years later that he had found a canister of film, but minus the riot.

Jay Calabrese believed that certain lawmakers held on to the riot parts. “I bet the second reel got taken by Congress,” he stated many years later. That’s worth an investigation.

The Thanksgiving title game quickly became history, a victim of good intentions. District of Columbia school officials announced its withdrawal from the event, as did the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, alarmed over the fact, reported by Pearson, above, that “Two Catholic priests who tried to break up some of the fights left the stadium with bloody faces.” Black community leaders likewise pulled out. The event was in cold storage for over a half-century, interrupted only by an aborted revival in 1972. Too many would-be white attendees feared for their safety.

Finally, in 2014, after an extensive push, especially from then-D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, the city title game was renewed. It would be held in early December rather than Thanksgiving, and would be played at a venue other than RFK Stadium. The relaunch saw Gonzaga defeat city league champion H.D. Woodson High, 29-6.

The scars from the 1962 riot, superficially, have healed. The rebooted title game is still on. But appearances are deceptive.

For one thing, local Catholic teams like Gonzaga have far more blacks on their football rosters and hence are less identifiable as “white.”

Second, and more importantly, the conclusions about the riot, replete with assumptions of moral equivalence and white apathy, are now the coin of the realm. Indeed, if the 1962 game and surrounding events were replicated today, the Biden administration, corporate CEOs, foundation executives, clergy and the Washington Post (the main sponsor of the 1962 title game) most likely would be coaxing sympathy on behalf of “voiceless” and “marginalized” black rioters.

To summarize: This was not a generic “race riot.” It was a black riot that targeted whites for beatings or worse. The refusal of political, education, business and nonprofit leaders to admit this subsequently played a real part in expanding our anti-white, redistributionist welfare state. Multiracialism in one nation simply cannot work.

Challenging the current regime will require taking risks. And most Americans won’t take them—yet.

After all, who wants to make the black kids angry?

Carl Horowitz [Email him] is a veteran Washington, D.C.-area writer on immigration and other issues.

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