Thanksgiving Day 1925
It was a wonderful game! The first half was over, spirits were high and the score was 7 to 0. Suddenly, onto the football field and before a crowd of more than 1500 spectators from Straight College and Xavier University, rode two mounted policemen; cursing, swearing and brutally striking boys and girls over the head with their whips, almost causing many to be trampled underfoot by the galloping horses.
Girls fainted from fright while boys and men nearly caused a riot as they attempted to take vengeance upon the police. Policemen drew their guns upon the unarmed crowd as Father Thompson of Xavier, O.C.W. Taylor (editor of The Louisiana Weekly), Mr. Heinemann of Heinemann Park, Mr. Sharpe (former Xavier student) and Mr. Harrison Gillean of the Chisolm News Service intervened. They succeeded in calming down the crowd, thereby preventing the crowd from retaliating against the officers.
Two innocent boys were arrested and hauled off to jail: They were Gerald Thomas, whose father (Jerry C. Thomas) was doorman at D. H. Holmes and president of the Bulls’ Aid and Pleasure Club, and William Priestley who would be paroled the following morning.
William Priestley’s arraignment took place in night court. The judge asked the officer to explain exactly why this young man was arrested. The officer stated:
“About 4:45 p.m. I was at the park when this boy threw a pillow into the air. I arrested him for malicious mischief. He did not strike anyone or deface property but he started everyone else throwing pillows so I arrested him.” The judge then asked the officer, “Well, what is so malicious about that?” The officer could not answer.
William Priestley was called to the stand and stated that when the other team (Straight) made the touchdown, he became excited and threw the pillow into the air. “Now, sonny, don’t get so excited next time,” said the judge and he preceded to quickly dismiss the charges
Gerald Thomas was the second young man to be arraigned and called to the witness stand. Here again the arresting officer stated his case.
“About 4:30 I saw everybody crowding upon the field. We had strict orders to allow no one on the field, and so we preceded to drive them back. Someone threw a pop bottle at me. Then more people followed. I tried to arrest him. This boy grabbed hold of my horse’s rein and asked me my name, number and why I was riding on the field among all the boys and girls. I then arrested him.
Judge: “Did this boy throw the bottle?”
Officer: “No, sir.”
Judge: “Did you see the person who threw it?”
Officer: “Yes, sir.”
Judge: “Then how did this boy interfere with the police?”
Officer: “He kept me from arresting the person who threw the bottle.”
Finally, Father Thompson was called as a witness. Father testified that he was a manager for the team. He went on to state that Thomas was not arrested on the football field, but beneath the grandstand. He further stated that the young man did not have hold of the rein of the policeman’s horse since Gerald Thomas was standing next to him (the priest) and was not within reaching distance of the policeman.
Father further stated that it was he (not Gerald Thomas) who asked the officer his name, number and reason for riding over these young boys and girls. “This young man was arrested for laughing at the police and not for preventing the officer from arresting the person who threw the pop bottle as stated by the police,” Father Thompson told the judge.
Father Thompson: “Judge, this policeman is the kind of man who was sent to preserve the peace. Instead, he drew a gun at a football game and, instead of preserving the peace, he was inciting to riot. We can testify to the fact that this officer repeatedly struck our boys and girls over the head with his whip.”
Father Brundy was called to the stand and substantiated the remarks made by Father Thompson. Gerald Thomas was discharged.
One of the young men who was struck with the officer’s whip was Arthur Harvey, a former student of McDonogh No. 35 High School. Two other boys injured in the near-riot had as yet not been identified by reporters.
An editorial, written by The Louisiana Weekly’s O.C.W. Taylor, also an eye-witness to the event, appeared in the newspaper’s December 5, 1925 edition. It basically summed up the feelings of the black community:
“We have seen pictures of chariots with scythes on their wheels rushing pell mell upon a helpless crowd. We have seen pictures of Christians in an amphitheater and a horde of hungry lions turned loose upon them. But the charioteers were rushing upon their enemy, and it is natural for a soldier to fight an enemy. And lions are natural enemies of man.”
“But police are supposedly the protectors of people. Police are those who are the defenders of the defenseless and helpers of the oppressed, and most assuredly was this picture one more horrid than the charioteers and more bloody than the lions and the carnage wrought by them. The police had to arrest some Negro to appease their wrath. The charge was malicious mischief and interference with police. The real charge should have been imbecility on the part of a Negro hating policeman.”
“We have no Negro police to supervise our amusements. We, therefore, ask that the police department, in assigning officers to supervise Negro activities, send a policeman who has the real ethics of the police in him. We must have police supervision. Not that we need it, but because the law says so. We insist upon having policemen who are gentlemen as well, and we more than insist upon a cessation of wholesale arrest of innocent Negroes by the police.”
Steps were taken to bring the actions of the officers before the superintendent of Police, Mr. Healey. Chief Healey assigned his special assistant to take charge of the investigation. This writer was unable to discover if charges were ever brought.
More than 90 years has elapsed since this incident took place but, sadly, the scenario is still eerily familiar to what is taking place today.
Source: The Louisiana Weekly, 05 December, 1925 page 1; 12 December, 1925 page 6, “Our Noble Protectors” (Editorial)
Lolita Villavasso Cherrie