Riot of 1863
In On March 6, 1863, as the Civil War raged on, a second race riot occurred in Detroit. William Faulkner, a black man, on February 16, 1863, was accused of raping nine-year old Mary Brown. According to the alleged victim, who was white, on that day she was walking to the Post Office when she was approached by a young black girl, Ellen Hoover. The two began talking and decided to stop in a nearby saloon owned by Faulkner to warm their feet and get something to eat. While they were there, Mary alleged Faulkner approached Ellen and lured her into a private room. After a while, Ellen and Faulkner exited the room and tried to get Mary to go into the same room with Faulkner. When she refused, Mary stated Ellen grabbed her and forced her into the room with Faulkner where he did what the Detroit Free Press described as “diabolical” acts. The paper went on to say, “But the evidence of his guilt upon the lacerated person of his victim is stronger than the oaths of ten thousand negroes, even if he had witnesses to testify to his innocence.” The Detroit Free Press frequently ran negative articles accusing blacks of causing various problems that mainly impacted the city’s working-class whites. The newspaper pushed the notion that freed blacks leaving the South would take jobs from white men. These stories coupled with the resentment from whites concerning the Civil War contributed to racial tension in the city.
Faulkner denied raping Mary (and later Ellen when she accused him of the same crime). In his version of events, he on two occasions had to run Mary away from the saloon. During Faulkner’s trail as he was led from the jail to court and back, he was pelted with stones thrown by angry whites. On March 6, 1863, when he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, a large mob once again attacked him on his way to jail. The men assigned to keep order, the Detroit Provost Guard, tried to disperse the crowd, but at some point they shot blindly into the crowd. As a result, a German man, who was watching the events unfold, was fatally injured. The increasingly angry white mob then began attacking and mercilessly beating any black Detroiter they came upon. As their attacks escalated, they began to set occupied black owned businesses on fire. When it was all done, the white mob burned about 30 buildings, caused thousands of dollars in damages, killed one black man by hitting him in the head with an ax, injured dozens more, and at least 200 black residents were homeless.
Seven years later, both Mary and Ellen recanted their stories and Faulkner was pardoned on December 31, 1869. Upon his release, some Detroit citizens donated money to open him a stand in the community’s market. Seven years after that, he died.