The City of Alexandria announced creation of a historic marker that will be erected at 819 Lee Street, the site of the Lee Street Riot of 1942. The marker was displayed at the Mayor’s February State of the Community briefing in February morning at the Randolph Riverfront Center.
“As we celebrate Black History Month, we are pleased to be able to place this historic marker and help tell the story of a significant event in the history of Alexandria’s African-American Community,” said Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall. “The marker will be located at the site of the former Ritz Theater, which is where the incident reportedly took place on January 10, 1942.”
As the marker notes, Lee Street in Alexandria was a thriving African-American community in the 1940s. The area included churches, eating establishments, grocery stores, entertainment venues, a sporting arena, an Army-YMCA-USA building and the Ritz Theater.
The area was a popular destination for African-American soldiers when they were on leave from the area military bases. Quoting from the marker, “A tragic incident occurred in front of the Ritz Theater on Saturday night, January 10, 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and American entry into World War II, that included unarmed African-American soldiers and the predominantly white, armed Military Police. The War Department’s official report indicates that three African-American soldiers were critically wounded and 29 others required medical treatment as a result of the ‘Riot.’ Civilian witnesses, however, indicated that more than 20 soldiers were killed, others wounded, and numerous civilians were killed or wounded.”
Michael Wynne, a local historian, assisted in the research for the marker’s text. “Everyone should be reminded that in 1942 the famed Louisiana Maneuvers were happening all around central Louisiana,” Wynne said. “These soldiers, both black and white, would come to Alexandria during their off-duty hours to shop and for entertainment.”
Wynne noted records are not clear as to what exactly happened that day as official military records, newspaper coverage and stories told by survivors all tell different stories.
“Many say a riot occurred, but others actually say a massacre occurred in a battle that lasted reportedly between 2 and 6 hours,” Wynne said. “The Town Talk reported that 30 gas bombs were used that night by the Alexandria Police Department to quell the disturbance among the reported 3,000 African-Americans present.”
In the 79 years since the incident took place, Wynne said there has been an undercurrent in the African-American community that many African-American soldiers died that night and their deaths were covered up.
“Hopefully, the full truth of what actually happened on that never-to-be-forgotten night will come out one day,” Wynne said. “With this bronze marker, we are both remembering and honoring the soldiers injured and the soldiers who may have died that night so long ago, as well as now committing ourselves to be a better people and to tell our children and our children’s children of this tragedy.”
Hall said, “I would like to thank Michael Wynne for his work to help create this historic marker. I would also like to thank Oday Lavergne, Dr. Robert Rush and the Lee Gateway Development Company for their assistance in getting the marker erected at the historically accurate site of the incident where the Ritz Theater once stood.”
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