Cardiff Race Riots 1919


According to the Head Constable's report on the Cardiff riots, the confrontation described in our opening paragraphs had begun "when a brake containing a number of coloured men and white women, apparently returning from an excursion, attracted a mixed crowd."

"About 10 o'clock a wordy argument between blacks and whites ended in the blacks, who were in superior numbers, setting upon one of the white men, who was thrown to the ground and brutally kicked."17 The White man was rescued by a policeman "and the blacks, seeing that the anger of the whites had now been roused, bolted precipitately."

"Nigger Town"

After this minor skirmish came the major confrontation, the White charge, and the Black retreat into "Nigger Town." This area contained a large colony of Negroes, many of whom had married White women. "The whites followed the blacks into their retreat and pandemonium ensued."

A Black flourishing a razor was knocked down, and the razor kicked from his hand. More shots were fired, and a group of Blacks was seen rushing into a shop. The Whites smashed the door and windows, rushed into the shop, and hustled out two Blacks, who were beaten with sticks and frying-pans.

In another street a house occupied by Blacks was attacked: "The door was battered to splinters. The screams of a woman were heard and revolver shots again rang out. A fleeing negro was sighted and, giving chase, the whites overhauled him and brought him down. A revolver was wrested from his hand, and he was belaboured with sticks, kicked and struck."

Another house where Negroes lived was set on fire, but the fire brigade extinguished the flames: "A young white woman was rescued from the premises, and the police, who escorted her away, had some difficulty in protecting her from other white women."

White man's throat cut

A group of Whites led by a soldier were confronted, when entering one house, by four white girls in night attire: "We are British girls," one of them said. "Thank God there are others!" was the answer from one of the leaders, meaning that there were white girls who would not consort with black men. The four girls were hastily brushed aside and the house searched for coloured men."

Elsewhere in the city "a young man named Harold Smart walked up to a constable and complained that a coloured man had cut his throat. The constable promptly took him to King Edward's Hospital in a taxicab, but the man died almost immediately after his arrival."

Smart was a 20 year-old ex-soldier who had been discharged from the army after being wounded in the left arm. He was described in a local paper as "a very quiet lad." When he was buried on the 17th June the streets in his area were lined with people: "The coffin was covered with the Union Jack, and a party of men from the 1st Welsh Regiment acted as bearers, while the 'Last Post' was sounded by a lance corporal."

By the following evening the authorities had become sufficiently alarmed to keep a magistrate on hand to read the Riot Act and a company of the Welsh Regiment on hand to enforce it.

Irishman shot by Negro

Two men were killed that evening, an unidentified Negro and an Irishman, John Donovan, who was shot through the heart with a revolver bullet fired by a Negro:

"It was late at night when the trouble was renewed, and some two or three hours elapsed before the police were able to quell the riot... As trouble was anticipated extra police had been drafted into 'Nigger Town,' but the tone of the crowd of whites became more and more angry. They assembled in front of a house where eight negroes were known to reside, and challenges were issued to them to come out. Several colonial soldiers constituted themselves the ringleaders of the besieging party, which was largely made up of discharged soldiers. Some of the latter asked:- "Why should these coloured men be able to get work when it is refused us?" The relations of coloured men with white women were also referred to angrily.

"The door of the house was burst in, and the assailants crowded into the narrow passage, and began to ascend the stairs. Then a revolver shot rang out, and an exclamation was heard, "My God, I am hit." It came from Donovan. Two colonial soldiers who led the attackers fell flat to avoid further bullets, but quickly arose, and headed in a rush into a room where the negroes were gathered. A desperate fight ensued, but eventually the coloured men were overcome, not, however, before one of the attackers had been severely cut on the head with a razor... The authorities are being urged to import an armed military force."

The "colonial soldiers" were, apparently, Australians.

Source :

The night of June 12th saw crowds gathered on Custom House Street, then charged back into Butetown, the Echo reporting that: “The origin was a dispute between a woman of the Bute Street walking type and a black man who flashed a razor . . .”

Again, the mob wrecked boarding houses and restaurants and one black man, Mohammed Abdullah, died, his skull fractured. Murder charges against six white men would be dropped – for lack of evidence.

Source : Wales Online