How the Police Shooting of a Black Soldier Triggered the 1943 Harlem RiotsHistorians in the News
tags: New York, urban history, police brutality, Harlem
On the evening of August 1, 1943, years of racial oppression in Harlem erupted in the lobby of the Braddock Hotel located on West 126 Street. Once a popular destination for black celebrities and musicians in the 1920s, the hotel had declined in stature and developed a reputation for prostitution.
That night, a black woman named Marjorie Polite, checked into the establishment. Unhappy with her room, Polite requested another one, but it too didn’t meet her standards. After she received a refund for her accommodations and checked out, Polite asked for the $1 tip back, which she allegedly had given to the elevator operator. After he refused to return it, Polite began to argue.
James Collins, a white policer officer who patrolled the hotel, reportedly grabbed Polite’s arm and tried to arrest her for disorderly conduct. Florine Roberts, a guest at the hotel who was a domestic worker from Connecticut in town visiting her son, witnessed the confrontation and tried to help Polite. When her son, Robert Bandy, a soldier in the 703 Military Police Unit in Jersey City, arrived at the hotel to take his mother to dinner, he saw the altercation and intervened.
In his book, The Harlem Riot of 1943, Dominic Capeci, a professor emeritus from Missouri State University, describes the evening’s events, including an account of the different versions that Collins and Bandy gave about the altercation. The official police report stated that Bandy threatened and attacked Collins, who in turn shot Bandy in the arm after he attempted to flee. Bandy, however, stated that he intervened when Collins pushed Polite and threw his nightstick, which Bandy caught. When he hesitated to return the weapon, Collins shot him. Police came to the scene and both men were taken to the hospital.