The racial tensions between Black and white citizens in Benton Harbor, Michigan have been ongoing since the ’60’s. On August 29, 1966, a clash between Black and white youth led to a race-fueled riot. At the end of it, 18-year-old Cecil Hunt was dead.
Benton Harbor, which rests across the St. Joseph River across from its so-called “twin city” of St. Joseph, is and has been a predominately Black city. In contrast, St. Joseph is and has been mostly white. This sharp divide was made even more evident in the ’60’s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the mobilizing of efforts by community leaders to combat the racism many Blacks faced.
Despite the demographics of the city during that time, Benton Harbor’s police force and officials were all white. Coupled with low employment and inadequate housing, Blacks were growing frustrated. Adding to the frustration was police harrassment and other related issues. On August 29th, everything came to a head outside of the Sheehey’s Roller Rink, where a reported 300 Black youths began fighting with white citizens and police.
Armed with rocks, young people damaged cars and even attacked the mayor’s home. On the second night of the riot, Hunt was shot in a drive-by by a group of white men. He died a day later of his wounds. Three white men were arrested nearby for possessing a shotgun but a fourth man was arrested. He was later freed because of a lack of evidence.