Dayton Race Riot of 1966

Lauren Lowen


After the long hot summer of 1966, tensions boiled over in the West Side of Dayton, Ohio. After the murder of an innocent African American man, the community rioted against their treatment by the city government and the local police force. In the midst of the Civil Rights movement, citizens felt they needed to voice their opposition against the blatant housing segregation they have experience, that has resulted in their children attending poorly funded, predominantly African-American, public schools. As well as the awful prejudices by their white neighbors, the local police, and racial groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, that resulted in violence towards African American West Daytonians. The combination of these factors fueled the spark of the Dayton Race Riot of 1966, a riot that still has lasting consequences on the City of Dayton.


On September 1, 1966 Lester Mitchell, a thirty-nine-year-old, African American, West Dayton resident, was shot in the face while sweeping his front porch.[1] His neighbor, Tommy Campbell, told the Dayton Daily Newspaper that, ‘“All I saw was the red (of the car), and the barrel of the gun,’… ‘All I could tell was they were white men. Somebody said Les had been shot’”[2] Just two years before, in Harlem, New York City, in which a black youth was killed by an off duty police officer, the killings provided the spark that set off a riot.[3] In Dayton, police attempted to secure the crime scene and transported Mitchel to the hospital. During that time, a disorderly crowd grew to over one hundred people on West Fifth Street. Quickly the situation grew out of control. After years of discrimination and segregation, the death of Lester Mitchell sparked an explosion of rioting and looting across the city of Dayton:[4]

Photo of Rioters in Police Vehicle. Image courtesy of the Dayton Daily News. (

The crowd morphed into a large mob that set out to destroy property, loot and attack the police. The mob started north on Shannon and South Williams Streets, toward the West Third Street business district […] The mob threw glass bottles and smashed automobile windshields with metal garbage cans and rocks.[5]

Throughout that night there was violence and destruction on Dayton’s West Side. As the police signaled their racial riot code, “Signal 0-0,” and Chief of Police Lawrence Caylor made a formal Mutual Aid Request to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigating Causes of Riot

Prior to the 1966 Race Riot, the conditions of minority-prominent neighborhoods, like the West Side, received little attention from city officials. After the riot Dave Hall, Mayor of the City of Dayton, accepted the proposal of Clarence Joseph McLin, Jr to establish a commission to investigate the causes of the riots.[6] C.J McLin, State Representative of Ohio from 1967-1988, accepted “ the responsibility of organizing the Study Committee.” His first decision was that 60% of the Study Committee should be people from the Inner West Dayton Area and the remaining 40% from other sections of the city. The Study Committee interviewed interested persons at a tavern in the heart of the Inner West Dayton Area. Approximately 90 people attended the meeting.[7] Through their first hand testimony, McLin’s team was able to discover and document housing and education discrimination that plagued the African Americans residing in Dayton. Building up to the Race Riots of 1966.

Portrait of Clarence Josef McLin, Jr. Photo courtesy of the Ohio Statehouse. (
The principle underlying cause of the riot, McLin reported, confirmed was the city’s history of segregation. The segregation stemmed from the movement of white city dwellers to suburban communities so that they would not live by, and their children would not go to school, with minorities. Along with the fear of decline of housing values in racially integrated neighborhoods, the Great Miami River divided the city from north to south and created a segregation of races.[8] The departure of the people who had better jobs, resulted in businesses and job opportunities moving outside of the city. The lower classes did not have the resources to move outside of the city limits into the nicer suburbs during this time. The cultural background of these poorer inner-city neighborhoods became predominantly made up of African Americans and people from minorities. The prejudices against African Americans caused a housing segregation to take hold of neighborhoods like West Side. Dr. Todd Uhlman, professor at the University of Dayton, described this situation, “Neglect by the city, economic decline, and loss of tax base due to white flight left much of the west side dilapidated and crime ridden.”[9] The poorer neighborhoods, like West Side, did not have the resources to improve community housing or facilities like neighborhoods outside of the city, like Oakwood. The land owners also were not pressured to improve living conditions by the city government or the state government. In some cases, landowners would deliberately charge higher rents without updating or providing the basic necessities of living. One thirteen-unit apartment reportedly had only four toilets and not one shower or bathtub. McLin’s reported on these conditions:

Rats run rampant on the West Side. They live in old, deteriorated garages and buildings. They run through the alleys, even in Westwood and Lower Dayton View. Also, people move into houses that are infested with roaches. The landlords do not exterminate these insects even when asked to do so. [10]

In Dayton and at a national level, the quality of housing was not a concern for building owners and public officials until after the Race Riots. Daniel J. Monti, associate professor at Boston University, explains that even in areas where activists were making progress, little construction was actually completed until 1965 and 1966.[11] Housing segregation continued to exist years after the Race Riots of 1966 occurred. Research by Douglas Massey in 1988 found that, “housing patterns in Dayton and its suburbs to be the third most racially segregated among the fifty largest metropolitan areas in the United States.” With higher levels of segregation only found in Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois.[12]
School desegregation in Dayton did not see significant improvements after the decisive Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954.[13] In the late 19th century, black and white students went to different schools because of personal choice. R. W. Steele, former president of the Dayton Board of Education, explained that in the legislation, “did not lead to racial desegregation of Dayton schools, because black parents did not ask to move their children to schools with white children.”[14] However, as the Federal Housing Authority began to require covenants for all homes in Dayton except on the West Side, school boards moved to build schools to serve only their respective neighborhoods. This created the segregated school systems in Dayton. Along with this, as racial composition of neighborhoods changed, the board maintained segregation. As seen in Garfield School District in 1918, “After African American families moved into the attendance area […], the school board converted a two-story frame house behind the brick school building to a school for African American children.”[15]

Joseph Watras, author of “The Racial Desegregation of Dayton, Ohio, Public Schools, 1966-2008,” argues that it took three major events for Dayton to begin the desegregation of schools. In combination with the NAACP’s legal campaign that expanded the definition of racial desegregation and the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act, Watras cites brief civil disturbances, specifically the Race Riot in 1966, as a major contributing factor to desegregation.[16]


The Dayton Police officers tried to subdue the crowd during the first day of the riot.  Neighborhoods, such as Oakwood and Kettering, requested reinforcement to seal their borders from the “colored problem.”[17] The police as well as the angry crowd were preparing for a confrontation that has been building up for decades. The rioters, wrote one Daytonian chronicler of the event:

went in and out of shattered storefronts and ran away with anything they could carry. Hit-and-run attacks by rioters spread throughout West Dayton as far away as fifty blocks from the Great Miami River. Westown Shopping Center across from the Dayton Veterans Administration Center was looted. Stores and dumpsters were set afire. Police who responded were attacked with glass bottles, pieces of wood with nails, rocks and bricks torn from the streets.[18]

The police fought back. They hoped to control the situation while the general public still held hope that Lester Mitchell was still alive in the hospital. They understood that the situation would get much worse if he died. Hall realized after the first day the police needed reinforcements. His office contacted Governor James A. Rhodes asking for assistance from Ohio’s National Guard. Governor Rhodes approved activation of several Units, totally one thousand personnel for immediate deployment.[19] At 11:30 at night on September first, “the first platoon of the Ohio National Guardsmen traveled under escort by Dayton Police to DPD Command Post at the rear of the Central Police Station in downtown. Although the first deployment was small, it had an exclamation point.”[20]

On the morning of September 2nd, the West Daytonians learned of the death of Lester Mitchell. Rioters threw rocks, looted, and set fires rallying behind the cry of Mitchell’s name. Some students, fed up with the awful treatment of African Americans, saw violence as their only option. Daniel Baker and Gwen Nalls, co-authors of the book Blood in the Streets: Racism Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America, explain in depth the buildup of the 1966 Race Riot, Baker states, “Carloads of young black males adopted a new tactic; intersections were blocked by hastily erected barricades. Some motorists, mostly white, were car-jacked. Delivery trucks were hijacked and taken to isolated locations and emptied.” In addition to the looting and violence, Dayton hospitals were overrun with new patients. Injuries from the police Billy clubs and exposure to the effects of tear gas were common.[21] The police were injured as well, some with cuts and bruises, others with broken bones and concussions.

This was not the first incident in Dayton that resulted in violence towards African American residents. Neal Bradley Long, the man who killed Lester Mitchell, was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. Long was not alone. In 1920, some estimates say twenty-five percent of the City of Dayton’s population were card-carrying Klu Klux Klan members. Although the City of Dayton had a prominent Marianist University on its border, the presence of the Klan was palpable. Dr. William Trollinger, Professor at the University of Dayton, explains:

In short, Dayton joined Indianapolis, Portland (OR), Youngstown, Denver, and Dallas as ‘the hooded capitals of the nation,’ i.e., the cities with the highest percentage of its residents as Ku Klux Klan members […] Then there were the cross burnings. Newspaper articles and oral interviews suggest a Dayton illuminated by burning crosses in the mid-1920s.[22]

Demonstration of Dayton Ku Klux Klan on September 21 1923. Image courtesy of the Dayton Metro Library.  (

This violence as seen when on the first night of Christmas break in December 1923, forty caroloads of Klansmen raided the nearby University of Dayton. They set off twelve bombs, and lit an eight-foot cross on the western edge of campus. The students, as well as neighborhood residents, attacked the Klan and drove them off campus.[23] The Klan’s popularity decreased after the 1920s, but saw a revival during the Civil Rights Movement.[24] Although the Klan’s popularity decreased during this time, the racist sentiments of those in 1920s were passed on to their children and their grandchildren.

The prejudices held by a portion of the white population in Dayton resulted in the violence against African Americans by the Dayton police. In Dayton, and across the Nation, African Americans felt that the role of police officers was more harmful then helpful. As stated by Harlan Hahn and Joe R. Feagin, co-authors of “Riot-Precipitating Police Practices: Attitudes in Urban Ghettos” state:

1966 Harris survey revealed that 41 percent of Negroes in the North and West felt local police to be more harmful than helpful in the cause of Negro rights. Most of the other respondents were uncertain. And a 1965 Detroit survey disclosed that 58 percent of Negroes there felt that law enforcement was not fair.[25]

In the Study Committee McLin found that African Americans in West Dayton fell in line with the nationwide attitude towards police. In addition to verbal abuse and frequent treats, West Daytonians explained that in their area they felt the police shot to kill, they ignored constitutional protection against search and seizure, and abused their authority to hold suspicion.[26]

As well as physical abuse, the Dayton police did not prioritize the West Side’s incidents. A common abuse nationwide, poorer municipalities did not receive the police force’s attention for a majority of their calls. Before New York City’s Bedford Stuyvesant Race Riot, Hahn and Feagin state that, “dissatisfaction with the police increased on responding to calls, patrolling the area, and the number of policemen assigned to the area before the riot.”[27] This anger is shown during the first day of the riot in Dayton, when residents were frustrated by the local police officers response. Baker states that one local was frustrated with the efforts by police and said, “‘Do something! You pigs wouldn’t let a white man lay here like this!’”[28]

By one in the afternoon on September 2nd the Ohio National Guard achieved full deployment. Baker explains the deployment plan of the combined force of Dayton police, deputy sheriffs and guardsmen, “They were split into twelve-hour shifts. Even with all their manpower, authorities could not cover all of the troubled areas.”[29] They continued these shifts during September 2nd as the violence spread and grew fiercer. St. E Hospital reports state that at least eight people arrived with gunshot wounds that resulted from random shootings on the streets of West Dayton.  As well as Miami Valley Hospital, located near St. E, received at least thirty patients with similar gunshot injuries.[30] Local detectives used the chaos that occurred downtown to stomp out drug traffic. The chaos allowed for search and seizure operations that would normally require a search warrant. Baker explains, “A veteran narcotics detective coined a popular phrase on that special ‘ass-kickin’ day. ‘No Search Warrant? No Problem!’”[31]  The violence continued onto the third day with authorities and National Guard troops making little progress.

Race Riot 1966 Dayton Ohio, Found The Dayton Jewish Observer article titled “50 Years Later.” (

On September 3rd, as the Ohio National Guard was regaining control of the situation, over 175 people were arrested and booked in jail. Children especially were arrested, evident by when the juvenile detention facilities became overcrowded. The situation was so dire that many had to be released for later hearing dates. During this time, the entire Ohio National Guard forces were deployed in Dayton. The amount of men on duty during a twelve-hour shift peaked at 525. The final day of rioting was Sunday September 4th. After regaining control of most of West Dayton, the National Guard reduced its numbers to three hundred soldiers per shit, until eventually it withdrew the force.[32]

Today, the impact of the 1966 Race Riot is still being debated and studied by scholars. Directly following the Riot, citizens explained about the lack of economic opportunity in their area. McLin’s Study Committee found that:

Of the approximately 400 people that attended the neighborhood meetings, approximately 60% were unemployed. Based on personal interviews, the reasons for their unemployment were as follows – lack of education and/or training, past police records, fear of employer rejection; and employer resistance due to racial background.[33]

Without job opportunities, the African Americans were forced into a repeating cycle of abuse. They could not move out of the poor neighborhoods in which they lived, due to their lack of money. They could not afford to send their children to better schools, as a result they had to send their children to be underfunded, poorer-quality public schools. The lack of job opportunity for African Americans forced them to live in poorer quality neighborhoods and did not provide their children with a prosperous educational future. This cycle of poverty will continue throughout the 20th century. William Collins and Robert Margo explain in their article “The Economic Aftermath of the 1960s Riots in American Cities: Evidence from Property Values” that, “The popular media have linked the riots anecdotally to the concentration of poverty in urban black neighborhoods, the fiscal problems of inner cities, crime, ‘white flight,’ and racial disparities in housing outcomes, but without solid evidence of causality or estimates of magnitude.”[34] Recently, people have begun studying the effect the race riots had on the inner city neighborhoods. The linkage between the riots and the property values adds more evidence to how African Americans today are still disenfranchised and segregated into poorer areas. Collins states that:

… the riots depressed the median value of black-owned property between 1960 and 1970, with little or no rebound in the 1970s. Census tract data for a small number of cities suggest relative losses of population and property value in tracts that were directly affected by riots compared to other tracts in the same cities.[35]

Although the riots did help fuel and motivate those to protest discrimination and segregation. Today, people can still see the effects of the race riots through the property values of minority communities, and the prominence of welfare in those communities.


[1]Baker, Daniel L., and Gwen Nalls. Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America. Cincinnati, OH: Forensic Publications, LLC, 2014. page 55

[2]Sweigart, Josh. “Lasting Scars: The 1966 Dayton Riot, And West Dayton Today.” Dayton Daily News, August 31, 2016. Accessed November 8, 2018.

[3] Monti, Daniel J. “Patterns of Conflict Preceding the 1964 Riots.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 23, no. 1 (1979): 41-69. doi:10.1177/002200277902300103. page 12.  

[4]Baker, Daniel L., and Gwen Nalls. Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America, page 58.

[5]Ibid, 60.

[6] “C.J. McLin.” Wright State University Libraries. February 09, 2012. Accessed December 12, 2018.

[7] Glenn Thompson Papers Area Progress Council – Race Relations, Box 1, File 1d C. 1966-1967, Wright State University Archives, Fairborn, OH.

[8]Watras, Joseph. “The Racial Desegregation of Dayton, Ohio, Public Schools, 1966–2008.” Ohio History 117, no. 1 (2010): 93-107. doi:10.1353/ohh.2010.0014. page 95.

[9] Uhlman, Todd. “”Tonight, We Just Built the UD Arena!”: The Social History of a Building, a University, a City, and a Nation in the Late 1960s.” Accessed December 12, 2018. History _Draft 7_-1.compressed.pdf. page 22.

[10] Glenn Thompson Papers Area Progress Council – Race Relations, Box 1 File 1d C. 1966-1967, Wright State Unviersity Archives, Fairborn, OH.

[11]Monti, Daniel J. “Patterns of Conflict Preceding the 1964 Riots.” page 10.

[12] Watras, Joseph. “The Racial Desegregation of Dayton, Ohio, Public Schools, 1966–2008.” Ohio History 117, no. 1 (2010): 93-107. doi:10.1353/ohh.2010.0014. Page 93

[13] On May 17th 1954, The United States Supreme Court decided in Brown Vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that legal segregation violated the Constitution. However, it did not decide how to handle  segregation based on residential patterns. Ibid, Page 95-96.

[14] Baker, Daniel L., and Gwen Nalls, Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America, page 94.

[15]Watras, Joseph. “The Racial Desegregation of Dayton, Ohio, Public Schools, 1966–2008.”  Page 95.

[16] Ibid, 96.

[17]Baker, Daniel L., and Gwen Nalls, Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America, page 70-71.

[18]Ibid, 71.

[19]Ibid, 79.

[20]Ibid, 88.

[21]Ibid, 94.

[22]Trollinger, William Vance. “Hearing the Silence: The University of Dayton, the Ku Klux Klan, and Catholic Universities and Colleges in the 1920s.” American Catholic Studies124, no. 1 (2013): 1-21. doi:10.1353/acs.2013.0000. page 4.

[23] “Garden of Plenty.” Denise James : University of Dayton, Ohio. November 21, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2018.

[24] “Ku Klux Klan.” Battle of Lake Erie – Ohio History Central. Accessed December 12, 2018.

[25] Hahn, Harlan, and Joe R. Feagin. “Riot-Precipitating Police Practices: Attitudes in Urban Ghettos.” Phylon (1960-) 31, no. 2 (1970): 183. doi:10.2307/273723. page 185.

[26] Glenn Thompson Papers Area Progress Council – Race Relations, Box 1, File 1d C. 1996-1967, Wright State University Archives, Fairborn, OH.

[27] Hahn, Harlan, and Joe R. Feagin. “Riot-Precipitating Police Practices: Attitudes in Urban Ghettos.” page 187.

[28]Baker, Daniel L., and Gwen Nalls, Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America, page 59.

[29]Ibid, 96.

[30]Ibid, 94.

[31]Ibid, 95.

[32]Ibid, 98.

[33]Glenn Thompson Papers Area Progress Council – Race Relations, Box 1, File 1d C. 1996-1967, Wright State University Archives, Fairborn, OH.

[34] Collins, William, and Robert Margo. “The Economic Aftermath of the 1960s Riots: Evidence from Property Values.” Cambridge University Press, 2004. doi:10.3386/w10493. page 850.

[35]Ibid, 849.