The city of Dayton, Ohio is one of the most racially segregated cities in America, and a race-fueled riot that occurred on this day in 1966 only widened that divide. The senseless killing of a Black business owner and West Side Dayton resident was the tipping point for the riots, and the region has yet to recover some 50 years later.
The 1966 riots were not the first or the last to take place in Dayton, which is divided by the Great Miami River. A majority of the affluent White residents lived east of the river while the city’s west side was largely delegated to Black residents. The racial tensions present in Dayton led to a 1955 riot shortly after the death Emmett Till, but events turned much more violent after the drive-by shooting death of Lester Mitchell.
Mitchell, who was just recently discharged from the military, lived in an apartment on the West Side and owned a local bar attached to the building. As he was sweeping the sidewalk after closing up, eyewitnesses say a red car full of white men or a lone white shooter shot Mitchell in the face with a shotgun. News of the slaying rippled throughout the West Side.
The shooting was just the push needed to incite rage among the city’s already alienated Black residents. Widespread looting ravaged much of the West Side and was contained there without spreading to the wealthier white neighborhoods. The state National Guard was deployed to quell the riots, which lasted about two days, according to most reports. The Guardsmen remained in the area for two weeks afterwards to provide security for President Lyndon B. Johnson trip to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.
Over 500 people were arrested and countless more injured. Damages were estimated to be around $250,000 a large amount at the time.
West Dayton never was the same after the riots and much of that part of the city is still blighted. The schools in the region are among the state’s worst performing, and crime is high. However, there have been recent revitalization efforts from community leaders and professionals who want to see the community improve.