I authored the entry on Race Riots in the digital encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. My task was commissioned by the Central Arkansas Libraries System. You can view the entry online, at “Race Riots,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
A race riot is any prolonged form of mob-related civil disorder in which race plays a key role. The term is most often associated with mob violence by or against a minority group. The motivations for such violence can vary significantly, and once properly defined, the difference between collective violence and riot is somewhat arbitrary. For instance, many lynchings targeting African Americans are considered race riots, as they involved large numbers of whites and were the fatal culmination of existing racial tensions. The 1927 lynching of John Carter in Little Rock (Pulaski County), with the slaying of a white girl as a catalyst, involved a prolonged assault against the city’s black community and is often considered a riot. However, other lynchings and episodes of local racial violence have involved smaller numbers of people, been more low key, or had a shorter duration, and thus failed to meet common understandings of what defines a riot.