Prejudice leads to race riots in the North

Racial prejudice caused other problems for Northern blacks during the Civil War, in addition to preventing them from serving their country as soldiers. At that time, many immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and other European countries worked in industrial factories in the North. Working conditions in the factories were not good in those days, and many people worked long hours for low wages. Some workers formed groups called labor unions in order to negotiate with their employers for better working conditions and higher pay. Most labor unions did not allow black people to become members. When employers did not meet the demands of the unions, the members would often refuse to work—or go on strike— as a form of protest. Then the factory owners would hire black workers, who were not part of a union, to take the place of striking workers. This practice made many working-class white people angry and resentful. But instead of taking out their anger on their employers, they targeted black workers.

In 1862 and 1863, the job competition between European immigrants and Northern blacks sparked race riots in several major cities. Some of the most destructive riots occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, in July 1862. Angry groups of Irish and German laborers set fires and attacked people in the black part of town, and then groups of black workers retaliated the next day. The mob violence continued for five days, and large sections of the city were destroyed. Similar events took place in New York City; Chicago, Illinois; and Detroit, Michigan, over the next few months. The situation grew even more tense once President Abraham Lincoln granted freedom to black slaves in the South in 1863. Working-class whites in the North worried that emancipation would create a flood of Southern blacks who would work for low wages and take their jobs.

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