The Racial Tensions Between African Americans and Italians in Alexandria

One issue that appears upon close readings of the Washington Post during the early twentieth century were conflicts between African Americans and Italians in Alexandria, Virginia. Because of local racial attitudes, Italians and African Americans were likely to live in close proximity to each other and competed for jobs in railroad construction.

December 4, 1904

Violence between African Americans and Italians went both ways, with African Americans attacking Italians and vice versa. And economics was often a driving force.  One example is the case of Alfonso Dantonio and James Winkfield. Dantonio reportedly shouted, “Blacka man taka whitea man’s job,” before opening fire on Winkfield and shooting him twice.1 Dantonio’s  statement highlighted how Italians viewed themselves as “white;” however, native-born whites and blacks did not necessarily have a similar attitude.  Italians were often seen as foreigners who were unable to be Americanized because of their racial in-betweeness–they were somewhere between white and black.

December 6, 19042

In the article, “Italian Fires Two Shots into Negro”, Winkfield claimed that he had never had an encounter with Dantonio before the shooting, not even while they were inside the saloon where they both had been drinking. Dantonio claimed that a week before shooting he had been held up by “four negro men,” one of whom was Winkfield, and robbed of $25. Dantonio also claimed he had been shot by the robbers, but the police were unable to find any wounds.3 Upon further inspection, the police discovered that Dantonio had started the day off with $9, loaned $5 to a friend, and drank the rest away at the saloon.4 Although the police did not discover a bullet wound on Dantonio, that does not mean four African Americans had not assaulted him; however, the article showed that Winkfield was more than likely a blameless victim of the racial tension between African Americans and Italians. Dantonio could have been harboring ill feelings toward Winkfield because of other interactions and misconceptions of African Americans.

In Alexandria, Italians and African Americans were competing for the similar jobs on the railroads. Italians’ attitudes about their white privilege could have fueled racial tensions between the two groups. Whatever the reasons, racial tensions and violence were a prominent feature in the Washington Post in the early twentieth century.

 

1 “Alexandria News in Brief: Italian Fires Two Bullets Into Negro, Seriously Wounding Him,” The Washington Post, December 4, 1904.

2 “Alexandria News,” The Washington Post, December 6, 1904.

3 “Alexandria News in Brief: Italian Fires Two Bullets Into Negro, Seriously Wounding Him,” The Washington Post, December 4, 1904.

4 Ibid.

 

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