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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

We Charge Genocide - The 1951 Black Lives Matter Campaign

by Susan A. Glenn

See map of 152 killings below

In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress (affiliated with the Communist Party) engaged in a campaign to hold the United States accountable for genocide against African Americans. Below are the 152 incidents that the Civil Rights Congress offered as evidence in support of this claim. These killings of unarmed Black men and women by police and by lynch mobs took place between 1945 and 1951. They are displayed on the interactive map and detailed one by one in a descriptive list below.

 We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of The United States against the Negro People (1951) is as relevant today as it was in its own time. The massive petition (over 200 pages) was delivered to the United Nations in Paris in December 1951. The petition sought to demonstrate that the government of the United States was in violation of the U.N. Genocide Convention. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide had been adopted in 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

The Genocide Convention defined “genocide” as “acts committed to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, or religious group as such.” These “acts” included “killing members of the group,” “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” and “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” In addition to the “attempt to commit genocide,” other punishable offenses defined by the Convention included “conspiracy to commit genocide,” “direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” and “complicity in genocide.”  Another distinctive feature of the Genocide Convention was that it made the crime of genocide a punishable offense under international law whether it was committed “in time of peace or in time of war.”

We Charge Genocide, which was produced by William Patterson and the Civil Rights Congress, charged that under the legal rubric laid out by the United Nations, the United States, which failed to enforce its own Constitution, must be punished under international law for its genocidal acts against African Americans.      

In his Introduction to the petition, Patterson emphasized the relationship between Hitler’s crimes against the Jews and America’s crimes against African Americans. “Out of the inhuman Black ghettos of American cities, out of the cotton plantations of the South, comes this record of mass slayings on the basis of race, of lives deliberately warped and distorted by the willful creation of conditions making for premature death, poverty and disease.  It is a record that calls aloud for condemnation, for an end to these terrible injustices that constitute a daily and ever-increasing violation of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

"Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet. To many an American the police are the government, certainly its most visible representative. We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States..." (pp.8-9)


We Charge Genocide documented 152 recent killings, and 344 other crimes of violence against African Americans and other human rights abuses committed in the United States against its own citizens from 1945-1951.  This represented only a small sample, as most crimes against Black people went unrecorded.  The evidence presented in the petition had been culled from the Black press, including the Pittsburgh Courier, The Black Dispatch, the Amsterdam News, and from reports by the Tuskegee Institute, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the American Council on Race Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union, the labor press, and hearings by city, state and federal agencies. The petition also emphasized that countless African Americans died each year because they did not have the same quality health care, jobs, education, and housing as whites.  Because of their substandard existence, the petition charged, the average life expectancy of African Americans was cut short by eight years.

Ninety-four individuals signed the petition. William Patterson flew to Paris in 1951 to personally deliver it to members of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights. The petition received favorable publicity overseas but was denounced in the United States and disavowed by other civil rights groups. When he returned to the U.S., Patterson had his passport revoked by the State Department and was banned from further travel abroad. Patterson was a Communist as were many other signatories to the petition and in the fierce Cold War climate of 1951 We Charge Genocide was considered a dangerous document.

Below are details on 152 incidents as recorded in the published (2nd edition) version of the petition. The information has not been independently verified. The incidents are displayed on the interactive map and below that described in a chronological list.