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In the Heat of the SummerIn the Heat of the Summer

The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime

Michael W. Flamm

Narrated by Marlin May

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press

On the morning of July 16, 1964, a white police officer in New York City shot and killed a black teenager, James Powell, across the street from the high school where he was attending summer classes. Two nights later, a peaceful demonstration in Central Harlem degenerated into violent protests. During the next week, thousands of rioters looted stores from Brooklyn to Rochester and pelted police with bottles and rocks. In the symbolic and historic heart of black America, the Harlem Riot of 1964, as most called it, highlighted a new dynamic in the racial politics of the nation. The first "long, hot summer" of the Sixties had arrived.

In this gripping narrative of a pivotal moment, Michael W. Flamm draws on personal interviews and delves into the archives to move briskly from the streets of New York, where black activists like Bayard Rustin tried in vain to restore peace, to the corridors of the White House, where President Lyndon Johnson struggled to contain the fallout from the crisis and defeat Republican challenger Barry Goldwater, who had made "crime in the streets" a centerpiece of his campaign. Recognizing the threat to his political future and the fragile alliance of black and white liberals, Johnson promised that the War on Poverty would address the "root causes" of urban disorder. A year later, he also launched the War on Crime, which widened the federal role in law enforcement and set the stage for the War on Drugs.

Today James Powell is forgotten amid the impassioned debates over the militarization of policing and the harmful impact of mass incarceration on minority communities. But his death was a catalyst for the riots in New York, which in turn foreshadowed future explosions and influenced the political climate for the crime and drug policies of recent decades. In the Heat of the Summer spotlights the extraordinary drama of a single week when peaceful protests and violent unrest intersected, the freedom struggle reached a crossroads, and the politics of law and order led to demands for a War on Crime.

Michael W. Flamm is Professor of History at Ohio Wesleyan University.


In the Heat of the Summer is not simply the best history ever written about race and urban violence in the 1960s. It brilliantly reveals the roots of the ongoing mistrust between police and African-Americans. And Michael Flamm's vivid narrative is hard to put down.”

—Michael Kazin, author of War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918

“Until now, the 1964 Harlem Riot has not been properly fixed in American and literary lore. Michael Flamm's riveting retelling of the saga—against the backdrop of a single black teenage death and replete with the journalists, politicians, and activists who were there—fills the missing gap in a work that is necessary, and unbelievably timely.”

—Wil Haygood, author of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America

“Michael Flamm's important book gives us the first detailed look at the event that ignited the long, hot summers of the 1960s. Flamm provides us with rich portraits of the politicians, officers, community leaders, and hard-working people in the neighborhoods who were affected by the riots. This remarkable book brilliantly tackles the tangled nexus of race and criminal justice that is at the core of this history and continues to be its legacy.”

—Alan Brinkley, author of The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

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University Press Audiobooks