On This Day

White Night Riots

Rioters outside San Francisco City Hall on the night of May 21, 1979
Rioters outside San Francisco City Hall on the night of May 21, 1979

Historical Context

Harvey Milk, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was assassinated by Dan White, a former city supervirsor himself who was angry that Milk had not reappointed him to his old job. White also assassinated the mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone.

Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California, and when White was found guilty of only voluntary manslaughter, the community was outraged. Their poor relations with the San Francisco Police Department (exacerbated by the fact that White was a former member) exploded into the open as rioters marched on City Hall and caused extensive property damage.

The riots are on league with the Stonewall riots of 1969 in terms of reaction by the gay community. Some hours after the riots ended, the police raided a gay bar in retaliation. The riots led to the election of Dianne Feinstein as mayor of San Francisco in November that year; she appointed a pro-gay Chief of Police in order to reduce tensions.

Photo Info

Photographer: Daniel Nicoletta
Date taken: May 21, 1971
Location taken: San Francisco, California, USA

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1971-05-21 White Night riots occur in San Francisco after Dan White is given a lenient sentence for assassinating Mayor George Moscone and the openly gay elected official Harvey Milk
  • 1979-05-21 Dan White convicted of the voluntary manslaughter of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and openly gay councilor Harvey Milk. The conviction on a lesser charge outraged the gay community and led to the White Night riots.

Historical Photos