Alabama Brawl Shows Tide Has Turned

Terry Manning

By Terry Manning

A lot of my friends on social media have spent a significant amount of time since the weekend celebrating a beatdown that’s reached national prominence.

No, I’m not talking about Terence Crawford’s dominance over Errol Spence Jr. to unite the boxing world’s welterweight championship. I’m talking about a riverfront ruckus in Montgomery, Ala., that was as wild as anything the producers of WWE could have cooked up, including an attack with a folding chair!

The fracas seems to have started when the Harriott II riverboat was trying to return to the dock in downtown Montgomery but couldn’t because a group of pontoon boats were in its way. A Black man who works at the dock, according to WSFA-TV, approached the boaters and asked them to move so the larger boat could dock.

Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon, a former colleague of mine, reported the dock worker had asked the boaters to move their pontoons, and they had refused, so he and an employee of the City of Montgomery unmoored one of the pontoons and moved it to make way for the riverboat.

You likely have seen videos on social media of what happened next. One of the men, a white man, who had been on the pontoons, was arguing with the dock worker when a second man from the pontoons decided to let his fists do his talking, striking the worker.

The dock worker threw a hat he had been wearing into the air, and the fight ensued.

Now, there have been a lot of jokes made about the hat toss being the equivalent of Batman’s airborne signal. In this case, the toss is interpreted as calling other Black people to his defense. I actually interpret it as a gesture of professionalism.

After being on the receiving end of a cheap shot, the dock worker knew his response could put him and potentially his employer in a bad position legally. So he took his headgear off as a way of signaling to his challengers and others that they were no longer dealing with an employee of the riverboat company. They now were dealing with just a man. A Black man. A Black man from Alabama was trying to do his doggone job when a couple of good ol’ boys decided to “try that in a small town.”

He was swarmed and overcome by a barrage of blows handed out by other people from the pontoons. In a video posted by Moon, people on the riverboat began screaming to onlookers on the shore, “Y’all help that brother!” One riverboat passenger leaped into the water and swam toward the melee.

(It’s been a while since I lived in Montgomery, but for most of the time I was there, all I heard about the Alabama River was it was full of snakes, alligators, and filth. The young man who swam to shore to offer assistance should undergo a full regimen of antibiotics if he hasn’t started one already.)

As others joined the brawl, the dynamics changed dramatically. Realizing the numbers of the incident was no longer in their favor, the boaters attempted to flee to their pontoons from an approaching crowd of angry watchers. That was to no avail.

The group of white boaters received what we used to call a “country-boy butt whooping” — except we didn’t say “butt.” This included a battering from a Black man wielding a white plastic folding chair. In a photo shared on social media, one of the boaters had been manhandled so severely that his plastic shoes could be seen halfway up his shins.

Law enforcement officials finally arrived and hauled off a fair number of participants. I’m sure more will have been charged by the time this is published after the police have had more time to review the multitude of videos captured.

As I said at the top, I have friends who are celebrating. Some invoked the specters of past racial atrocities and say our enslaved ancestors would approve. Others more mildly posted a variation on the “Safe from” meme used on Facebook.

I lived and worked in Montgomery for more than a decade. I was immersed in a lot of its history but also a lot of the good work being done now to make up for that history. I met people of all ethnicities who are some of the finest I’ve known. They deserve better.

But the message is clear: In Alabama, and anywhere else in America, Black people are not just going to settle meekly for being on the receiving end of racial violence. And we’re not going to stand by and watch it happen to others.

Terry E. Manning is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at

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