Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Chicago Race Riot (the "Red Summer") of 1919.

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When I write about the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, I follow this historical terminology:
  • The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED are explained in this article.
Writing about AFRICAN-AMERICAN history, I follow these race terms:
  • "NEGRO" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "BLACK" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "AFRICAN-AMERICAN" [Afro-American] began usage in the late 1980s.


The Chicago race riot of 1919 was a major racial conflict that began in Chicago, Illinois, on July 27th, 1919 and ended on August 3rd. During the riot, thirty-eight people died (23 Negro and 15 White), and over five hundred were injured. It is considered the worst of the approximately 25 riots during the Red Summer, so named because of the nationwide violence and fatalities. The combination of prolonged arson, looting, and murder made it the worst race riot in the history of Illinois.

According to official reports, the Chicago riots began after Eugene Williams, a Negro teenager, drowned in Lake Michigan after being struck in the head by a rock thrown by a white man angry that Williams and friends had drifted into the "white side" of the informally segregated beach.
John T. McCutcheon, Chicago Tribune, July 28th, 1919, cartoon.
Responding police refused to arrest the white man who was identified as having thrown the rock and instead arrested a Negro man at the scene. When Negro onlookers complained, they were met with violence, and widespread rioting between Negro and white Chicagoans soon spread throughout the city's Negro residential areas. Tensions between groups arose in a melee that blew up into days of unrest.

A horde of young boys ran to the corner where a young Negro man was beaten during Chicago's race riots in 1919. White youngsters drove out Negro residents by stoning their homes during the race riots.
The state militia was called in to quell the violence on the south side of Chicago during the 1919 race riots.
The sociopolitical atmosphere of Chicago was one of the ethnic tension caused by competition among many new groups. During the Great Migration, thousands of Negroes from the South had settled next to neighborhoods of European immigrants on Chicago's South Side, near the stockyards and meatpacking plants. With industrial jobs in the stockyards and meatpacking industry opening as European immigration was cut off by World War I, from 1916 to 1919, the Negro population in Chicago increased from 44,000 to 109,000, a 148 percent increase during the decade.
Police removed the body of a Negro man killed during the 1919 race riots. The five days of violence were sparked when a Negro teenager crossed an invisible boundary between the waters of the 29th Street beach, known to be reserved for whites, and the 25th Street beach, known to be reserved for Negroes.
The state militia held its ground at 47th and Wentworth Avenue during Chicago's race riot in 1919.
The Irish had been established first and fiercely defended their territory and political power against all newcomers. Post-World War I tensions caused friction between the races, especially in the competitive labor and housing markets. Overcrowding and increased Negro militancy by veterans contributed to the visible racial clashes. Also, a combination of ethnic gangs and police neglect strained racial relationships.
The mounted police rounded up "stray" negroes and escorted them back to a safety zone during the race riots in Chicago in 1919.
The state militia was mobilized in Chicago at the height of the 1919 race riot.
The state militia marched through Chicago during the 1919 race riots.
Heavily armed motorcycle and foot policemen stood at the ready for instant transportation to quell the rioting on Chicago's south side on July 30th, 1919. 
William Hale Thompson was the Mayor of Chicago during the riot, and a game of brinksmanship with Illinois Governor Frank Lowden may have exacerbated the riot since Thompson refused to ask Lowden to send in the National Guard for four days, despite Lowden ensuring that the guardsmen were in Chicago and ready to intervene.
Troops gather at 47th Street and Wentworth Avenue during the Chicago race riots. 
A soldier tells a man to "back up" during the race riots in Chicago 1919. The soldiers were in place to keep white people in their own districts.
Although future mayor Richard J. Daley never officially acknowledged being part of the violence, at age 17, he was an active member of the Irish Hamburg Athletic Club, which a post-riot investigation named as an instigator in attacks on Negroes. In the following decades, Daley continued to rise in politics to become the city's mayor for twenty-one years.
Many houses in the predominantly white stockyards district were set ablaze during the 1919 race riots. The five days of violence were sparked when a Negro teenager crossed an invisible boundary between the waters of the 29th Street beach, known to be reserved for whites, and the 25th Street beach, known to be reserved for Negroes.
People look over the remains of a destroyed building in the Union Stock Yards neighborhood during the 1919 Chicago race riots. Photo dated August 2nd, 1919.
Members of a white mob ran with bricks in hand during the Chicago race riot of 1919. Photographer unknown.
United States President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress attempted to promote legislation and organizations to decrease racial discord in America. Illinois Governor Frank Lowden took several actions at Thompson's request to quell the riot and promote greater harmony in its aftermath.
A man armed with a machine gun sits at the Cook County Jail during the
1919 Chicago race riots.
Sections of the Chicago economy were shut down for several days during and after the riots since plants were closed to avoid interaction among bickering groups. Mayor Thompson drew on his association with this riot to influence later political elections.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 
Photographs copyright 
© Chicago Tribune


  1. Sad. In one hundred years, nothing has changed

  2. I don't think this was ever taught back in time at school. I don't recall learning about this awful event until I was an adult. Very sad time in history.

  3. The photos of 47th and Wentworth speak to me in particular, as I had a significant life event at that corner, related to being in the wrong place at the wrong time in 1972. Very interesting.


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