Chicago race riot of 1919 was a major racial conflict that began
in Chicago, Illinois, on July 27, 1919, and ended on August 3.
During the riot, thirty-eight people died (23 black 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
violence and fatalities across the nation. The combination of
prolonged arson, looting, and murder made it the worst race riot in
the history of Illinois.
The sociopolitical atmosphere of
Chicago was one of ethnic tension
caused by competition among many new groups. With the Great Migration,
African Americans from the South had settled next to
neighborhoods of European immigrants on Chicago's South Side, near
jobs in the stockyards and meatpacking plants. The Irish had been
established first, and fiercely defended their territory and political
power against all newcomers. Post
World War I
World War I tensions caused
frictions between the races, especially in the competitive labor and
housing markets. Overcrowding and increased African American
militancy by veterans contributed to the visible racial frictions.
Also, a combination of ethnic gangs and police neglect strained the
racial relationships. According to official reports, the turmoil
came to a boil after the death of an
African American youth who had
accidentally drifted into a swimming area at an informally segregated
beach. Tensions between groups arose in a melee that blew up into
days of unrest.
William Hale Thompson
William Hale Thompson was the Mayor of
Chicago during the riot and a
game of brinksmanship with
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. Although future
Richard J. Daley
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 instigators in
attacks on black Americans. In the following decades, Daley
continued to rise in politics to become the city's mayor for
United States President
Woodrow Wilson and the
United States Congress
attempted to promote legislation and organizations to decrease racial
discord in America.
Frank Lowden took several
actions at Thompson's request to quell the riot and promote greater
harmony in its aftermath. 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
2.1 Coroner's inquest
3 See also
5 Further reading
6 External links
A white gang looking for
African Americans during the
Riot of 1919.
Unlike southern cities at the time,
Chicago did not segregate most
public accommodations. According to
Walter Francis White
Walter Francis White of the
Chicago had a good reputation for equitable treatment
of African Americans. However, unofficially, early 20th-century
Chicago beaches were racially segregated.
African Americans had a
long history in Chicago, the city sending its first African-American
representative to the state legislature in 1876. However, the black
population in 1900 was only about 1 percent, while it expanded
dramatically in the early years of the century. Most Irish Americans
African Americans competed for low-end jobs, causing tension
between the groups.
African American man was stoned to death by whites during the
Chicago Race Riot of 1919.
By 1910, thousands of
African Americans were moving from the South to
Chicago, as a major destination in the Great Migration to northern and
midwestern cities, fleeing lynchings, segregation and
disenfranchisement in the Deep South. The revived Ku Klux Klan
committed 64 lynchings in 1918 and 83 in 1919 in southern states.
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 African-American population in
Chicago increased from
44,000 to 109,000, a 148 percent increase during the decade.
The growing African-American population settling in the South Side
bordered a neighborhood of
Irish Americans existing since the mid-19th
century and the two groups competed for jobs and housing.
African-American migrants arrived after waves of immigrants from
eastern and southern Europe; there were competition and tensions in
their relationships, too. Ethnic groups were possessive of their
neighborhoods, which their young men often patrolled against
outsiders. Because of agricultural problems, Southern whites also
migrated to the city, about 20,000 by this period. The rapid influx
of migrants caused overcrowding as a result of a lack of adequate
In 1917, two summers before the
Chicago riot, extensive and deadly
race riots broke out in the expanding, war-time cities of East St.
Louis, Illinois, and Houston, Texas, influencing the violent events of
Red Summer across the nation and in Chicago. The postwar period
also found tensions rising in numerous cities where populations were
increasing rapidly. People from different cultures jostled against
each other and competed for space. In 1917, the
Chicago Real Estate
Board established a policy of block by block segregation. New arrivals
in the Great Migration generally joined old neighbors on the South
Side. By 1920, the area held 85% of Chicago's African
Americans--middle and upper class and poor. In the postwar period,
veterans of all groups were looking to re-enter the work force. Some
whites resented African-American veterans. At the same time,
African-American veterans exhibited greater militancy and pride as a
result of having served to protect their country. They expected to be
treated as full citizens after fighting for the nation. Meanwhile,
younger black men rejected the passivity traditional of the South and
promoted armed self-defense and control of their neighborhoods.
White men and boys standing in front of vandalized house.
In Chicago, the Irish dominated social and athletic clubs that were
closely tied to the political structure of the city. Some had acted as
enforcers for politicians. As the first major group of 19th-century
European immigrants to settle in the city, the Irish had established
formal and informal political strength. In Chicago, ethnic white
gangs had been attacking people in African-American neighborhoods, and
the police, overwhelmingly white and increasingly Irish-American,
seemed little inclined to try to stop them. Meanwhile, newspapers
carried sensational accounts of any
African American allegedly
involved in crime.
An example of territory was the Bridgeport community area, an ethnic
Irish neighborhood just west of the Black Belt. The Irish had long
patrolled their neighborhood boundaries against all other ethnic
groups, especially African Americans. One group known as the Hamburg
Athletic Club, whose members included a 17-year-old Richard J. Daley,
future mayor of Chicago, contributed to gang violence in the area.
African American men in front of Walgreen Drugs (now called Walgreens)
at 35th and S. State St. in the Douglas community area.
Longstanding racial tensions between whites and blacks exploded in
five days of violence that started on July 27, 1919. On that hot
summer day, on a segregated
Chicago beach, a white man was throwing
rocks at black swimmers in the water at a beach on the South Side
which resulted in Eugene Williams' death. Tensions escalated when a
white police officer not only failed to arrest the white man
responsible for Williams' death, but arrested a black man instead.
Objections by black observers were met with violence by whites.
Attacks between white and black mobs erupted swiftly. At one point, a
white mob threatened Provident Hospital, many of whose patients were
African American. The police successfully held them off.
Chicago riot lasted almost a week, ending only after the
government had deployed nearly 6,000 National Guard infantrymen. They
stationed them around the Black Belt to prevent any further white
attacks. By the evening of July 30, most violence had ended. The
majority of the rioting, murder, and arson was the result of white
ethnic groups attacking the
African American population in the city's
Black Belt on the South Side. Most of the casualties and property
damage were suffered by black Chicagoans. Newspaper accounts noted
numerous attempts at arson; for instance, on July 31, more than 30
fires were started in the Black Belt before noon and all were believed
to be arson. Rioters stretched cables across the streets to prevent
fire trucks from entering the areas. The mayor's office was
informed of a plan to burn down the black area of
Chicago and run its
residents out of town. There were also sporadic violent attacks in
other parts of the city, including the
Chicago Loop. Because of
the rioting, 38 people died (23
African American and 15 white), and
another 537 were injured, two-thirds of them African American.
Patrolman John W. Simpson was the only policeman killed in the
riot. Approximately 1,000 residents, mostly African Americans,
were left homeless because of the fires. Many African American
families had left by train before the rioting ended, returning to
their families in the South.
The Chief of Police, John J. Garrity, closed "all places where men
congregate for other than religious purposes" to help restore order.
Frank Lowden authorized the deployment of the 11th Illinois
Infantry Regiment and its machine gun company, as well as the 1st, 2nd
and 3rd reserve militia. These four units totaled 3,500 men. The
Sheriff deputized between 1000 and 2000 ex-soldiers to
help keep the peace. With the reserves and militia guarding the Black
Belt, the city arranged for emergency provisions to provide its
residents with fresh food. White groups delivered food and supplies to
the line established by the military; the deliveries were then
distributed within the Black Belt by African Americans. While industry
was closed, the packing plants arranged to deliver pay to certain
places in the city so that African-American men could pick up their
Once order was restored,
Frank Lowden was urged to
create a state committee to study the cause of the riots. Lowden
proposed forming a committee to write a racial code of ethics and to
draw up racial boundaries for activities within the city.
African American men moving furniture while white boys watch.
The Cook County Coroner's Office took 70 day sessions, 20 night
sessions and 450 witnesses examinations to collect evidence about the
riots. Its report stated that on July 27, 1919, Eugene Williams,
African American youth, drifted towards an informally segregated
beach on the South Side while holding onto a railroad tie. He was
subsequently hit by a stone as a white man threw rocks at him and
African Americans to drive them away from their part of the 29th
Street beach in the city's Douglas community on the South Side. A
witness recalled seeing a single white male standing on a breakwater
75 feet (22.9 m) from the raft of the
African Americans and
throwing rocks at them. Williams was struck in the forehead. He then
panicked, lost his grip on the railroad tie, and drowned. The
assailant ran toward 29th Street, where a different fight had already
African Americans tried to use a section of the beach
there, in defiance of its tacit segregation.
The rioting escalated when a white police officer refused to arrest
the man who threw the stone at Williams. He instead arrested an
African American on a white man's complaint of some minor offense.
Anger over the arrest, coupled with Williams' death and rumors among
both communities, escalated into five days of rioting. Most casualties
African American and most of the property damage was inflicted in
African American neighborhoods. Having learned from the recent East
St. Louis Riot,
Chicago quickly stopped the street cars to try to
contain the violence. Inflammatory newspaper coverage had the opposite
effect. Historians noted, "South Side youth gangs, including the
Hamburg Athletic Club, were later found to have been among the primary
instigators of the racial violence. For weeks, in the spring and
summer of 1919, they had been anticipating, even eagerly awaiting, a
race riot" and, "On several occasions, they themselves had endeavored
to precipitate one, and now that racial violence threatened to become
generalized and unrestrained throughout Chicago, they were set to
exploit the chaos."
A map of the riot-affected areas on the South Side of Chicago, with
Union Stock Yards
Union Stock Yards visible. North is to the right.
Early reports detailed injuries to
Chicago police officers and a
Chicago fireman. One African-American policeman was killed during
the riot. The conduct of the white police force was criticized
during and after the riots. State's Attorney Maclay Hoyne accused the
police of arresting African-American rioters, while refusing to arrest
white rioters. Roaming gangs of Bridgeport whites, who were mostly
ethnic Irish, perpetrated much of the violence. Although the local
newspapers carried accounts of
African Americans setting fires, "later
the office of State
Fire Marshal Gamber proved conclusively that the
fires were not caused by blacks, but by whites." The New York Times
coverage during the riot, however, clearly conveyed that whites were
responsible for planned large-scale arson against black areas and for
numerous mob attacks. Because of early police failures to arrest
whites, no white Chicagoans were convicted of any of the murders, and
most of the deaths were not even prosecuted. One man was prosecuted
for Williams' death, but he was acquitted.
House with broken windows and debris in front yard.
The rioting impacted Chicago's economy. Some of the South Side's
industry was closed during the riot. Businesses in the Loop were also
affected by closure of the street cars. Many workers stayed away from
affected areas. At the Union Stock Yard, one of Chicago's largest
employers, all 15,000 African-American workers were initially expected
to return to work on Monday, August 4, 1919. But after arson near
white employees' homes near the Stock Yards on August 3, the
management banned African-American employees from the stockyards in
fear of further rioting. Governor Lowden noted his opinion
that the troubles were related to labor issues rather than race.
Nearly one-third of the African-American employees were non-union, and
were resented by union employees for that reason. African-American
workers were kept out of the stockyards for ten days after the end of
the riot because of continued unrest. On August 8, 1919, about 3,000
African Americans showed up for work under protection of
special police, deputy sheriffs, and militia. The white union
employees threatened to strike unless such security forces were
discontinued. Their main grievance against
African Americans was that
they were non-union and had been used by management as strikebreakers
in earlier years. Many
African Americans fled the city as a result
of the riots and damage.
Illinois Attorney General
Illinois Attorney General Edward Brundage and State's Attorney Hoyne
gathered evidence to prepare for a
Grand Jury investigation. The
stated intention was to pursue all perpetrators and to seek the death
penalty as necessary. On August 4, 1919, seventeen indictments
African Americans were handed down.
Richard J. Daley
Richard J. Daley was president of the Hamburg Athletic Club in
Bridgeport. Daley served as the Chicago's mayor from 1955 to 1976. In
his long political career, he never confirmed nor denied involvement
in the riots.
In 1922, six whites and six African-Americans were commissioned to
discover the true roots of the riots. It claimed that returning
World War I
World War I not receiving their original jobs and homes
instigated the riots.
In 1930, Mayor William Hale Thompson, a flamboyant Republican, invoked
the riot in a misleading pamphlet urging
African Americans to vote
against the Republican nominee, Rep Ruth Hanna McCormick, in the
United States Senate race for her late husband's seat. She was the
widow of Sen.
Joseph Medill McCormick
Joseph Medill McCormick as well as the sister-in-law of
Chicago Tribune publisher Robert Rutherford McCormick. The McCormicks
were a powerful
Chicago family whom Thompson opposed.
United States President
Woodrow Wilson pronounced white participants
the instigators of the prolonged riots in
Chicago and Washington,
D.C.. As a result, he attempted to promote greater racial harmony
through the promotion of voluntary organizations and through the
enactment of legislative improvements by the
United States Congress.
He did not change the segregation of federal departments which he had
imposed early during his first administration, however. The Chicago
Race Riot of 1919 shocked the nation and raised awareness of the
African Americans faced every day in the 20th century
List of incidents of civil unrest in the United States
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Chicago Historical Society.
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Richard J. Daley - His Battle for
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Chicago and Its Eight Reasons": Walter White
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p. 4. ISBN 978-0-8027-1575-3.
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Chicago Race Riot". Journal of
the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. 11 (2): 225–56.
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Birth to Modern Chicago. New York, NY: Crown Publisher, 2012.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Negro in
Chicago 1919 Race Riots at the
Chicago Public Library
Chicago Race Riot of 1919 archive from "Jazz Age Chicago" website by
Scott Newman, Ph. D.
Armstrong, Ken. "The 1919 race riots".
Chicago Tribune. Retrieved
October 20, 2014.
Riots and civil unrest in Illinois
Pana riot of 1899
Springfield race riot of 1908
East St. Louis riots
East St. Louis riots of 1917
Chicago race riot of 1919
Airport Homes race riots of 1946
Fernwood Park race riot of 1947
Englewood race riots of 1949
Cicero race riot of 1951
Trumbull Park race riots of 1953
Dixmoor race riot of 1964
Cairo racial unrest, 1967-1973
Marquette park racial unrest, 1960s-1980s
Banditti of the Prairie, 1830s–1840s
Lager Beer Riot, 1855
Charleston riot, 1864
Haymarket affair, 1886
Pullman Strike, 1894
Battle of Virden, 1898
Chicago Teamsters' strike
Aldermen's Wars, 1916–1921
Memorial Day massacre of 1937
Division Street riots, 1966
Chicago West Side Riots
Democratic National Convention protest activity, 1968
Days of Rage Weatherman riot, 1969
Humboldt Park riot, 1977
Chicago Bulls riots, 1990s
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Chicago rally protest
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