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Chicago Riots of 1919


CHICAGO RIOTS OF 1919. During the 1910s Chicago's African American population more than doubled to 109,000. Attracted by better jobs and living conditions, blacks in Chicago expected more than the segregated, overcrowded, crime-ridden neighborhoods of the black belt. Seeking housing in white communities, blacks found themselves unwelcome and sometimes attacked. Competition for jobs and housing increased racial tensions.

But increasingly militant blacks no longer accepted white supremacy and unfair treatment. When on 27 July 1919 Eugene Williams drowned after drifting on a raft into the white section of a Lake Michigan beach, the worst race riot of the violent Red Summer of 1919 erupted. Angry blacks charged stone-throwing whites with murder. After police instead arrested an African American, mobs of blacks struck several parts of the city. The following day white gangs attacked blacks returning home from work, even pulling some from streetcars, and roamed black neighborhoods. African Americans retaliated, and soon innocents of both races were beaten and killed as the riot intensified. Seven days of mayhem produced thirty-eight dead, fifteen whites and twenty-three blacks; 537 injuries; and 1,000 homeless families. On the front lines during the violence, the black-owned Chicago Defender provided some of the best print coverage of the riot.


Doreski, C. K. "Chicago, Race, and the Rhetoric of the 1919 Riot." Prospects 18 (1993): 283–309.

Tuttle, William M., Jr. Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919. New York: Atheneum, 1970.

Paul J.Wilson

See alsoChicago ; Race Relations ; Riots .

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