Chicago in 1919 was a sprawling city that epitomized Americans new industrialism. It was the nations second largest city with over 2.7 million people. Immigrants from all parts of Europe transformed Chicago in a network of segregated neighborhood separated by language and religion. Each group had their own ethnic gangs and political organizations to protect themselves from each other.
Once World War 1 stated, It cut off immigration from Europe. The competition between the groups intensified and by 1919 only 4000 European immigrants had moved to Chicago. The restrictions of immigrants and the loss of 5 million men who left to serve in the American armed forces caused a major shortage of cheap labor and the businesses in north turned to southern blacks. Northern companies sent agents in to the south to recruit southern blacks and southern blacks took this opportunity to leave the oppressive economic conditions in the south.
Black families didn't need much reason to leave the south after generations of living under oppression, violence, Jim Crow and the lack of political rights. Some jobs were so desperate for workers that they would pay for African Americans to migrate north. So blacks took these free tickets or saved for group fares because they saw the Chicago and the north in general as an escape route from Jim Crow. By the end of 1919, some 800,000 blacks had left the South. In the decade between 1910 and 1920, the African American population of major Northern cities grew by large percentages, New York (66 percent), Chicago (148 percent), Philadelphia (500 percent) and Detroit (611 percent).
What seemed like the promised land for African Americans was actually a fierce competition for jobs and housing. southern blacks encountered a very different type of racism in northern cities. In the south they were relegated to second class status by Jim Crow and social hierarchy. In the North they were seen as any alien invasion that need to be stopped and/or contained by other ethnic groups that were not doing much better than they were. The nations economy World War 1 just made race and labor relations worse, it also meant that returning black and white soldiers found little work and the price of goods shot up post war. while wages did increase, if you were unemployed the increase in goods made life difficult. the recession in the economy lead to a wave of strikes as workers fought for better wages and conditions so they could afford the increases in daily goods.
These relations didn't only extend to locating work but also to housing, African Americans were confined to a small section of on the west side and a strip of neighborhoods on the city's south side called the Black Belt. The Black Belt held almost 90 percent of the African Americans in Chicago and most of it was dilapidated and overpriced. Whites near the black belt were freighted into selling their homes for low prices fearing a black invasion, then those houses were sold at high prices to Blacks eager for anywhere to stay because of the forced segregation. African Americans had no choice but pay the high cost for substandard housing in the black belt.
Black families fought with overcrowding and the need for to locate decent housing which forced them to push the boundaries of the black belt.
The riot started on July 27 1919, Chicago had been oppressively hot this summer reaching in to the 90s and on this day it was almost 96 degrees. Many Chicagoan had the same idea bout going to the beaches of Lake Michigan. In Chicago, even the beaches were segregated. On the south side of Chicago the White beach started on 29th st. while the "colored" beach was a rocky and uneven beach on 25th behind several factories. 5 black teenagers, Charles and Lawrence Williams, Paul Williams, John Harris and Eugene Williams decided to go to the beach. they did not head to the black beach instead they headed to a secret beach they called the hot and cold, it was an rocky inlet next to a brewery which shot hot water in to the inlet and an Ice company which sent freezing water in to the same inlet. Only the teens knew about the beach, they made a raft out of old logs and pushed it out on the lake. as the boy drifted a long they be gave to slowly moved southward toward the white only beach, Meanwhile earlier in the day at the White only beach several African Americans attempted to enter the water. A mob of whites formed and drove off the group by hurling rocks at them. The African Americans came back with a larger group and started hurling their own rock, soon a larger group of whites formed and scared off the African Americans again.
The teens had no idea at all about the incident earlier in the day, but they did see a white man tossing rocks at them. the boys dover underwater as to be not be hit and were not overly concerned till Eugene Williams sank in to the water and didn't come back up. John Turner Harris later stated he saw Eugene get stuck in the forehead with a rock and attempted to help his friend but he disappeared under water. The lifeguard for the black beach and several other black men ran over frantically looking for Eugene, even some of the white men joined in. Police arrived and dragged the lake and recovered the the lifeless body of Eugene Williams. the boys told the people at the black beach what happened and the boys pointed out a man by the name of George Stauber as the man who threw the rocks. One the white police officers at the beach Daniel Callahan refused to arrest Stauber and wouldn't allow the black officer to arrest him either. As the blacks grew more angry Callahan then arrested a black man in the crowd based on the complain of one of the other white men at the beach. meanwhile Stauber hid in the crowd of whites and left, as the news and rumors spread about the incident at the beach the start of the Chicago race riot was under way.
Later that day 2000 blacks gathered at the white beach and demanded the police turn over Officer Callahan and rock thrower George Stauber. The police attempted to get the crowd to disperse but by 6pm, A black man named of James Crawford opened fire on the officers and after he was shot and killed by the police and this only angered the mob even more. The group began attacking white men who attempt to leave the beach. In total 4 men were beat, five stabbed and one was shot people leaving the beach spread the news of the shooting and the attacks. As the night fell white gangs showed to the western edge of the black belt and attacked any African American passing though the white neighborhood.
By Monday morning, the Chicago Riot made the front pages across the country and following the riots in Washington D.C, it rattled the nerves of the nation but it seem as if things and calmed, people were going about their jobs as they had always done. Trouble was still brewing, the heat was brutal and the children were out of school but it was not a single person at the white beach. There were rumors that Black had over 2000 rifles and where preparing for an attack on white neighborhoods. This cause scattered fighting break out though out the day and the white mobs grew larger mixed with different ethnic groups who had at one time fought against each out they rallied against a common enemy the Blacks.
Black leaders spoke with the Police chief James Garrity and he assured them that African Americans would be treated equally and the situation was under control. He sent 150 patrolmen to the black belt on special duty and the state militia units were called up but not put in to action. As night fell on Monday night white rioters roamed from block to block with no other objective than attacking blacks, and gangs of armed black men formed to attack whites that strayed into their neighborhood.
The worse incident that night stated with a rumor of a sniper firing from the white occupied area on the edge of the black belt in to the black community. over 1500 African Americans gathered outside and demanded the shooter. When the police arrived and searched the building but no sniper or weapons where found, but the mob still demanded the shooter and tossed bricks at the police they fired into the crowd and killing three people as the crowd fled.
By Tuesday morning, 17 people had been killed and 172 blacks and 71 whites had serious injuries. The south side of Chicago still rang out with gunfire and police. The city government order it's black employees to stay home and thousands of blacks who took trolleys were stopped because they didn't want to risk walking through white neighborhoods. At the height of the rioting 2800 of the of Chicago 3000 on duty police were on the south side. The police ordered the citizens of the black belt to stay off the streets and obey the police
rumors of violence spread in black and white areas of Chicago, whites told stories of blacks with tons of weapons and ammunition and blacks told stories of mass graves near the stockyards. The police dept. was suffering a man power shortage and asked citizens to work for free as traffic cops while they fought the riots, and mail was delayed and road repair stopped and the cities hospitals were filled with bullet wounds victims, stabbing and other injuries.
On Wednesday sporadic fight continued and African Americans attempted to return to work at the but were met only with angry white workers. the black leaders of Chicago pressed the state and local politicians to act. they complained the police of failing to protect the black citizens and demand their equal rights. Blacks had been trapped in their apartments for three day and crowed the police stations for protection but now they were running out of food and money because no supplies were coming into the black belt.
Wednesday as fires broke out across the black belt, reports came in that white folks were setting fire to black homes.
blacks set up barriers and started firing on any white person they saw and even opened fire on several police officers that came in to the neighborhood. It was at this time when Mayor Thompson realized he need to call in the state militia but stopped short of calling for martial law he just asked for military's assistance. The troops would not take over for the local authority they would supplement them. Trucks with over 6000 troops from the Illinois reserve militia showed up on the south side. They took up positions where the worse fighting had occurred. They had one directive to maintain the peace and disperse any mob that formed, most of the troops thought the blacks were at fault till they arrived in the black belt. The homes of black families had been looted and others were smoldering with their furniture laying in the streets. Sterling Morton, the militias Captain recalled "generally speaking the negroes were orderly after the initial riots, in which they acted largely in self defense aggravated by the very real fear of a general massacre."
On Thursday, the militia helped get the city back to normal while tensions stayed high. The troops presented their weapons to deter issues and machine gun units were setup at intersections. During the entire riot the federal government did nothing, President Wilson claimed he was fully informed on the Chicago situation and was completely prepare to order troops at any moment but ultimately did nothing about the largest race riot of the Red Summer even with violence dominating the national news. By the end of the riot 537 people were seriously wounded, 342 blacks, 178 whites with 38 people dead and approximately 1,000 to 2,000 lost their homes.
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