The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 began on a hot July day and thought to be the worst of around 25 riots during the so-called ‘Red Summer’. Some ninety years later the New York Times called it the worst race riot in the history of Illinois.
On July 27, 1919, an African-American teenager called Eugene Williams was swimming with friends in Lake Michigan when he crossed the unofficial race barrier between the ‘white’ and ‘black’ beaches. He was stoned to death by a group of white youths. The murder, and the subsequent refusal by the police to arrest the the person initially responsible began a week of rioting between black and white Chicago residents. When the riot ended on August 3, 23 African-Americans had died along with 15 whites and more than 500 injured. Over 1000 black families lost their homes after being set alight by the rioters.
During World War One, essentially being fought on the other side of the Atlantic, there had begun a great migration of African Americas from the rural south to the cities of the North. When the war came to an end thousands of servicemen, back and white, found their jobs had been taken by Southern blacks and other immigrants. According to the History website the African-American population in Chicago alone had increased in ten years from 44,000 in 1909 to more than 100,000 in 1919. This only exacerbated the already simmering racial tensions related to policing, migration, and housing. Everything came to a head in 1919.
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