As U.S. soldiers returned from Europe in the aftermath of World War I, scarce housing and jobs heightened racial and class antagonisms across urban America. African-American soldiers, in particular, came home from the war expecting to enjoy the full rights of citizenship that they had fought to defend overseas. In the spring and summer of 1919, murderous race riots erupted in 22 American cities and towns. Chicago experienced the most severe of these riots. On Sunday, July 27, white bathers attacked several black youths swimming near one of Lake Michigan’s white beaches, resulting in the death of an African-American boy. Five days of intense racial violence followed, claiming the lives of 23 black and 15 white Chicagoans, with more than 500 others wounded and thousands of black and white citizens burned out of their homes. A plethora of news reports and editorials offered instant analysis and helped shape local and national attitudes. On July 28, 1919, the Chicago Daily News printed this article by noted poet Carl Sandburg on its front page. Unlike most white reporters, Sandburg relied on black sources in researching his articles. The Chicago Daily News's reporting on the riot was generally considered the most evenhanded of the city’s daily newspapers, yet even it inflamed tensions by printing unsubstantiated stories. For example, the same front page included a “bulletin” that recounted supposed African-American plans to retaliate against white rioters.
Says Lax Conditions Caused Race Riots
Dr. George C. Hall Blames Politicians for State of Affairs
Charges that colored officials have not properly protected their race and have permitted lax conditions which resulted in the race riots of to-day and yesterday were made to-day by Dr. George C. Hall, 3488 South Park avenue, one of the best known colored men of the city.
Dr. Hall declared that an unwise police policy was at the bottom the cause of the outbreaks. He said that a serious political situation exists in the ward by reason of the fact that the two colored aldermen are responsible to white politicians rather than to the voters who elected them.
“In the first place, the police had no business to undertake segregation, of bathers with no ordinance or warrant of law or any form of consultation of the people concerned” said Dr. Hall. "The action of the police in this instance may be traced back to the same conditions that permit to flourish at the present time to an extent never before known in recent years. The segregation line on the bathing beach was drawn by the police. Then when a boy got over the line and trouble arose, the police immediately spread their men out through the district. Wherever colored people were in the habit of congregating peacefully squads of policemen were placed. They drew the color line and followed a policy precisely as the authorities do in Georgia.
“The colored people have simply been sold out by colored leaders. Our leaders are in the hands of white politicians. That is the whole situation in a nutshell. We need representatives who are strictly representative, who are responsible first of all to the people of the ward.”
Ministers to Meet Alderman.
The two colored aldermen from the 2nd ward, Maj. R. R. Jackson and Louis B. Anderson, have been invited to appear before a joint meeting of Baptist and Methodist colored ministers this afternoon. There will be a discussion and an inquiry as to responsibility for the affair of yesterday.
In several churches in the colored residence district of Chicago the congregations were dismissed last night without services being held. The cabarets and clubs, however, did business up to the limit of 1 o’clock in the morning. Dreamland, 3518 South State street; the DeLuxe, upstairs at 3503 South State street; the Entertainers at 209 East 35th street, and the old Elite at 3030 South State street, all had bright lights and big crowds. At 12:30 Monday morning two white men and three white women in various stages of intoxication made merry for the squads of police at 35th and State streets. Complaints made to the police that the action of mounted police squadrons patrolling the colored district was not having a quieting effect apparently had results as at 2 a.m. the mounted squadrons were withdrawn.
Sent Parishioners Home.
“When I went to my church I saw squads of police officers on the streets and learned there was trouble,” said the Rev. J. F. Thomas, pastor of the Ebenezer church, 3629 Vernon avenue. "I was a little fearful of what might happen after dark and told the members of my church to go to their homes while it was still daylight and to be quiet.
“To me and to most of my people this trouble comes very suddenly. Among our people and over the city in general, as we knew about it, we did not expect an outbreak of violence. On Sunday just a week ago I preached a sermon on a circular issued by the I. W. W. I told my people we must stand against violence in every form that we must stand by law and order no matter what happens. I don’t care what the past has been; it won’t help us to jump in for revolutionary ideas.”
Dr. L. K. Williams, pastor of the Olivet church, at 31st and South Park avenue, where squads of mounted police clattered by while religious services were being conducted, said that attendance was the smalled last night of any night in the last year. A joint meeting of Baptist and Methodist colored ministers from the entire city is being held this afternoon at the old First church of the Livet congregation, at 27th and Dearborn streets. They represent 35,000 church members.
Caused by Racial Prejudice
“It appears to me that the best information at hand indicated that this had its origin in or was occasioned by the same old thing, race prejudice, race restriction, which essayed to express itself by stopping two colored boys from bathing or swimming in a certain locality supposed to be pre-empted by white bathers,” said Dr. Williams to-day. “It was but another expression of force to take away from the members of my race the right granted to us by law. Let the best white and colored people come together and form a program that will protect us all and save this city’s fair name.”
Charles E. Fox, president of Kenwood and Hyde Park Property Owners' association which had been dealing with problems in connection with the influx of colored people in white residence districts of the south side, prepared the following statement on the recent occurrences: “The rioting of yesterday emphasizes the need of intelligent co-operation on both sides. Both can be blamed for this unfortunate occurrence. Violence will not help to solve the problems of the races. Some real constructive action at this time tending toward the creation of a commission to adjucate differences arising from time to time will do much toward solving the problem. Both races have rights and the rights of each should be respected by the other.”
Carl Sandburg, “No Protection Is Given,” Chicago Daily News, 28 July 1919.
300 Armed Negroes Gather; New Rioting Starts; Militia Next
Chief Garrity Promises Delegation to Give All Possible
Protection; Colored Passengers Dragged from
Cars and Chased by Mob.
Peron on 26th Street and in Stockyards District; Police Say
Drowned Boy’s Body Shows No Evidence of Violence; Beach Deserted.
Three hundred negroes were reported at a late hour this afternoon to have congregated at South State and 35th streets. Many of them are armed and it is believed that they intend to start an immediate attack on whites of the neighborhood.
Promise Negroes Protection.
Chief of Police [John J.] Garrity this afternoon promised a delegation of prominent colored men, headed by Former Alderman Oscar DePriest and Dr. George C. Hall, that he would call in the state militia if new outbreaks of race warfare in the “black belt” should prove to be beyond the control of the police department and the reserves. He assured them that he would do his utmost to protect the negroes.
Two stabbing affrays this afternoon ushered in what the police said would be a renewed outbreak of rioting, which began with the coming home in groups and gangs of colored and white workers. Preparations were being made by the police to cope with any new violence in the south side districts.
Henry Lee, colored, was assaulted and stabbed in the back at Throop and 31st streets by three white men. Policemen found him lying in the street with three wounds in his back. He was rushed to the People’s hospital.
A short time later the police were called to South State and West 35th streets where a gang of negroes had attacked Thor Schneiderbeck, white, 4319 6th avenue. Schneiderbeck suffered serious injuries in the abdomen. He, too, was taken to the People’s hospital.
Riots Break Anew; Raid Cars.
Numerous new outbreaks of race warfare, following in the wake of last night’s clashes between whites and negroes in the “black belt,” were reported to the police stations in the south side district to-day. One riot call after another was received, and patrol wagons were kept busy all morning.
A gang of white men who had gathered at Canal and West 26th streets held up street cars on the 26th street line and compelled colored passengers to get off, chasing them out of the neighborhood. Their attitude toward the negroes became so menacing that street car conductors warned colored passengers from riding beyond Wentworth avenue for fear they would be seriously injured.
Negro Hit with Brick.
Thomas Byrd, colored, 3332 South Park avenue, was pulled from a street car and struck with a brick. He suffered bruises on the head. A call for the police was sent in and three men were arrested. Charles Hammerstein was charged with having hurled the brick, while J. Milosvice and Sam Morelli were charged with disorderly conduct.
Several white men attacked three colored passengers of an east bound 31st street car at South Halsted street this afternoon, injuring all three of them. Michael Laffey, 19, 2945 Loomis street, was arrested as the ringleader. Those attacked were: John Davis, 503 Aldine square, scalp wounds; Mrs. Charles Williams, 4564 South State street, and Verlaine Snyder, 3002 South Park avenue, bruised about the body.
Dr. J. U. Turner, a colored health department inspector, living at 1926 Winnemac street, was attacked by five white men at south Halsted and 35th streets. He was reading a newspaper when they charged. However, when the men saw his star they turned around and tried to get away.
Dr. Turner chased them and captured one of the men, who gave his name as Henry Rosin, 19 years old, 1404 Fuller street. A riot call was sent to the Deering street station and Rosin was taken into custody.
Mayor Thompson May Take Hand.
It is expected that Mayor Thompson will confer this afternoon with south side political leaders who are supposed to be in close touch with the racial situation in the 2nd and 5th wards, and it is possible that if the disorders continue he will have a statement to make before the day is over. It is known that one city hall leader considers the situation so critical that he intends to make a special appeal to the mayor to take action.
George F. Harding Jr., city comptroller, who is believed to enjoy the confidence of the colored people on the south to perhaps as great an extent as any white man, said he considered the situation serious, though he believed the reports of rioting had been exaggerated. When asked what he would suggest as the best means of quelling the disturbances, he replied:
"Let the police do their duty. They should handle the situation firmly and show no favoritism toward white or black people.
Arrest All Who Violate Laws.
"If a colored man or a white man disobeys the law he should be arrested. I think that if the police department does its duty, the outbreaks will not be serious.
“I heard of the trouble yesterday and started out for a personal investigation. I was surprised at the order that seemed to prevail everywhere I went, and concluded that the trouble was not as serious as reported. I walked from 39th to 22nd street along the breakwater and did not see one fight.”
At to-day’s session of the city council’s police committee Ald. John H. Passmore of the 3rd ward introduced a resolution that would empower the police in districts where race riots occur to search all suspicious individuals for weapons and disarm them. He said that only by preventing the promiscuous use of firearms could the city be guarded against the recurrence of riots of a serious character.
The Stock Yards police station received a riot call from Halsted and 51st streets, where it was reported negroes had been attacked by white men. When a patrol wagon reached the scene, no disturbance was in evidence, but Robert Barchton, colored, 5019 Princeton avenue, was found lying in the street. Four of Barchton’s front teeth were knocked out and his face was bruised.
He told the police that a crowd of twenty whites had attacked him, and had escaped after beating him. He was taken to his home.
Another disturbance was reported at West 23rd street and Wentworth avenue, where Robert Reynolds and George Martin, two negro boys employed by the Postal Telegraph company as messengers were attacked by a group of ten white men. They fled to a bicycle shop at 2331 Wentworth avenue, where the proprietor, Edward Jackson, sheltered them in a rear room, while he notified the Deering street police.
Bathing Beach Deserted.
The bathing beach at East 29th street, where the riots started yesterday with the appearance of several negroes on the beach used by the whites was deserted to-day. Not a single swimmer was in the water, and the only persons in evidence were two policemen patrolling the water front.
A careful examination of the body of the unidentified colored boy—who was drowned, it is said, when he was thrown from a raft by rioters yesterday—showed no bruises indicating that he had been attacked, the police announced. They declared they believed the boy drowned when he got into deep water.
While feeling was reported running high between the races, the first battles of to-day, centering around West 35th, West 36th and West 37th streets and Wentworth avenue, were reported to be minor in character and the police said the situation was under control.
Five hundred policemen were being held in reserve to check any rioting, while fifty mounted policemen and 100 patrolmen have been assigned to special duty in guarding the district.
Negroes Attack White Men
The first report of trouble after daylight to-day was that a white man, walking along Wentworth avenue near West 35th street had been attacked by negroes. Other white persons in the vicinity joined in the fight.
When the Deering street police arrived they found the situation quiet, but Policeman Philip Groak had in custody Moses Thomas, colored, 3002 South State street. He was said to have started another disturbance by drawing a revolver and firing several shots at white men passing by in a truck on their way to work. No one was hit. Groak heard the shots and rushing to the place, saw Thomas with a revolver in his hand. The crowd had disappeared when the police arrived.
Five riot calls kept the Deering street police on the run, disturbances being reported also in the neighborhood of 36th and South State streets and West 36th and Wallace streets. Police of the Cottage Grove avenue station were given orders to search every colored man on the street for revolvers and not to allow whites or negroes to congregate in groups of more than three persons. Three patrol wagons and an ambulance are being kept parked in front of the cottage Grove avenue station today, ready for any emergency.
“Everything is ready to meet any emergency,” said Capt. Mullen of the Cottage Grove station. "We do not expect any further serious trouble, and with the special police that have been assigned to the district any disturbance that might arise would be easily overcome."
Source: Chicago Daily News, 28 July 1919.
See Also:"A Crowd of Howling Negroes": The Chicago Daily Tribune Reports the Chicago Race Riot, 1919
"Ghastly Deeds of Race Rioters Told": The Chicago Defender Reports the Chicago Race Riot, 1919
"The Problem" and "Family Histories": Charles Johnson Analyzes the Causes of the Chicago Race Riot
"Chicago and Its Eight Reasons": Walter White Considers the Causes of the 1919 Chicago Race Riot