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. The Chicago Daily Tribune, long considered the most antagonistic of all the city’s papers toward African Americans, detailed the day’s violence, the good deeds of white policemen who were sent to Chicago’s South Side, and the injuries they sustained at the hands of black rioters.
Report Two Killed, Fifty Hurt, in Race Riots
Bathing Beach Fight Spreads to Black Belt
All Police Reserves Called to Guard South Side.
Two colored men are reported to have been killed and approximately fifty whites and negroes injured, a number probably fatally, in race riots that broke out at south side beaches yesterday. The rioting spread through the black belt and by midnight had thrown the entire south side into a state of turmoil.
Among the known wounded are four policemen of the Cottage Grove avenue station, two from west side stations, one fireman of engine company No. 9, and three women.
One Negro was knocked off a raft at the Twenty-ninth street beach after he had been stones by whites. He drowned because whites are said to have frustrated attempts of colored bathers to rescue him. The body was recovered, but could not be identified.
A colored rioter is said to have died from wounds inflicted by Policeman John O’Brien, who fired into a mob at Twenty-ninth street and Cottage Grove avenue. The body, it is said, was spirited away by a colored man.
Drag Negroes from Cars.
So serious was the trouble throughout the district that Acting Chief of Police Alcock was unable to place an estimate on the injured. Scores received cuts and bruises from flying stones and rocks, but went to their homes for medical attention.
Minor rioting continued through the night all over the south side. Negroes who were found in street cars were dragged to the street and beaten.
They were first ordered to the street by white men and if they refused the trolley was jerked off the wires.
Scores of conflicts between the whites and blacks were reported at south side stations and reserves were ordered to stand guard on all important street corners. Some of the fighting took place four miles from the scene of the afternoon riots.
When the Cottage Grove avenue station received a report that several had drowned in the lake during the beach outbreak, Capt. Joseph Mullen assigned policemen to drag the lake with grappling hooks. The body of a colored man was recovered, but was not identified.
Boats Scour Lake.
Rumors that a white boy was a lake victim could not be verified. The patrol boats scoured the lake in the vicinity of Twenty-ninth street for several hours in a vain search.
John O’Brien, a policeman attached to the Cottage Grove avenue station, was attacked by a mob at Twenty-ninth and State streets after he had tried to rescue a fellow cop from a crowd of bawling Negroes. Several shots were fired in his direction and he was wounded in the left arm. He pulled his revolver and fired four times into the gathering. Three colored men dropped.
Man Cop Shot Dies.
When the police attempted to haul the wounded into the wagon the Negroes made valiant attempts to prevent them. Two were taken to the Michael Reese hospital but the third was spirited away by the mob. It was later learned that he died in a drug store a short distance from the shooting.
Fire apparatus from a south side house answered an alarm of fire which was turned in from a drug store at Thirty-fifth and State streets. It was said that more than fifty whites had sought refuge here and that a number of Negroes had attempted to “smoke them out.” There was no semblance of a fire when the autos succeeded in rushing [brushing?] through the populated streets.
Partial List of Wounded.
An incomplete list of the wounded follows:
Policeman John F. O’brien, Cottage Grove avenue station; white, shot in left arm;
taken to his home at 7351 South Michigan avenue.
Policeman John O’connell, same station; white; knocked down and beaten.
Policeman John Callahan, same station; white; beaten and bruised by mob.
Policeman Thomas J. Gallagher, same station; white; scalp wounds.
Edward Hausner, white, 4347 S. State street, cut about legs and face.
Arthur Carroll, white, 2979 Prairie avenue, head bruised by stone.
James Crawford, colored, 959 Federal street, shot through abdomen; probably
will die; taken to Michael Reese hospital.
Charles Cormier, white, 2839 Cottage Grove avenue, shot in head by stray bullet.
William Long, white, 2215 S. State street; cut in head and back.
Joseph Wiggins, colored, 2417 Wabash avenue, beaten about head.
Phil Griffin, colored, 912 East Thirty-third street, shot in both legs.
George Stauber, white, 2903 Cottage Grove avenue, beaten and cut.
Herman Rabisohn, white, 1804 South State street, bruised by missiles.
John O’neil, white, 1828 West Thirty-fifth street, struck on head by brick.
Walter Carson, white, same address, face cut by rock.
William Cheeshire, white, 3529 South Hermitage avenue; stabbed in face; taken
to Provident hospital.
Anton Dugo, white, 627 East Twenty-fifth street; shot in leg; taken to St.
William Soott, colored, 3611 Vernon avenue; scalp wounds.
Miss Mamie Mcdonald, white, 2901 Emerald avenue; head cut by brick.
Miss Frances Mcdonald, sister, same address; back injured by rock.
Mrs. Gladys Williams, white, 2818 Indiana avenue; face bruised by stone.
Melvin Davis, colored, 2816 Cottage Grove avenue, beaten while waiting for
Halsted street car.
Harry Speez, colored, 3142 West Fifteenth street, knocked unconscious by whites
at Thirty-first and Halsted streets.
Lewis Phillips, colored, 452 East Thirty-ninth street, shot in groin while riding in
Thirty-ninth street car; taken to Provident hospital.
Frank Walls, white, pipeman of Engine company 9, struck in neck by rock.
Evelyn Boyde, white, 530 West Twenty-seventh street, hit on face and hip by
Frances Boyde, sister, same address, knocked down by rock.
Lewis B. Knight, white, 6400 Dorchester avenue; beaten about head with club.
Shot at His Window.
Charles Cromier was sitting in his window at 2839 Cottage Grove avenue watching the clashing mobs. A stray bullet lodged in his head and he fell back into the room. Spectators saw him being helped to a chair by a woman.
Racial feeling, which had been on a par with the weather during the day took fire shortly after 5 o’clock when white bathers at the Twenty-ninth street improvised beach saw a colored boy on a raft paddling into what they termed “white” territory.
A snarl of protest went up from the whites and soon a volley of rocks and stones were sent in his direction. One rock, said to have been thrown by George Stauber of 2904 Cottage Grove avenue, struck the lad and he toppled into the water.
Cop Refuses to Interfere.
Colored men who were present attempted to go to his rescue, but they were kept back by the whites, it is said. Colored men and women, it is alleged, asked Policeman Dan Callahan of the Cottage Grove station to arrest Stauber, but he is said to have refused.
Then, indignant at the conduct of the policeman, the Negroes set upon Stauber and commenced to pummel him. The whites came to his rescue and then the battle royal was on. Fists flew and rocks were hurled. Bathers from the colored Twenty-fifth street beach were attracted to the scene of the battling and aided their comrades in driving the whites into the water.
Negroes Chase Policeman.
Then they turned on Policeman Callahan and drove him down Twenty-ninth street. He ran into a drug store at Twenty-ninth street and Cottage Grove avenue and phoned the Cottage Grove avenue police station.
Two wagon loads of cops rolled to the scene, and in a scuffle that ensued here Policeman John O’Brien and three blacks were shot.
Riot calls were sent to the Cottage Grove avenue station and more reserves were sent into the black belt. By this time the battling had spread along Cottage Grove avenue and outbreaks were conspicuous at nearly every corner.
Meanwhile the fighting continued along the lake. Miss Mame McDonald and her sister, Frances, had been bathing with a friend, Lieut. Runkie, a convalescing soldier. A colored woman walked up to the trio and made insulting remarks, it is said.
Runkie attempted to interfere, but the colored woman voiced a series of oaths and promptly struck the soldier in the face. Negroes in the vicinity hurled stones and rocks at the women and both were slightly injured.
Reserves Called Out.
In less than a half hour after the beach outbreak, Cottage Grove avenue and State street from Twenty-ninth south to Thirty-fifth were bubbling caldrons of action.
When the situation had gotten beyond the control of the Cottage Grove police, Acting Chief of Police Alcock was notified. He immediately sent out a call to every station in the city to rush all available men to the black belt.
Before they arrived colored and white men were mobbed in turn. The blacks added to the racial feeling by carrying guns and brandishing knives. It was not until the reserves arrived that the rioting was quelled.
Whites Arm Selves.
News of the afternoon doings had spread through all parts of the south side by nightfall, and whites stood at all prominent corners ready to avenge the beatings their brethren had received. Along Halsted and State streets they were armed with clubs, and every Negro who appeared was pommeled.
Lewis Phillips, colored, was riding in a Thirty-ninth street car, when a white man took a pot shot from the corner as the car neared Halsted street. Phillips was wounded in the groin and was taken to the provident hospital.
Melvin Davies, colored, of 2816 Cottage Grove avenue, was waiting for a Thirty fifth street car at Parnell avenue when he was slugged from behind. His assailant disappeared.
Source: Chicago Daily Tribune, 28 July 1919.
See Also:"Says Lax Conditions Caused Race Riots": Chicago Daily News and Carl Sandburg Report the Chicago Race Riot of 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