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The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 (University)

by Roland Marchand
Topic(s): Race


Table of Contents




Background

Even in comparison with the social turbulence of the early 1930s and the late 1960s, the year 1919 still ranks as one of the most violent, angry and anxiety-ridden years of twentieth-century America. In response to public demand, the government was rapidly demobilizing the 4,700,000 soldiers and sailors of the World War I military forces, of which approximately 400,000 had been Blacks. The returning veterans often found that alarming changes had occurred during their relatively short absence. A drastic shortage of factory workers in Northern industry had been created by the Allies' need for goods and munitions prior to 1917 and then by American wartime production needs and the departure of many factory workers for military service. But this demand for workers in Northern industry had been met by a massive migration of Southerners, black and white, to Northern cities. Northern employers had sent agents and leaflets to the South encouraging workers to come North and such widely read Black newspapers as the Chicago Defender had joined in urging Blacks to take advantage of the higher wages and less oppressive racial policies in the North. As the veterans were mustered out of military service in 1919, they found that competition for employment was intense and that the racial make-up of Northern cities had visibly changed.

Competition for jobs only intensified the level of conflict in industrial relations in 1919. After two years of government controls in the interest of the war effort and high, strike-free production levels, the labor unions believed that their members had made sacrifices for the war and now deserved wage increases that would protect them against the steep postwar inflation. In addition, many unions feared that employers would move quickly, once government control's were eased to reject the quasi-collective bargaining arrangements and de facto recognition of unions that had occurred under government control during the war. The year 1919 was to witness 3,600 strikes involving more than 4 million workers. In Chicago, by late July, over 250,000 workers were on strike, threatening to strike, or locked out by their employers. Among these were over 30,000 union workers in the stockyards whose leaders submitted wage and benefit demands to the packers on July 26th with a threat to strike if the terms were not met within 48 hours.

Anxieties over labor unrest were only intensified by events which provoked a nation-wide "Red Scare" and government and vigilante attacks on suspected communists and other "radicals" by the end of 1919. A general strike in Seattle in February, 1919 has awakened fears of a conspiracy aimed at radical control in the United States. The creation of the Third Communist International in March 1919, with its declared purpose of achieving a world-wide proletarian revolution, further escalated concern about Bolshevik influence in American. A series of bombings of leading figures in the United States Government in May, 1919 escalated the fear of radicalism and the desire for "protective action."

In this context of inflation, labor unrest, anxieties over radicalism and the disruption resulting from rapid demobilization, racial tension accompanied by outbreaks of violence was not uncommon. By July, 1919, a major racial riot in Washington, D.C, several other smaller riots, and an upsurge of lynchings (some of black war veterans) had already made headlines.

July 27, 1919 was a hot Sunday in Chicago. Many of the city's residents were bathing at improvised beaches along the shore of Lake Michigan. These beaches were racially segregated by practice and tradition. Late in the afternoon of the 27th, Eugene Williams, one of a group of young black men playing on a raft, floated across the imaginary line which separated white and black beaches near 29th street. Whites began throwing rocks at him from "their" beach; he was apparently hit and disappeared under the water. His companions attempted to rescue him without success as did other Blacks who had gathered at the edge of the white beach and were allegedly held back by whites. A white police officer refused to arrest the man who had supposedly thrown the fatal rock.

This incident touched off a week of racial violence and rioting in Chicago which left 38 dead, 537 injured and 1,000 "homeless and destitute." The documents which follow recount some of the events of the riot and provide possible explanations for the causes of the riot which was to symbolize the violence of the "Red Summer" of 1919.


Task & Questions

Assume that you have undertaken to write a history of the aftermath of World War I which seeks to explain the background and causes of the striking events of the first postwar year. You have provided the reader, with a brief description of the Chicago riot itself, and are now faced with the challenge of explaining the causes of this racial conflagration. Was there one "central" cause - or several of equal importance? Did certain conditions or "factors" in the situation in Chicago reinforce or interact significantly with others to produce a situation with riot potential? To what extent were the causes of the riot unique to Chicago? What intimations do you find of the survival or rejection of the philosophy of Booker Washington? Are changes in "ideas" important to the causes of the riot? If so, what might have brought about changes in these ideas? How do you assess the relative importance and interaction of economic, political, ideological and social forces in creating the historical context in which the riot occurred?

These questions are meant as suggestions only. Your central object should be to explain to your reader as convincingly and readably as possible, why the Chicago riot of 1919 occurred. Confine your analysis to no more than 5 double-spaced typed pages. Assume that these documents form the sum total of the evidence which you have been able to uncover.


DOCUMENT #1:  Chicago Daily Tribune -- July 28, 1919

"...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 29th 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.

"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 royal battle was on. Fists flew and rocks were hurled. Bathers from the colored 29th street beach were attracted to the scene of the battling and aided their comrades in driving the whites into the water.

"Then they turned on policeman Callahan and drove him down 29th street. He ran into a drug store at 29th street and Cottage Grove avenue and phoned the Cottage Grove police station.

"Two wagon-loads of cops rolled to the scene, and in a scuffle that ensured 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....

"In less than half an hour after the beach outbreak, Cottage Grove avenue and State street from 29th south to 35th were bubbling cauldrons of action. When the situation had gotten beyond the control of the Cottage Grove police, Acting Chief 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.

"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 brothers had received. Along Halsted and State streets they were armed with clubs, and every Negro who appeared was pummelled."

DOCUMENT #2:  Read accounts of the subsequent escalation of the riot in one of the following newspaper editions: Chicago Daily Tribune July 29th or 30th or 31st, 1919, or New York Times, July 29th or July 31st, 1919.

ed. note: These newspapers are available on microfilm in the periodicals room on the second floor of the main library.

 

DOCUMENT #3: Chicago Defender , August 2, 1919, page 1.

(The Defender was a weekly Black newspaper with wide circulation in the Southern States as well as in Chicago where it was published. August 2 was the 7th day of the riots.)

"Ghastly Deeds of Rioters Told"

"Provident Hospital, 36th and Dearborn Streets, situated in the heart of the "black belt", as well as other hospitals in the surrounding districts, are filled with the maimed and dying (sic)....

"...Following the Sunday affray, the red tongues had blabbed their fill, and Monday morning found the thoroughfares in the white neighborhoods throated with a sea of humans -- everywhere -- some armed with guns, bricks, clubs, and, an oath. The presence of a black face in their vicinity was the signal for a carnival of death... In all parts of the city, white mobs dragged-from surface cars, black passengers wholly ignorant of any trouble, set upon them...

"Rioters operating in the vicinity of the stockyards, which lies in the heart of white residences west of Halsted street, attacked scores of workers -- men and women alike -- returning from work. Stories of these outrages began to flutter into black vicinities and hysterical, men harangued their fellows to avenge the killings -- and soon they, infected with the insanity of the mob, rushed through the streets, drove high powered motor cars or waited for street cars, which they attacked with stones. Shortly after noon the traffic south of 22nd street and north of 55th street, west of Cottage Grove avenue and east of Wentworth avenue, stopped with the exception of trolley cars. Whites who entered this zone were set upon with unmeasurable fury.

"Policemen employed in the disturbed sections were wholly unable to handle the situation. When one did attempt to carry out his duty he was beaten and his gun taken from him. The fury of the mob could not be abated. Mounted police were employed, but to no avail.

"Tiring of street fights, rioters turned to burning and looting. This was truly a sleepless night, and a resume of the day's happenings nourished inclination for renewed hostilities from another angle. The homes of blacks isolated in white neighborhoods were burned to the ground and the owners and occupants beaten and thrown unconscious in the smoldering embers. Meanwhile rioters in the "black belt" smashed windows and looted shops of white merchants on State street...

"Workers thronging the loop district to their work were set upon by mobs of sailors and marines roving the streets and several fatal causalities have been reported. Infuriated white rioters attempted to storm the Palmer house and the post office where there are a large number of employees, but an adequate police force dispersed them and later the men were spirited away to their homes in closed government mail trucks and other conveyances. White clerks have replaced our clerks in the main post office temporarily, and our men have been shifted to outlying post offices. The loop violence came as a surprise to the police. Police reserves had been scattered over the south side rioting districts, as no outbreaks had been expected in this quarter."

 

DOCUMENT #4:  From The Survey (a national weekly periodical) August 9, 1919.

...The fury spread like wild-fire, first back in the "black belt" where safeguards disappeared as rapidly as the perils to life and property increased. Workers in the stockyards, 10,000 or more of whom are Negroes, were at first guarded as they entered and left, but few of them could get to their work when rioting made passage through the streets unsafe and the street-cars were completely stopped by the carmen's strike. Groups and crowds gathered, grew and loitered. Gangs of white and black hoodlums appeared and ran amuck. Armed men of either color dashed through the district in automobiles, and beyond, firing as they flew. Two white men, wounded while shooting up the district, were found to carry official badges, one being thus identified as in the United States civil service and the other as a Chicago policeman. White men firing a machine gun from a truck were killed. White and Negro policemen were in turn attacked and badly beaten by mobs of the opposite color. The torch followed attacks upon Negro stores and dwellings, scores of which were set on fire.

"At last the mayor, recognizing the inadequacy of the police force to cope with the situation, called upon the governor for the assistance of the state troops, seven regiments of which are at this writing in Chicago under arms, five of them on patrol duty in the most disturbed district. While a suspension of organized hostilities has thus been secured, sniping continues. Like a prairie fire the flames of hatred leap over all such barricades to other parts of the city, not only where Negroes live and work, but in some instances where they are passing through the thoroughfares, more thronged than ever by pedestrians and vehicles while all streetcars were strike-bound. A colored soldier wearing a wound stripeon his sleeve was beaten to death while limping along one of the main streets. He was heard to exclaim, "This is a fine reception to give a man just home from the war. I one cannot but wonder what might have happened if any of these outrages had occurred a day or two before when a Negro regiment of Chicago men, 1,800 strong, carrying their rifles, marched through these same streets on their way direct from France to the demobilization camp....

DOCUMENT #5:  From Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago, 1922

"Wild rumors were in circulation by word of mouth and in the press throughout the riot and provoked many clashes. These included stories of atrocities committed by one race against the other. Reports of the numbers of white and Negro dead tended to produce a feeling that the score must be kept even. Newspaper reports, for example, showed 6 per cent more whites injured than Negroes. As a matter of fact, there were 28 per cent more Negroes injured than whites. The Chicago Tribune on July 29 reported twenty persons killed, of whom 13 were white and seven colored. The true figures were exactly the opposite."

 

DOCUMENT #6:  Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago, 1922.

"It is a singular fact that militia activities were principally against gangs of hoodlums, and the majority of those gangs were composed of white youths. Said one commander, 'Rowdies of the white population tried to get through the lines and had to be arrested. At one time a heavy truck or two loaded with white gangsters attempted to break through the militia but was checked."

DOCUMENT #7:  Grand Jury report, included in Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago, 1922

"The authorities employed to enforce the law should thoroughly investigate clubs and other organizations posing as athletic and social clubs which are really organizations of hoodlums and criminals formed for the purpose of furthering the interest of local politics. In the opinion of this jury, many of the crimes committed in the "Black Belt" by whites and the fires that were started back of the Yards, which, however, were credited to the Negroes, were more than likely the work of the gangs operating on the Southwest Side under the guise of these clubs, and the jury believes that these fires were started for the purpose of inciting race feeling by blaming same on the blacks. These gangs have apparently taken an active part in the race riots, and no arrests of their members have been made as far as this jury is aware."

 

DOCUMENT #8:  From article by Walter White of the NAACP in The Crisis, a national Black monthly edited by W.E.B. DuBois, October, 1919.

"....With the exception of the Daily News, all of the papers of Chicago have played up in prominent style with glaring, prejudice-breeding headlines every crime or suspected crime committed by Negroes. Headlines such as 'NEGRO BRUTALLY MURDERS PROMINENT CITIZEN' 'NEGRO ROBS HOUSE', and the like have appeared with alarming frequency and the news articles beneath such headlines have been of the same sort....

".... For a long period prior to the riots, organized gangs of white hoodlums had been perpetraing crimes against Negroes for which no arrests had been made, These gangs in many instances masqueraded under the name of 'Athletic and Social Clubs' and later direct connection was shown between then and incendiary fires started during the riots. Colored men, women, and children had been beaten in the parks.... All of these cases had caused colored people to wonder if they could expect any protection whatever from the authorities. Particularly vicious in their attacks was an organization known locally as 'Regan's Colts'"

DOCUMENT #9:  Population of Chicago, 1910-1920,

Category
1910
1920
% increase from 1910-1920
All residents 2,185,283 2,701,705 24%
Black residents 44,103 109,458 148%

 

DOCUMENT #10:  State of Birth of Illinois Negroes 1910-1920; from Spear, Black Chicago 1967.

 
1910
 
1920
 
Area of Birth
Number
Per Cent
Number
Per Cent
         
Illinois 35,917 33.2 44,130 24.4
Middle West (except Illinois) 8,299 7.7 11,638 6.4
Northeast 1,610 1.5 2,403 1.3
Upper South and Border 44,140 40.8 59,519 32.9
Lower South 15, 906 14.7 60,855 33.6
West 269 0.2 658 0.4
Not specified and born abroad 1,980 1.8 1,826 1.0

 

DOCUMENT #11:  Census Tracts with Highest Negro Percentage, Chicago, 1910-1920, from Spear, Black Chicago 1967.

1910
 
1920
 
Tract No.
Per Cent Negro
Tract No.
Per Cent Negro
       
295 61.0 341 86.6
336 58.0 338 84.8
292 54.9 339 84.5
288 53.5 344 83.8
373 47.3 343 82.8
296 42.2 337 81.6
264 32.7 342 78.3
278 29.9 432 77.2
333 25.1 382 76.3
330 21.8 388 75.6

 

 

DOCUMENT #12:  Distribution of Negroes by Census Tracts, Chicago, 1910-1920, from Spear, Black Chicago,

Per Cent Negro
Number of
Census Tracts
 
1910
1920
None 94 135
Under 1% 249 264
30-50% 3 12
Over 50% 4 16

 

DOCUMENT #13:  From an article by Walter White of the NAACP in The Crisis, a national Black monthly edited by W.E.B. DuBois, October, 1919.

"Prior to 1915, Chicago had been famous for its remarkably fair attitude toward colored citizens. Since that time, when the migratory movement from the South assumed large proportions, the situation has steadily grown more and more tense. This was due in part to the introduction of many Negroes who were unfamiliar with city ways and could not, naturally, adapt themselves immediately to their new environment. Outside of a few sporadic attempts, little was done to teach them the rudimentary principles of sanitation, of conduct or of their new status as citizens under a system different from that in the South. During their period of absorption into the new life, their care-free, at time irresponsible and sometimes even boisterous, conduct caused complications difficult to adjust. But equally important, though seldom considered, is the fact that many Southern whites have also come into the North, many of them to Chicago, drawn by the same economic advantages that attracted the colored workman.... These have spread the virus of race hatred and evidences of it can be seen in Chicago on every hand."

 

DOCUMENT #14:  Editorial from Chicago Daily Tribune -- circa, March, 1919 "Unsettling the Race Problem"

.... Regardless of what may be considered the justice of the claims of the races, the fact undeniably is that white and black will not mix in quantity. For this reason ... the remedy seems obvious: there must be a plan upon which the races can live socially distinct but industrially cooperative.

We are not disposed to think that the mass of Negroes want social equality in the full sense of the term. The Tribune has had many intelligently composed letters from Negroes disclaiming any such desire. We believe the Negroes want the opportunity to develop their own society. If this is true there ought not to be widespread objection to social segregation, directed by themselves and

upon the theory of wholesome living conditions. But against what we think is an inherent disregard for exact social equality there is appearing a very insidious propaganda among the Negroes. Whether it is being circulated as a radical irritant calculated to disturb political conditions or merely is the parlor philosophy of eager, sociological transcendentalists, there is not means of determining.

The propaganda urging agitation for social equality may have every opportunity under the law and under what ought to be human justice, but while fortified by what ought to be, it flies in the face of what is...

 

DOCUMENT #15:  Chicago Defender, August 30, 1919 -- reprint from August 16 New York Dependent -- Dr. Scarborough, black educator

"...The spirit of the Negro who went across the seas -- who was in action, and who went 'over the top' -- is by no means the spirit of the Negro before the war. He is altogether a new man, with new ideas, new hopes, new aspirations and new desires. He will not quietly submit to former conditions without a vigorous protest, and we should not ask him to do so. It is a new Negro that we have with us now, and may we not hope also that we have new white men?... "... When that horde of crude, unlettered and uncultured Negroes was brought from the South -- drafted against their will -- disfranchised and representing nothing -- when they were thrust into the cantonment to be converted into soldiers, little did the War Department think that it was a creating a new race problem that would have to be dealt with later. This act transformed these men into new creatures -- citizens of another type -- that which they could not get in times of peace, came to them in times of war...."

 

DOCUMENT #16:  From the Property Owner's Journal, circulated among white property owners of the Hyde Park and Kenwood districts in Chicago, circa March, 1919.

"What a reputation for beauty Chicago would secure if visitors touring the city would see crowds of idle, insolent Negroes lounging on the South Side boulevards and adding beauty to the floricultural display in the parks, filling the streets with old newspapers and tomato containers and advertising the Poro-system for removing the marcelled kinks from Negro hair in the windows of the derelict remains of what had once been a clean, respectable residence.

"Negroes are boasting, individually and through the colored press, that the old order of things for the Negro is changing and that a new condition is about to begin. As a result of the boastful attitude, the Negro is filled with bold ideas, the realization of which means the overturning of their older views and conditions of life. The Negro is unwilling to resume his status of other years; he is exalting himself with idiotic ideas about social equality..."

"...Keep the Negro in his place, amongst his people, and he is healthy and loyal. Remove him, or allow his 'newly discovered importance to remove him from his proper environment, and the Negro becomes a nuisance.' He develops into an overbearing, inflated, irrascible individual, overburdening his brain to such an extent about social equality that he becomes dangerous to all with whom he comes into contact; he constitutes a nuisance of which the neighborhood is anxious to rid itself. If the new Negro desires to display his newly acquired veneer of impudence where it will be appreciated we advise that they parade it in their own district. Their presence here is intolerable.

"As stated before, every colored man who moves into Hyde Park knows that he is damaging his white neighbor's property.

Therefore, he is making war on the white man.

Consequently, he is not entitled to any consideration and forfeits his right to be employed by the white man.

If employers should adopt a rule of refusing to employ Negroes who reside in Hyde Park to the damage of the white man's property it would soon show good results…

"The Negro should be consistent. As he segregates his vote and casts it all together in one block, so he should live altogether in one block."

Editor's Note: The Hyde Park-Kenwood Association, the organization which published the Property Owner's Journal, was one of a number of white property owner's associations, most of which had originally been formed to carry out community development and beautification projects. Between 1917 and 1918, under the prodding of the Chicago Real Estate Board, many of these associations in "contested areas" began to concentrate their efforts on forcing out blacks already living in their neighborhoods and on keeping any new black residents from entering. William Tuttle Jr., in Race Riot, describes the particular circumstances of the Hyde Park region in South Chicago:

"The directions in which the black belt could expand were few: ... To the north were many of the city's factories and businesses. Although the district was rundown, prices were far beyond the reach of the ordinary househunter because of the industrial potential of the property. To the west, across Wentworth Avenue, were the Irish, whose hostility excluded blacks from that market. This hostility was so intense that the population in one Irish-dominated neighborhood bordering on Wentworth would tolerate only twenty-nine blacks out of 3,762 residents, while in the neighborhood just on the other side of Wentworth, 1,722 out of 3,711 residents were black. To the east the blacks could move into the limited area between Wabash Avenue and Lake Michigan. But as soon as they occupied this, the only direction for sizable expansion was southward - to the neighborhood of Hyde Park and Kenwood.

Being immediately adjacent to the black belt, Hyde Park was the inevitable destination of numerous blacks. Also important, Hyde Park was a deteriorating neighborhood, one whose homes blacks could afford.... For twenty to thirty years property values had declined because of the odors of the stockyards, the smoke and soot of the Illinois Central trains, the conversion of large homes into apartinent buildings and flats, and the fear of an "invasion" of blacks from nearly areas. ...During the war residential construction largely ceased in Chicago as elsewhere. In the early months of 1918 the first effects of a housing shortage, which was soon to be acute, were felt. The demands of whites for dwellings began to exceed the supply. Ugly interracial competition for homes broke out..."

 

DOCUMENT #17:  Dr, Willis Huggins, teacher in Chicago public schools and editor of a color ed weekly-- quoted in Literary Digest, August 9, 1919, p. 11 "Why the Negro Appeals to Violence"

"The basis of the trouble is this: the large employers of labor who lured my people to the North with high wages and the city of Chicago itself have been derelict in providing housing for them.

"It is impossible to put 80,000 people where 50,000 lived before in utter congestion. "Politicians who wanted to be sure of their political futures have not looked with displeasure upon the crowding of my people in a given district so that 85% of their vote might invariably be safely held under control.

"Unscrupulous landlords and real-estate dealers have taken advantage of the shortage of houses to gouge my people, both when they rent and when they buy. My people in Chicago have always had to pay $5.00 and up in excess of what white tenants have paid, and that too, minus the care of building and grounds that was given to white tenants. Negro real-estate agents have been as instrumental in bringing this situation about as white agents have.

"Few of my people have moved into white blocks for the sheer braggadicio of being in such a community. They have moved in because white people were willing to sell or rent, because they wanted to avoid the congestion in the Second Ward, and lastly, because they are American citizens."

 

DOCUMENT #18: New York  Times -- Sunday, August 4, 1919

"... In Chicago, as elsewhere, negro families of the better class have always been ambitious to get into better homes and better surroundings. This has been one of the chief causes of complaint. The entrance of colored residents into high-class white neighborhoods has always been met with protests, and sometimes with threats. Sometimes real estate operators were back of these invasions. They hoped to profit from rising real estate values. A study of the negro housing problem in Chicago made by the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy revealed that colored tenants paid disproportionately higher rent for their apartments which, as a rule, were in poorer repair than those of their immigrant neighbors."

 

DOCUMENT #19:  Maclay Hoyne , Illinois State Attorney, quoted in Literary Digest, August 9, 1919, p. 11 "Why the Negro Appeals to Violence": (reporting to New York American)

"First Cause -- City Hail organized leaders, black and white, have catered to the vicious elements of the negro race for the last six years, teaching them that law is a joke and the police can be ignored if they have political backing. The decent colored element is as much incensed as whites at catering to colored gambler and panderersNegro politicians have even threatened the discharge of white police officers who made arrests of favored and protected black grafters."

"Second Cause -- the continued enormous importation from the South of ignorant negroes, who, on arriving here, listened to these teachings and have thrown off allrestraint.

"Third Cause -- Insufficient housing for increasing Negro population. The negroes have invaded many residence districts hitherto confined to whites.

"Remedy -- Immediate increase of police force, declaring of martial law, and searching of buildings in Black Belt and removing firearms, deadly weapons, and other ammunition now, stored there in largc quantities. There should be some scheme of segregation to whicb a majority of negroes will themselves assent."

 

DOCUMENT #20:  From New York Times, Sunday, August 3, 1919

"...The advance guard of the colored race which moved into white neighborhoods was the better class of negro families, who sought to escape the steady encroachment of the undesirable element of their own race. They had no desire to antagonize their white neighbors. Their relations had always been friendly. But they were between two tires. Pressing always behind them was the influx of a lawless element of their own race. Few of the newcomers from the South brought negro women with them, and some Chicago observers hold the absence of home life among them partly accountable for the present trouble..."

 

DOCUMENT #21:  From article by Walter White of NAACP in The Crisis, October, 1919.

"Much has been written and said concerning the housing situation in Chicago and its effect on the racial situation.... Although many Negroes had been living in 'white' neighborhoods, the increased exodus from the old areas created an hysterical group of persons who formed 'Property Owners Associations' for the purpose of keeping intact white neighborhoods. Prominent among these was the Kenwood-Hyde Park Property Owners' Improvement Association, as well as the Park Manor Improvement Association. Early in June the writer, while in Chicago, attended a private meeting of the first named at the Kenwood Club House, at Lake Park Avenue and 47th street. Various plans were discussed for keeping the Negroes in 'their part of the town,' such as securing the discharge of colored persons from positions they held when they attempted to move into 'white' neighborhoods, purchasing mortgages of Negroes buying homes and ejecting them when mortgage notes fell due and were unpaid, and many more of the same calibre.... In a number of cases during the period from January, 1918, to August, 1919, there were bombings of colored homes and houses occupied by Negroes outside of the "Black Belt." During this period no less than twenty bombings took place, yet only two persons have been arrested and neither of the two has been convicted, both cases being continued.

DOCUMENT #22:  Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago, 1922.

Mrs. Gertrude Harrison, Negro, living alone with her children, contracted to buy a house at 4708 Grand Boulevard. In March, 1919, she moved in. She immediately received word that she had committed a grave error. She and her children were constantly subjected to the insulting remarks both of her immediate neighbors and passers-by.

"On May 16, 1919, a Negro janitor informed her that neighbors were planning to bomb her house. She called up the Forty-eighth Street police station and told of the threatened danger. The officer answering the telephone characterized her report as "idle talk" and promised to send a man to investigate. The regular patrolman came in and promised to "keep an eye on the property," but there were ten blocks in his beat. A special guard was secured and paid by Mrs. Harrison when it was learned that one would not be furnished by the police.

"The following night, May 17, her house was bombed while the patrolman was 'punching his box' two blocks away and the special watchman was at the rear. A detail of police was then provided both at the front and rear. The following night a bomb was thrown on the roof of the house from the window of a vacant flat in the adjoining apartment house. The flat from which the bomb was thrown had been unlocked to admit the bombers and locked again. The police failed to question either the persons living in the apartment or those leaving it, immediately after the explosion."

 

DOCUMENT #23: Chicago Whip  (A new black weekly newspaper in Chicago in 1919), June 28, 1919.

"The Whip informs you, the whites, that the compromising peace-at-any-price Negro is rapidly passing into the scrap heap of yesterday and being supplanted by a fearless, intelligent Negro who recognizes no compromise but who demands absolute justice and fair play.

"...WE ARE NOT PACIFISTS. THEREFORE WE BELIEVE IN WAR. BUT ONLY WHEN ALL ORDERLY CIVIL PROCEDURE HAS BEEN EXHAUSTED AND THE POINTS IN QUESTION ARE JUSTIFIABLE .... THE BOMBERS WILL BE BOMBED."

 

DOCUMENT #24:  Speaker at Hyde Park-Kenwood Association meeting, May 5, 1919, quoted in Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago, 1922.

"Why I remember fifteen or twenty years ago that district down here at Wabash Avenue and Calumet was one of the most beautiful and highest-class neighborhoods of this great city. Go down there today and see the ramshacke broken-down and tumbledown district. That is the result of the new menace that is threatening this great Hyde Park district. And then tell me whether there are or not enough red-blooded, patriotic, loyal, courageous citizens of Hyde Park to save this glorious district from the menace which has brought too much pain and so much disaster to the district to the south of us.

"You cannot mix oil and water. You cannot assimilate races of a different color as neighbors along social lines. Remember this: That order is heaven's first law."

 

DOCUMENT #25:  South Side real estate dealer, quoted in Chicago Daily News, summer, 1919.

"We want to be fair. We want to do what is right, but these people will have to be more or less pacified. At a conference where their representatives were present I told them we might as well be frank about it, "You people are not admitted to our society," I said. Personally I have no prejudice against them. I have had experience of many years dealing with them and I'll say this for them: I have never had to foreclose a mortgage on one of them. They have been clean in every way and always prompt in their payments. But, you know, improvements are coming along the lake shore, the Illinois Central, and all that; we can't have these people coming over here. Not one cent has been appropriated by our organization for bombing or anything like that.

 

DOCUMENT #26:  Excerpts from account of stockyards strike in Chicago in 1903 and 1904 and teamsters' strike of 1905 in Willian M. Tuttle, Jr. Race Riot, 1977.

"The AMCBW (Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen) had launched its strike in the face of a depression. Outside the stockyards each morning as many as 5,000 men stood line up to replace the strikers....

"Despite the hopelessness of the strike, the arch villains to emerge from the defeat were the packers and their strikebreakers, especially the black ones. One observer estimated that upward of 18,000 blacks served as strikebreakers, with almost 1,400 arriving in one trainload. Although these figures probably were exaggerated, to white workers the disturbing presence of the blacks seemed to be everywhere....

"...It was .... another strike, the bloody teamsters' strike of 1905 that made, more indelible the image of blacks as a "scab race." Lasting over 100 days, the strike resulted in close to twenty deaths and over 400 serious injuries. Just days after the teamsters struck in April, trainloads of black men began streaming into Chicago.... In this dispute, unlike the stockyards strike of eight months before, the hostility of striking whites toward strikebreaking blacks had been generalized into hatred for the black race as a whole; any black man was a potential target. In addition, no longer did mob assaults violate just one district; ... racial violence spread throughout the city, but it was especially prevalent in the blue-collar neighborhood to the west of the black belt. "You have the negroes in here to fight us," the teamsters' president told the employers' association, "and we answer that we have the right to attack them wherever found."

.... The strike failures.... haunted union members, and it was rumored that the packers wanted a strike (in Sept. 1917) and had imported an enormous labor reserve of blacks to break it and crush unionization. And indeed it seemed to workers to be a fact, though a much disputed one, that employers were importing black laborers from the rural South.

Editor's Note: The meatpackers were the major employers of black labor in Chicago, although many blacks also worked in the steel industry, on the railroads and in other industries and private service. Between 10,000 and 12,000 blacks worked in the stockyards, comprising nearly 30 percent of the stockyards labor force in 1919. In July, 1919, 90 per cent of the whites in the stockyards were union members, but 3/4 of the black workers were, still outside of the union despite a recent organizing drive aimed at increasing black union membership. Among black stockyard workers, 90 percent of the Northern-born workers were union members but very few of the Southern-born workers had joined. Black workers had helped to break strikes of Pullman railroad car cleaners in Chicago in 1916, of Hotel waiters in 1918 and of Corn Products Refinery workers in early July, 1919. Meanwhile, a brief strike by 10,000 workers in the stockyards in mid-July 1919 had ended after only one day while union leaders prepared a set of demands to present to the packers on July 26th with a threat of a strike within 48 hours. Unemployment levels in the city, particularly among black workers, remained high in mid-1919.

 

DOCUMENT #27: The Survey , August 9, 1919.

"With regard to economic competition, the age-long dispute between capital and labor enters. Large numbers of Negroes were brought from the South by the packers and there is little doubt that this was done in part so that the Negro might be used as a club over the heads of the unions.... On the other hand, the Negro workman is not at all sure as to the sincerity of the unions themselves.... The Negro is torn between 'the devil and the deep blue sea.' He feels that if he goes into the unions, he will lose the friendship of the employers. He knows that if he does not, he is going to be met with the bitter antagonism of the unions...."

 

DOCUMENT #28:  From The New Majority, Chicago Federation of labor weekly publication, August 9, 1919, p. 1

Proclamation Concerning the Race Riots by the Chicago Federation of Labor

"The profiteering meat packers of Chicago are responsible for the race riots that have disgraced the city.

"It is the outcome of their deliberate attempt to disrupt the labor union movement in the stockyards. Their responsibility is shared by the daily newspapers which are kept subsidized by the extravagant advertising contracts of the packers, particularly the Tribune and the Herald and the Examiner.

"These same meat packers can solve the problem if they will and put a stop to the trouble, but it can be done only in one way, if it is not to break out again at a future date more violently than before. The packers know that way. They have been told what it is and they are doing nothing about it.

"Ever since organized labor first started to unite the stockyards employes (sic) the packers have fought with every weapon at their command the efforts of these workers.

"Discriminating against union men, they have fired them and hired, nonunion men in their places. [In the past] the principle recruiting points for nonunion workers have been in the south, and nonunion colored workers have been brought here in great numbers just as, they are being brought here now by the railroads or were up to the outbreak of the race riots.

"These colored men and women are not brought here for their own improvement, but are enslaved at low wages and have been used by the packers to undermine union conditions.

"Organized labor has no quarrel with the colored worker: workers, black and white, are fighting the same battle. The unions met the action of the packers by starting to organize the colored workers. As soon as this work commenced, the packers started to fight the unions with foul tactics. They subsidized Negro politicians and Negro preachers and sent them out among the colored men and women to induce them not to join the unions...They had a YMCA secretary on their staff, and the two present aldermen of the second ward participated actively in this campaign of the packers.

"Their purpose in this, which during the last several weeks has bore bitter fruit, was to play upon race prejudice and create dissension between whites and blacks which would prevent the colored workers from joining the unions and prejudice the white workers against them for that reason. Notwithstanding their efforts, the colored workers came into the union in large numbers.

"At every opportunity the packers and their hirelings fanned the fires of race prejudice and the fires of prejudice between strikebreakers and organized workers, hoping for the day to arrive when union white men would refuse to work beside unorganized colored men, so that the union men, white and black, could be discharged and nonunion men, white and black, put in their places, until the spark came that ignited the tinder piled by the packers and the race riots ensued.

"...It stands to the credit of the union workers of Chicago that neither black nor white union men participated in the rioting, despite the lying accounts published daily by the kept press...

"The rioting subsided and then someone fired the homes of hundreds of white workers back of the yards and these homes were burned to the ground. The newspapers and the police, jointly tools of the packers, tried to convince the citizens that colored workers had set fire to these homes....

"The fires were set Saturday morning. The nonunion colored workers were to go back with machine guns surrounding them Monday morning. What fiend can have devised a more diabolical plot? These gentlemen said they were trying to quiet the race trouble..."

DOCUMENT #29:  William Z. Foster, radical labor organizer, testifying before the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, circa. 1920

"We found in the steel industry that the colored worker was very unresponsive to organization. The same was true in the packing industry. Let me give you first what steps we took in the packing industry in Chicago in 1917, the big campaign which resulted in the organization of men. The first meeting we had we sat around a table and talked it over, and we realized that there were two big problems, the organization of the foreign worker and the organization of the colored worker. We shortly dismissed the problem of organizing the foreign worker, but we realized that to accomplish the organization of the colored worker was the real problem. When we went into the packing-house situation we were determined to organize the colored worker if it was humanly possible to do so, and I think I can safely say that the men who carried on that campaign realized fully the necessity for the organization of the colored worker, not wholly, or at least not only, from the white man's point of view, but from his own point of view to a certain extent. In other words, we were not altogether materialistic. We like to think that we were a little bit altruistic in the situation. There was a total employment of twelve or fourteen thousand (Blacks). We found that we had tremendous opposition to encounter. ....But the more we tried to help the colored worker the more intense the opposition was, because there was a force working against us.... it is a fact that some of the organizers were actually afraid to go around to some of these saloons and poolrooms where they congregated because of the agents of the packers... and they felt their lives were in danger.... Out in the Stock Yards we could not win their support. It could not be done. They were constitutionally opposed to unions....The reason the colored man gave for not joining you will find in the circular "Beware of the White Man's Union,"... that the only way that they can ever make any headway in the industry is to stick in with the boss and then where there is a strike to step in and take the jobs that are left there....

 

DOCUMENT #30:  Hyde Park-Kenwood Association, Property Owners' Journal, circa. May, 1915.

"Their solid vote is the Negroes' great weapon. They have a total vote in Chicago of about 40,000. This total vote is cast solid for the candidate who makes the best bargain with them. When both our principal political parties are split, and when each of them has two or more candidates in the field, this solid block of 40,000 becomes a possible power and might be able to defeat or elect a candidate.

"This vote situation is the foundation of the Chicago Negro's effrontery and his evil design against the white man's property. He feels that he holds the balance of power and that he can dictate the policy of any administration that happens to be elected by his controlling black vote.

"He therefore becomes arrogant, insulting, threatening.

"...The Negro should be consistent. As he segregates his vote and casts it all together in one block, so he should live together all in one block."

 

DOCUMENT #31: The Survey  August 9, 1919.

..."With the possible exception of Philadelphia, there is probably no city in America with more of political trickery, chicanery and exploitation than Chicago, Against the united and bitter opposition of every daily newspaper in Chicago, William Hale Thompson was elected again as mayor, due, as it was claimed, to the Negro and German vote. While it is not possible to state that the anti-Thompson element deliberately brought on the riots, yet it is safe to say that they were not averse to its coming. The possibility of such a clash was seen many months before it actually occurred, yet no steps were taken to prevent it. The purpose of this was to secure a two-fold result. First, it would alienate the Negro set from Thompson through a belief that was expected to grow among the colored vote when it was seen that the police force under the direction of the mayor was unable or unwilling to protect the colored people from assault by mobs. Secondly, it would discourage the Negroes from registering and voting and thus eliminate the powerful Negro vote in Chicago. Whether or not this results remains to be seen. In talking with a prominent colored citizen of Chicago, asking why the Negroes supported Thompson so unitedly, his very significant reply was, 'The Negro in Chicago, as in every other part of America, is fighting for the fundamental rights of citizenship. If a candidate for office is wrong on every other public question except this, the Negroes are going to vote for that man, for that is their only way of securing the things they want and that are denied them.

"The value of the Negro vote to Thompson can be seen in a glance at the recent election figures. His plurality was 28,000 votes. In the second ward it was 14,000 and in the third 101,000. The second and third wards constitute most of what is known as the "Black Belt."

"A contributing cause was the woeful inefficiency and criminal negligence of the police authorities of Chicago, both prior to and during the riots. Prostitution, gambling, and the illicit sale of whisky flourish openly and apparently without any fear whatever of police interference....

 

DOCUMENT #32:  From New York Times, Sunday, August 3, 1919

"Thompson had been mayor only a short time when evidence was apparent that there was no lid so far as the Black Belt was concerned. From other sections of the city white men and women of the old underworld who had experienced some long, lean years flocked to the neighborhood. White men brought saloons and cabarets, and pushed negroes to the front as their ostensible owners. Soon the Black Belt became known as the district where everything 'went.'

"All-night cabarets were jammed with whites and blacks until the morning sun streaked the sky over Lake Michigan. In other parts of the city saloons and cabarets closed at 1A.M., but automobiles lined the curbs for blocks all night in the Black Belt, and late comers stood in line for hours outside some of the more notorious 'black and tan' cabarets waiting for a chance to get inside. Jazz bands filled the air with syncopated sound, while in the cabarets whites and blacks intermingled in carousal. It was here that the 'shimmy' dance is said to have originated.

"The rattle of dice and the click of poker chips were seldom stilled in the heart of this district. Gambling was conducted on a business basis. A 'syndicate' was formed, and no independent could operate successfully in that district without its approval. These gambling games were run under the name of clubs, but a fat bankroll gained easy admission to them.

"... The newspapers of Chicago repeatedly exposed conditions in the Black Belt. Members of the City Council sometimes denounced it. Reformers visited the all-night cabarets and wrote long reports about them. Numerous complaints were made to the police. Conditions finally became so notorious that the all-night cabarets were closed. For a few weeks the Black Belt was quiet, except for the gambling games, which were seldom molested.

"Then came vice in a new form: in the shape of clubs, which were in reality dance halls. These new places had no liquor licenses, although most of them sold intoxicants and they didn't open their doors until midnight or 1 A.M. They caught the crowds which surged out of the cabarets at closing hour and held them until sunrise.... They were openly conducted for a long time without being molested, but early in 1918 the City Council passed an ordinance which put a damper for a time on the night life of the city.

"Last Spring, however, the Mayorality election came around again. Mayor Thompson was a candidate for re-election and was re-elected. The Black Belt did its duty.

"When the primary campaign opened, the lid was tossed overboard. Resorts which had been closed reopened. The Black Belt became again the centre of night activities.... In the last few months conditions in the Black Belt have been almost unprecedented. Men who have traveled the country over say that nowhere in the United States have they witnessed such scenes as they saw in the notorious 'black and tan' resorts on the South Side in Chicago..."

 

DOCUMENT #33: The Survey , August 9, 1919.

"...Community morals are recognized as responsible for much personal immorality of the most dangerous type. For years the segregated vice district was forced upon this residential section where Negroes practically had to live. Since the break-up of segregated vice, the vicious resorts and practices which were permitted to survive have been tolerated and protected by the city administration where the population was weakest and most helpless in protecting itself.

"Gambling, which is suppressed almost everywhere else, is allowed to run wide-open there....

"The political depravity which is responsible not only for the failure to prevent, but for the actual promotion of such conditions, is directly chargeable to a situation which has existed not only in Chicago but in East St. Louis and everywhere else where racial necessity is exploited as a partisan asset. The most eminent Negro physician and surgeon in Chicago publicly charges that the present situation is possible, 'By reason of the fact that the two colored alderman are responsible to white politicians rather than to the voters who elected them; that the colored people have simply been sold out by colored leaders who are in the hands of white politicians.'

 

DOCUMENT #34

"...The Second Ward in Chicago is the heart of the Black Belt. Eighty per cent of the voters in this ward are black. White men represented this ward in the City Council until 1915, but now both aldermen are negroes.

"Two men control most of the negro vote in Chicago, They are Congressman Martin B. Madden of the First Illinois District and George F. Harding, former Alderman, later State Senator, and now City Controller.

"It was the balance of power held by the negroes and swung by Harding that gave William Hale Thompson, more widely known as a pro-German than for his kindness to negroes, the nomination for Mayor of Chicago in the spring of 1915. Harding had represented the Second Ward of Chicago for eight years. He retired and permitted Oscar De Priest, a negro, to be elected. In return for this favor the negroes swept the Mayorality nomination into Thompson's lap. Thompson won the nomination by a margin of a few hundred votes.

"De Priest became one of the chief floor leaders of the City Council for the Thompson administration. His public career was cut short by his indictment in connection with the alleged collection of tribute in the Black Belt, but he was later acquitted. Another negro succeeded him. Then the Second Ward negroes grew bold, demanded both, seats in the City Council, and got them.

"In his campaign for the nomination and election in 1915 Thompson catered to the negro voters. After his election he rewarded many of their leaders with jobs.

"So openly did the Thompson crowd treat with the negroes that somebody dubbed the City Hall, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'...

 

DOCUMENT #35: The Literary Digest  August 9, 1919.

"Maclay Hoyne, Illinois State Attorney, reports that 'large quantities of firearms, deadly weapons, and ammunition' were stored by negroes in Chicago's Black Belt, that negroes had been 'arming themselves for months', before the recent 'race war' began, that an outbreak of negro violence in Chicago had been 'planned for July 4 and that 'a secret organization' is counseling the negroes to 'obtain what they regard as social equality, by force if necessary'. Unless Mr. Hoyne is mistaken, something altogether new has developed in the negroes, psychology. For years they pinned their faith to the spelling-book, then for years they pinned it to the bank-book; now, as if convinced that neither education nor material prosperity could advance their cause, they appear to be putting their trust in brute strength. They will fight. In Washington's 'race war'* negroes were frequently the aggressors. So also in Chicago This 'changed attitude' as a Chicago Negro puts it, would seem to have been the underlying cause of the Chicago riots...

*A race riot had broken out in Washington, D.C. on July 19, 1919. Six were killed and over a hundred injured in four days of rioting before 2,000 federal troops restored order on the evening of July 22nd.

 

DOCUMENT #36: Chicago Defender , editorial, August 2 "Reaping the Whirlwind"

"The recent race riots at Washington resulting in the death of a number of white and colored citizens, followed by similar occurrences in Chicago, are a disgrace to American civilization. One does not have to seek very far to find the underlying cause. It is not chargeable, as some writers think, to the general unrest now sweeping the world. Nor are we witnessing anything new in these disgraceful exhibitions of lawlessness. America is known the world over as land of the lyncher and of the mobocrat. For years she has been sowing the wind and now she is reaping the whirlwind. The Black worm has turned. A Race that has furnished hundreds of thousands of the best soldiers the world has ever seen is no longer content to turn the left cheek when smitten upon the right.

"The Younger generation of black men are not content to move along the line of least resistance as did their sires. For his awakening, however, the color madness of the American white man is alone responsible. Not content with inflicting upon him every form of humiliation that could be devised at home, he carried his infamous color propaganda to Europe. With the close of the war the returning soldiers brought back the most harrowing tales of abuses at the hands of the American military contingent. The stories have carried across the land and have inflamed our people as few things have done.

"We have little sympathy for lawlessness, whether those guilty of it be black or white, but it cannot be denied that we have such in the way of justification for our attitude. Under the promise of 6 square deal our boys went cheerfully into the service of the country hoping that the aftermath of the struggle would find our people in an improved social and industrial condition. All of our speakers and writers held this view and kept it constantly before our youth as an inducement to enlist. Industrially our position has undoubtedly been benefitted by the war. Socially it has grown decidedly worse. On all sides we have been made to feel the humiliating pressure of the white man's prejudice... In Chicago it was a case of limiting our sphere to metes and bounds that had neither the sanction of the law nor sound common sense. In both bases we resented the assumption. Hence the race riots."

 

DOCUMENT #37:  William Howard Taft (U.S. President 1908-1912) "Causes of Race Riots" Chicago Daily News, circa August, 1919.

"Negro leaders are divided into two classes. There are those who feel as deeply as they can the injustice and heart misery arising from race prejudice, and they would restrain as far as possible by legislation and executive action such injustice. But they believe that the real way to ameliorate conditions is to educate the negro for life by vocational and character training, and by thus increasing his value to his community and himself to moderate and neutralize the prejudice. They deprecate much the inflaming of the souls of colored men against the white race, even when there are facts justifying indignation and a deep sense of wrong.

"There are other negroes, educated men, who with no restraint have poured out their agony of soul and sense of outrage in addresses and editorials and roused fellow negroes as they never have been roused before. The lynchings, those horrible exhibitions of blood lust against which all good people are joining in apparently hopeless protest, have led to desperation among the blacks, The retired negro soldier, used to arms, returning from the war environment, resenting the ingratitude he sees in all of this, is prompted to 'direct action' to remedy his wrongs.

 

DOCUMENT #38:  From article by Walter White of the NAACP in The Crisis, October, 1919

...the new spirit aroused in Negroes by their war experiences enters into the problem. From Local Board No. 4, embracing the neighborhood in the vicinity of State and 35th Streets, containing over 30,000 inhabitants of which fully ninety per cent are colored, over 9,000 men registered and 1,850 went to camp. These men, with their new outlook on life, injected the same spirit of independence into their companions, a thing that is true of many other sections of America. One of the greatest surprises to many of those who came down to 'clean out the niggers' is that these same 'niggers' fought back. Colored men saw their own kind being killed, heard of many more and believed that their lives and liberty were at stake. In such a spirit most of the fighting was done."