Jul 27, 2022 - News

Remembering the 1919 race riots

Photo of people leaving a beach.
People leave the beach near 29th Street after the drowning of Eugene Williams on July 27, 1919. Photo: Jun Fujita/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Today is the anniversary of the 1919 race riots, which started when white beachgoers stoned and drowned Black teenager Eugene Williams.

  • Williams had drifted over the imaginary line that separated white and Black sections of the beach near 29th Street.

Flashback: Black Chicagoans protested the killing and the police's refusal to arrest the rock throwers. White residents responded by beating Black pedestrians and destroying Black homes and businesses.

  • Over the next week, riots in South Side neighborhoods caused 38 deaths and more than 500 injuries.
  • Thousands of Black Chicagoans lost their homes. Others were forced out of their neighborhoods and into designated "safety zones" by local authorities.
  • Mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson finally quelled the violence by calling in the Illinois reserve militia, although another factor helped end it — rain.
  • One of the white gangs that terrorized Black neighborhoods was the Bridgeport-based Hamburg Athletic Club. Its most famous member? A young Richard J. Daley.

Go deeper: The Chicago Public Library put together a collection on the riots, which are still partially blamed for Chicago's ongoing segregation.

Photo of people mulling about in front of a store.
A crowd of Black men standing on the sidewalks in front of a Walgreens at 3501 S. State St. in July 1919. Police officers stand at the forefront of the crowd. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
Photo of people surronding a house.
White children celebrating after having raided the home of a Black Chicagoan. Note the broken windows and debris strewn about the property. Photo: Jun Fujita/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
Photo of men outside next to soldiers.
Soldiers stand guard with rifles and bayonets alongside a group of Black men who gathered in front of the Ogden Cafe. Photo: Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
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