Gibson Girls – The Epitome of Femininity in the 1890s-Early 1900s

The original Gibson Girls artist was illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944). He made quite a lucrative career of drawing the “New Woman” of America, with his pen-and-ink images first appearing in magazines like Life and Collier’s Magazines. Soon the drawings were everywhere, setting the standard for beauty, fashion and manners, and earning Gibson great professional and popular success.

Women clamored to be the next Gibson girl model. Gibson’s studio would be overrun with would-be models hoping for their big chance.

Irene Langhorn Gibson – His Wife

Although the Gibson Girls seemed to fit Charles Dana Gibson’s view of a kinder, gentler New Woman, Gibson’s own wife Irene Langhorn Gibson was anything but demure. Irene, who may have been the first Gibson Girls model, was a known suffragette, the chair of the Eastern Women’s Bureau of the Democratic National Committee (in support of Woodrow Wilson’s reelection in 1916) and a champion of philanthropic causes, such as co-founding Big Sisters, helping troubled girls. A feat she could accomplish with her Virginia fortune and can-do attitude.

Models Evelyn Nesbit and Camille Clifford

 Gibson’s first and favorite model was Evelyn Nesbit. While sources vary on whether she actually ever sat for Gibson, he could easily have found images of Nesbit in the press. She was involved in a love triangle, where her current husband murdered a former lover.

The most famous of his Nesbit drawings was one where Nesbit’s hair formed a question mark. Gibson entitled that image “The Eternal Question”.  It remains one of his most copied and famous illustrations.


Camille Clifford won a contest Gibson ran to find the ideal real-life woman for his stylized sketches. Clifford, with a ridiculously tiny waist, fit the ideal of a woman’s figure with an hourglass figure.

Camille Clifford

Women as Voters
Gibson’s Girls independence and confidence only went so far. You never saw a Gibson Girl advocating for the right to vote or being involved in social movements. It appears Gibson Girls kept their place.

The Gibson Girls were popular in the 1890s through the early 1900s, ending about the time of World War I as a more independent and socially free icon emerged. The flapper.

Library of Congress Exhibitions: The Gibson Girl’s America.

They Wore What?; The Weird History of Fashion and Beauty; Richard Platt; Oxford University Press, 2007.

Why’d The Wear That?; Fashion as the Mirror of History: Sarah Albee; National Geographic

Glamour Daze The Real Gibson Girls

The Gibson Girl Eyewitness to History, (2001)

Komal Charania’s video, called Creativity and American Culture: Gibson Girls.

Why Isn’t the Book Called The Woman on the Train? Are We Demeaning Our Female Protagonists?

In past “Girl” best sellers, the protagonists actually were girls. Griet in Chevalier’s Girl with the Pearl Earring is a 16-year-old servant who ground paint and later posed for her master, Johannes Vermeer. In House Girl, the slave Josephine is just 17 when she plans her escape from the tobacco farm. Lisbeth Salender, the brilliant, edgy protagonist in Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, is 24 years old, but is under guardianship, so she and her funds are under the control of Nils Bjurman, who viscously takes advantage of her. (Don’t worry, she gets him back big-time!)

Yet, more recent best sellers use the word “girl” when actually describing grown women. Think Gone Girl And Girl on the Train.

The twisted and downright wicked Amy Dunne in Gone Girl was followed by Girl on the Train’s protagonist Rachel Watson, a drunk and lonely woman. Both women are unreliable narrators because they are, well, crazy, and not exactly women to be admired.

The Girl on the Train title played off the success of Gone Girl. I’m in marketing, so I get it. You take a successful title and push a book with a similar title, even positioning, “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll like Girl on the Train”. Editors, and publishers, who by the way title the books, not the authors, seem to still be riding the “Girl” train. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Now Women are “Girls”

A recent trip to Barnes & Noble showed several on the “Best Seller” shelves: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. New just this week is The Girl Who Knew Too Much, a suspense thriller/romance about a female tabloid reporter—a grown woman—investigating the murder of a starlet, who I assume is “the girl”. Only one best seller had “woman” in the title: The Woman in Cabin 10, a mystery whose female lead witnesses a murder, but is not believed because she is obviously bereaved from her recent break-up and paranoid from her apartment’s break-in.

A perusal of the bookstore shelves produced a host of “Girl” titles:

 — Cemetery Girl – David Bell

 — The Fireproof Girl – Loretta Lost

 — The Forgotten Girl – David Bell

 — The Good Girl – Mary Kubica

 — The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See

 — The Silent Girls -Eric Rickstad

 — The Girl on the Cliff – Lucinda Riley

 — Vinegar Girl – Anne Tyler

 — White Collar Girl – Renée Rosen

So, what’s up with all the “Girl” titles? Do they simply sound better to the ear? Gone Woman certainly doesn’t have the alliteration of Gone Girl, and The Woman Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.

Or is something more sinister at play here?

Mayim Bialik Encourages Us Not to Use the Word “Girl” to Describe “Women”

In a recent Facebook post called “‘Girl’ vs. ‘Woman’: Why Language Matters”, Mayim Bialik, of The Big Bang Theory and Blossom fame, implores women not to use the word “girl” to describe a grown woman due to the practice’s social implications:

[W]hen you use words to describe adult women that are typically used to describe children, it changes the way we view women – even unconsciously – so that we don’t equate them with adult men. In fact, it implies they’re inferior to men. Even if that’s not what most people intend, words have impact on our unconscious. Case in point: You would never say to someone: “Go ask that boy behind the bank counter if the notary is here today”.

Bialik references two scientists named Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. Their hypothesis states, “the structure of a language determines or greatly influences the modes of thought and behavior characteristic of the culture in which it is spoken”. (Source: So in other words, if language is biased, it’s likely your decisions and actions will be, too.

I asked if “girl” versus “women” in literature titles bothered my neighborhood ladies’ book club members. One brushed it off at first. Others gave it some consideration:

  •  When the book titles read Woman on the Train and The Woman with the Dragon Tattoo, then we will know that WOMEN have arrived in literature.
  • Perhaps it says something about the story, or does the word “girl” trigger a different emotional response than the word “woman” and therefore attract more attention? Hmmmmm….
  • I think you are right. The title Girl on a Train elicits tension, fear and danger because a girl is thought to be young and defenseless. When there is a Woman on a Train, you know that she is smart, fearless, a problem solver, and in command of a frightening situation.

We were all discouraged until that first club member, the one who’d given it much weight, made an interesting discovery. Although adult book titles may use the word “girl” in a slightly demeaning way, books for actual girls—picture books to young adult—have much more empowering characters, themes and titles.

The Children’s Section Showed More “Girl Power”

In a review of Sunday’s New York Times Best Seller lists over the past several weeks, we found this. Children’s Middle Grade included the title Women in Science, and new this week, a book called Wolf Hollow about “a small-town girl [who] is compelled to act when a new student starts to bully a veteran”.  Even more encouraging, the Times’ Children’s Picture Books list contained such STEM-focused titles as Rosie Revere, Engineer and Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty—on the Times Best Seller list for 99 weeks and 34 weeks, respectively.

Princess is Still In

A swing through the children’s section of my local B&N did have its obligatory share of Disney princess books, but I also uncovered such books as The Big Book of Girl Power, with Wonder Woman on the cover; Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts; and an “American Girl” history book called The Story of America.

Further, let’s not forgot our teen/young adult heroines. Katniss Everdeen kicks ass in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and Veronica Roth’s equally successful dystopian Divergent series features Beatrice Prior/Tris, who, as reviewed on, “learns how to fire a gun and beat people up”. These “girls” act like women; or perhaps, even like men.

Our Teens May Have Better Role Models Than Adults

So what are we to make of this disparity? Are we creating greater fictional role models for our daughters than we are for ourselves?

Perhaps our adult fiction needs to take its cue from the authors for children’s, middle and young adult books. To create more female characters—protagonists who are strong, smart and independent. Woman who overcome adversity. Women who control their own destiny. Women who are not called girls.


Chicago Race Riot Day 3: Tuesday, July 29, 1919

On the third day of the Chicago’s Race Riots, another level of chaos was added to the fighting. The streetcar workers went on strike. Starting at 4 a.m., surface and elevated trains stopped running. This left no transportation for workers attempting to commute into the Loop or to the Packing Houses. The shutdown meant the nation’s main stockyards were closed. Mail was delayed. Financial markets dropped.


Many Black Workers Stayed Home

The city ordered 1200 black municipal employees not to report to work. Most black Packing House workers elected to stay at home. Only 19 of Armour Packing Company’s 1500 black employees showed up for work; only 23 of 2,5000 at Swift; with Morris, Wilson and other packers reporting low turn-out as well. (Source: Tuttle) In order to get to their jobs, blacks had to cross the Back of the Yards—the primarily Irish neighborhoods “policed” by the athletic clubs. This was enemy territory. Most decided not to chance it.

Back of the Yards Neighborhood

Back of the Yards Neighborhood

Staying home was a wise choice. A July city ordinance outlawed concealed weapons, so blacks faced a choice: don’t carry a weapon and risk being unarmed if attacked, or carry one and risk arrest. (Source: McWhirter) Some black workers who tried to report to work were killed. Edward W. Jackson was beaten to death by five white men on his way to work at a South Side factory. White workers were also killed. A Polish railroad worker was shot and a Jewish shop owner stabbed to death. (Source: McWhirter)

Blacks who traveled to work in the Loop were primarily service workers: waiters, kitchen help, shoeshiners, porters at hotels and Pullman Porters. 

The Loop was in Chaos

Nearly the entire Chicago police force had been pulled to the South Side, surrounding the Black Belt to discourage white gangs from entering, and to break up ongoing fights between blacks and whites. This left the entire Loop virtually unprotected. One estimate put the total number of police in the Loop at four—three officers and one sergeant. (Source: Krist) None of the city’s 175 traffic cops or 75 mounted police were on duty. One hundred unpaid civilian directed traffic in the city’s center, only half of the volunteers the city had asked to step forward. (Source: McWhirter)

Marshall Fields During Calmer Times in 1919 (Tumbler)

Marshall Fields During Calmer Times in 1919 (Tumbler)

With no public transit, Chicago residents garnered any transportation means possible. Workers walked. Men hung on vegetable trucks and hitched rides on milk trucks, delivery trucks and furniture drays. Drivers turned their flatbed trucks into jitneys by lining the beds with kitchen chairs, sometimes charging exorbitant prices. Workers rode bicycles. Old carriages and surries were dredged out of storage and horses put again into service. (Source: Krist) Automobiles, trucks, carts, bicycles and wagons clogged the streets—all driving toward the city’s center.

The sights and sounds had to be almost comical. Engines rattling, hoofs clapping, bicycle bells ringing. One young boy reportedly pointed to the stream of assorted transportation modes, delighted by the “circus parade.”

Brutal violence Broke Out in the Loop

Blacks workers in the Loop were targets. With virtually no police presence, white gangs went on a rampage. They pulled black service industry workers out of restaurants and hotels, and workers out of factories, and beat them on the streets. A white mob chased a black man into a lunchroom as he fought them off by hurling cups and plates. The mob eventually captured him, beating him and trying to drown him in a sink. The man was saved by a police officer. White mobs also attacked Pullman Porters at the train stations and black barbers at all-night barbershops. (Source: McWhirter)

Whites Attacked Black Workers Throughout the City: the Black Belt, Back of the Yards, West and North Sides and Even in the Loop

Whites Attacked Black Workers Throughout the City: the Black Belt, Back of the Yards, West and North Sides and Even in the Loop

Police on the Scene After the Murder (Jun Fujita)

Police on the Scene After the Murder (Jun Fujita)

To quell the rioting, police set up roadblocks to deter more blacks from entering. By noon, the Loop’s black workers had disappeared. Restaurant owners waited their own tables or closed. Even the dining room of the Palmer House shut down. (Source: McWhirter) A group of 500 had stormed the Palmer House to attack its kitchen employees, shooting one black and stabbing another, as the terrified workers raced to escape their attackers and other roving mobs. Hundreds of onlookers watched in shock. (Source: Krist)

Violence Spread North and West

On the North Side, “nearly 5,000 whites hunted down black people in the streets.” (Source: Tuttle) An apartment building where 100 black men, women and children lived was inundated by a mob of Sicilians. In the Gold Coast, white crowds took “potshots” at pedestrians and threatened violence against the black household help of rich whites.

White mobs attacked and killed blacks returning from work. A black cyclist on the Italian West Side was knocked from his bike, chased and dragged into the street where the mob “riddled his body with bullets, stabbed him and beat him.” (Source: Krist)

Police Remove the Body of a Black Man

Police Remove the Body of a Black Man

Fighting Continued on the South Side

Though the police presence in the Black Belt thwarted big groups of rioters, smaller skirmishes continued. Gangs of both whites and blacks fought using bricks, knives and clubs. Cars of whites infiltrated the black neighborhoods, shooting indiscriminately. Black snipers took posts on rooftops and balconies. Any white in the Black Belt was a target—even police officers.

One report cited a group of 12 armed black soldiers patrolling the South Side and shooting at whites. The men were reportedly former members of the old 8th Division. (Source: Krist)

The Cook County Coroner had jury members, under oath to do their duty, visit riot scenes to view the corpses. (Source: McWhirter)

Whites Burned and Damaged Black Homes, Stealing or Throwing Valuable onto the Street

Whites Burned and Damaged Black Homes, Stealing or Throwing Valuable onto the Street

A black worker walked 5 ½ miles toward home only to be knocked down at 22nd and Halsted streets, his face stomped. A Jewish peddler took the victim to the Black Belt in his cart, but the man was refused treatment as he had no money.

By night, the Black Belt erupted anew. Nonfatal shootings increased, especially shootings of police. A shootout at Provident Hospital left three officers wounded. Blacks shot at whites from their darkened homes. And now a new horror faced residents mostly of the Black Belt—entire multi-unit homes were set ablaze. Attempts by police and firefighters to respond were met with bullets, bricks and stones. (Source: Krist)

Rumors Ran Rampant

Police surrounded city hall with 60 armed detectives to protect it and the Mayor against a rumored mob assault. False rumors that blacks planned to systematically burn down white homes on the South Side caused alarm, driving the Fire Marshall to hold all city firemen in reserve. (Source: McWhirter) Rumors swirled that blacks had stores of weapons and ammunition, and that they were breaking into armories, preparing to invade.

The Infamous Bubbly Creek - a Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River Where So Much Organic Waste Flowed from the Meat Packing "Disassembly" Factories and Industrial Plants, the Creek Literally Bubbled (Steven Casey)

The Infamous Bubbly Creek – a Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River Where So Much Organic Waste Flowed from the Meat Packing “Disassembly” Factories and Industrial Plants, the Creek Literally Bubbled (Steven Casey)

Other rumors were perpetrated by both the white and black press. A black man was hanged from a building on Madison Street. Blacks were killed and thrown into the Chicago River and “Bubbly Creek” in numbers ranging from 4-100. Black men were attacking white women, especially in the stockyards district. A white child was snatched and dismembered by blacks. The Defender claimed a white mob killed a black woman attempting to board a car, cutting off her breasts and displaying them on a pole, and beating “the baby’s brains out against a telephone pole.” The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that the body of a slain black cyclist was saturated with gasoline and set on fire, calling it “the most atrocious lynching of the whole series of murders.” (Sources: Tuttle, McWhirter, Krist, Chicago Tribune archives)

All were untrue. No women or children died, and only ten women were hurt during the rioting. And although the black cyclist had indeed been stabbed and then shot 16 times due to rumors in the Italian neighborhood that a black man had murdered a neighbor girl, the victim’s body was not set on fire. (Source: Tuttle)

The newspaper stories incited more violence, and the constant daily injury and death tallies, which were sometimes incorrect, inspired a feeling that the sides needed to “even the score.” (Source: Krist)

That evening, rumors that Provident Hospital, a mainly black hospital, was treating two white patients, caused angry blacks to engage in a shootout on the street with police. (Source: Krist)

Black Leaders Meet.  Some Ask for Calm.

Wells-Barnett met with representatives from every black congregation in the city, each reporting on the violence in its neighborhood, with all in attendance trying to decide what to do. Carl Sandburg reported on this meeting and an interview with Dr. George C. Hall of the National Urban League, in his articles for the Daily News. (Source: Krist)

Handbills, created by Chicago Defender publisher and two other black businessmen, asked blacks to stay inside and obey police. “This is no time to solve the Race Question.” (Source: McWhirter)

Blacks in the Streets (Chicago History Museum)

Blacks in the Streets (Chicago History Museum)

Racial Discrimination Caused Black Outrage

Blacks were killed, hurt and arrested in disproportionate numbers to whites. Roughly twice as many blacks as whites were being arrested, while double the amount of blacks were being killed and injured on the streets. In one instance, a group of 12 blacks and whites was arrested for carrying concealed weapons; yet, the whites were set free and given back their ammunition and told, “You’ll probably need this before the night is over.” (Source: Krist)

In an article on the front page of Tuesday’s Daily Journal Ida B. Wells-Barnett, chided the city and called for the formation of a biracial committee to immediately address the violence. (Source: Krist)

“Free Chicago stands today humble before the world. Lawless mobs roam our streets. They kill inoffensive citizens and no notice it taken. They are Negroes—they are only Negroes—and it doesn’t matter. …[Chicago] is weak and helpless before the mob. Notwithstanding our boasted democracy, lynch law is king.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

A black weekly, the Broad Ax, blamed the current violence on Mayor Thompson’s inaction in addressing past bombings of black homes and his refusal to meet with Wells-Barnett and her committee that June. Thompson’s enemy, Victor Lawson, took the opportunity in his paper, the Daily News, to accuse Thompson of catering to the blacks for votes, but only being “able to harvest a crop of race riots.” (Source: Krist)

Dysfunctional Government Delayed the Release of the National Guard

Waiting behind the scenes were thousands of National Guard. Four regiments of the militia stood ready at armories across the city. All Tuesday, the militia waited while the killing continued outside.

So why wasn’t the National Guard allowed to act?

Sadly, the reason was political. The Mayor and the Governor were at a standoff. Both sought the Republican presidential nomination for 1920, so neither politician wanted to be the one to call in the militia.

Mayor Big Bill Thompson was Flamboyant And Colorful. His Refusal to Call in the National Guard During the Outbreak of the Riot Led to More Deaths and Injuries (Chicago Tribune)

Mayor Big Bill Thompson was Flamboyant And Colorful. His Refusal to Call in the National Guard During the Outbreak of the Riot Led to More Deaths and Injuries (Chicago Tribune)

Mayor Big Bill Thompson didn’t want to appear weak and ask for the help from Governor Frank Lowden, his political enemy. Besides, Thompson’s advisors reported that things were under control. The head of the militia, General Frank S. Dickson, and Charles Fitzmorris, Thompson’s private secretary, had together toured the riot districts that morning and did not sound alarm. (Source: Krist)

Governor Frank O. Lowden Also Refused to Send in the Militia, Though He had the Power to Do So

Governor Frank O. Lowden Also Refused to Send in the Militia, Though He had the Power to Do So

Governor Lowden was also hesitant to act. He enjoyed seeing his enemy suffer. Plus, Lowden knew that Thompson would head the delegation at the upcoming Republican National Convention so didn’t want to cause tension by overriding Thompson’s authority. (Source: Krist)

Both men feared that bringing in the National Guard could repeat the chaos and atrocities of the East St. Louis, Illinois riot, where, two years earlier, the National Guard and local police had added to the mayhem by participating in attacks and murders—shooting, burning, and hanging blacks. The death toll had reached 40, leaving hundreds wounded. It had taken three days for a battalion of troops to arrive from Springfield. (Source: Tuttle)

A Mob Stopped a Street Car During the Bloody East St. Louis, Illinois Riots of February 1917

A Mob Stopped a Street Car During the Bloody East St. Louis, Illinois Riots of February 1917

In addition, neither leader wanted to ask the Chicago commander of military installations in the Midwest, Major General Leonard Wood, for help. Wood, a contender himself for the presidency in 1920, would then be the hero if the troops were successful in reigning in the violence. General Wood chose not to involve himself in suppressing the riot, although he had his own authority to do so; and Mayor Thompson did not act on his power to ask for Wood’s assistance. (Source: McWhirter)

President Woodrow Wilson (Harris Ewing WIKI)

President Woodrow Wilson (Harris Ewing WIKI)

Thompson and Lowden also had the option to ask for help from the president; but, neither Republican wanted request Federal help from the Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson.So both waited it out—Mayor Thompson, in City Hall, and Governor Lowden, in the Blackstone Hotel.

Lowden released a statement saying he would gladly send in the militia if martial law was formally requested; and, Thompson, in turn, said that Lowden could send in troops on his own authority. Meanwhile, the troops sat idle.


Midday-Midnight: Still No Troops

The two politicians met briefly midday at the Blackstone and reported at a news conference that the worst of the rioting was over and that they were “cooperating heartily.” Chicago Police Chief Garrity said, “Things are quieting down steadily. The police have [the situation] as well in hand as it could possibly be.” (Source: Krist)

The Blackstone Hotel was Governor Lowden's temporary Headquarters During the 1919 Riots

The Blackstone Hotel was Governor Lowden’s temporary Headquarters During the 1919 Riots

“We found the situation much improved. The commanding officers reported a great change in feeling since last night and an improved out look and disposition on the part of the people generally. All the commanding officers we talked with felt they had the situation well in hand, and did not anticipate any recurrence of the deplorable events of last night.”

General Frank S. Dickson, head of the militia at Tuesday’s news conference (Krist)

This was blatantly untrue. The morning had been bloody. Hundreds of black arrestees rioted at the city jail just as the news conference reported all was well.

Man with Machine Gun at the City Jail Where Black Prisoners Had Rioted

Man with Machine Gun at the City Jail Where Black Prisoners Had Rioted

Stopping briefly in the hottest part of the day, the violence rose up again. Chicagoans on both sides were still being shot, stabbed and beaten over dozens of square miles of the city. Meanwhile, combat-ready troops sat nearby, waiting for orders. (Source: McWhirter)

At midnight, Mayor Thompson decided to go home without sending in troops, saying he would “not ask for the state troops before morning. I will await developments.” (Source: Krist)

By Tuesday’s end, 11 more blacks and whites were dead and 139 severely injured. (Source: McWhirter)

Hoodlums, by Carl Sandburg

Reporter and poet Carl Sandburg was so distraught by the violence, he penned his famous poem “Hoodlums” that night, written from the point of view of a rioter:


I AM a hoodlum, you are a hoodlum, we and all of us are a world of hoodlums—maybe so.

I hate and kill better men than I am, so do you, so do all of us—maybe—maybe so.

In the ends of my fingers the itch for another man’s neck, I want to see him hanging, one of dusk’s cartoons against the sunset.

This is the hate my father gave me, this was in my mother’s milk, this is you and me and all of us in a world of hoodlums—maybe so.

Let us go on, brother hoodlums, let us kill and kill, it has always been so, it will always be so, there is nothing more to it.

Let us go, sister hoodlums, kill, kill and kill, the torsos of the world’s mothers are tireless and the loins of the world’s fathers are strong—so go on—kill, kill, kill.



Gary Krist; City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago; Crown Publishers; 2012

Cameron McWhirter; Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America; St. Martin’s Griffin; 2011

William M. Tuttle, Jr.; Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919; University of Illinois Press/Urbana and Chicago; 1996

“One Death in 14 Hours Puts Total at 26”; The Chicago Daily Tribune; Wednesday, July 30, 1919;

“Then & Now: Bubbly Creek – Chicago”, The Herald News; Published Sunday, Dec 20, 2015

“Hoodlums”; Carl Sandburg; written Chicago, July 29, 1919; Smoke and Steel, 1922


Chicago’s Race Riot of 1919: The Beginning


The 29th Street Bridge After Eugene Williams' Death (Chicago History Museum)

The 29th Street Bridge After Eugene Williams’ Death
(Chicago History Museum)

Sunday, July 27th was sweltering. Temperatures soared to 96 degrees. To escape the heat, hundreds flocked to Chicago’s beaches to cool off in the water of Lake Michigan. But the playful morning would turn violent by afternoon. Skirmishes between blacks and whites would break out at the 29th Street beach.

The First Fighting of the Day

As with much of the violence in the city that summer, the fighting revolved around territory. Several black men and women had strolled to 29th street beach to go swimming—a beach defined by unwritten law as being a “white” beach. The group of blacks was rebuked with curses, threatening gestures and rocks.

Chicago White Diversy Beach

Chicago’s “White” Diversy Beach

Minutes later the blacks returned with reinforcements and hurled rocks. This time the white bathers fled. But soon the whites reappeared, their numbers burgeoned with sympathizers, and they released a new barrage of stones.

The Spark that Began the Race Riot

Among the beachgoers that day was a group of four black teen-age boys from Chicago’s South Side, near 53rd and State. The teens headed toward a secret spot north of 26th Street that they called the “hot and cold,” where hot chemical run-off from the brewery vats mixed with effluents from a nearby icehouse and the cold lake water. There they had a 14 x 9’ raft hidden. They met Eugene Williams, another black teenager from a different neighborhood further north, and he joined their water activities.

The teenagers floated out on their home-made raft. None of the five were good swimmers. Holding onto the raft, they began kicking, driving the raft further out into the lake. For amusement, they set a goal of reaching a marker nailed on a post several hundred yards from shore. Their path took them toward 29th Street.

Unaware of their location or of the earlier skirmishes, the teenagers continued to “swim, kick, dive and play around.” Innocently, they edged into the waters of the “white” 29th Street beach.

The Murder of Eugene Williams

About 2:00 p.m., a white man named George Stauber threw rocks at the teenagers from a breakwater. The boys made a game of it, shouting warnings to each other and ducking as the rocks and bricks hurled toward them. Then Stauber hit his mark. Eugene Williams was struck in the forehead and slipped under the bloodied water.

One of the teenagers on the raft, John Harris, dog-paddled and swam underwater to shore and raced back to get a black lifeguard from down the beach, who sent a boat around. Beachgoers, both white and black, dove into the water to try to save Eugene. But it was too late. Eugene had drowned. Divers recovered Eugene’s body 30 minutes later.

The Beach Explodes

The panic on shore then turned to anger. Blacks pointed out Stauber to the white police officer on duty as the man responsible for the rock throwing, but Officer Daniel Callahan refused to arrest Stauber and prevented a black officer from making the arrest. The policemen argued.

Meanwhile, Harris and others ran back to 25th Street beach and “told the colored people what was happening, and they started running” to 29th Street.

The argument on the 26th Street beach raged on. Still refusing to arrest Stauber, Callihan then arrested a black man on the complaint of a white. Driven by news of the drowning and unfounded rumors on both sides, angry blacks and whites swarmed the beach. The crowd grew to 1,000. When paddy wagons pulled up to take the arrested black man into custody, bricks and rocks were thrown by both parties. A shot was fired at police. James Crawford, black, wounded one of the white officers with his revolver. Jesse Igoes, a black officer, then shot Crawford in the abdomen, fatally injuring him.

More shots were fired. O’Brien shot at the retreating crowd, hitting two more black men. The black crowd grew and attacked white men, beating four whites, stabbing five and shooting another. Within 15 minutes, the original mob was dispersed, leaving 40 rioters and several policemen injured.

The race war had officially begun.


Fighting Spilled Into the Streets

Rioters from the 26th Street beach now spread through the streets of the south side. Individuals of both races fanned out through their neighborhoods to rally reinforcements.

Young White Men Running to Beating of a Black Man

Young White Men Running to Beating of a Black Man (Chicago History Museum)

Blacks shared news of Eugene’s death; whites reported blacks’ violence on the beach. But, other unfounded rumors also spread: the white officer had, by gunpoint, prevented swimmers from helping save the boy; blacks drowned a white man; blacks were stockpiling weapons and breaking into armories. Though false, the rumors further fueled the simmering conflict between the races.

Calls for retaliation found their way west of Wentworth Avenue just beyond the western boundary of the Black Belt. The athletic clubs jumped at the excuse to start a rampage. They armed themselves with baseball bats, knives, revolvers, iron bars, hammers and bricks, in search of any black person unlucky enough to be in their territory. Then they made their way into the Black Belt.


The Black Belt

By evening, Chicago’s south side was a battlefield. Skirmishes erupted in and around the Black Belt, the predominantly black area of the city. The south side—from Cottage Grove Avenue and State Street from 29th south to 35th Street—was in pandemonium.

White Men with Bricks on the Chase

White Men with Bricks on the Chase

Shots rang out. Rocks flew. Members of both races were shot and stabbed. Blacks pulled a white fireman from a passing engine and beat him. A black man leaning out his window to watch was hit by a stray bullet.

The Deputy Chief of Police, John Alcock dispatched all available police officers to the south side. Hundreds of mounted police stormed up and down the avenues. But just as police dispersed a warring group of blacks and whites, the confrontation would begin again two or three blocks away. Overwhelmed, police concentrated on transporting the wounded to hospitals. Doctors and nurses worked overtime to care for the injured.

Few arrests were made. This allowed attackers and witnesses to slip back into the battles.

Sunday’s Tally

Shouts and gunfire reverberated through the streets of the South Side from nine o’clock Sunday night until three Monday morning.

When the fighting on Chicago’s south side finally waned, the injury count was 27 blacks beaten, 7 stabbed and 4 shot.

The Morning After

On Monday, July 28th, Chicago’s riot made national headlines. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported 2 killed and 50 hurt in the Race Riots. Yet the Tribune’s larger front-page headline read: “Full Confession by Slayer of Janet.” The sensational story featured news of Thomas Fitzgerald’s confession to the choking death of Janet Wilkinson after luring the neighbor child into his apartment with candy. He had hidden the girl’s body under coal in their apartment building’s basement.

Big Bill Thompson, Chicago’s mayor, just back from a trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming, rode in a parade dressed as a cowboy. At City Hall, Thompson dismissed a reporter’s question about the rioting saying that it seemed to be over. Thompson was much more interested in talking about Fitzgerald’s confession and fears of an impending transit strike.

Police Deputy Alcock assessed that the fighting had passed.

Blacks returned to their jobs at the stockyards, in factories, in restaurants, as porters and at other jobs. Deliveries were made. The streetcars ran. Chicago seemed back to normal.

But the white gangs were far from done.



Gary Krist; City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago; Crown Publishers; 2012

Cameron McWhirter; Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America; St. Martin’s Griffin; 2011

William M. Tuttle, Jr.: Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919; University of Illinois Press; 1996

The Roots of a Riot: Chicago 1919


Black Home After a Bombing

During the summer of 1919, Chicago experienced one of the worst Race Riots in the nation’s history. At the end of the eight-day conflict, 15 whites and 23 blacks were dead and at least 537 seriously wounded.

Although the length and brutality of the riots were unanticipated, the seeds of the riot had been planted in the years and months leading up to that day in July of 1919. Many factors combined to unleash hatred and violence against Chicago’s blacks. And a new-found rage against inequality drove the blacks to fight back.

Crowded Housing in Deplorable Conditions

The Great Migration saw the numbers of blacks rise. Between 1910-1920, Chicago’s black population soared from 44,103 to 109,458—an increase of 148.2 percent, the largest increase rate of any ethnic group in the city. From 1917 to 1919 alone, an estimated 50,000 black migrated to Chicago. (Source: Red Summer) And these new black immigrants were crammed into a small stretch of land called The Black Belt, crowded into dilapidated housing for high rents and without adequate services. The slum conditions were further stretched with more than double the population than before the war.

Tension in the Workplace

Business owners in the meatpacking, corn refining and steel industries used black workers to break strikes, undercut wages and further tensions between the ethnic groups. Southern rural blacks were recruited through ads, some saving to buy their own train fare, and others brought up free on special “company” trains.


Front Entrance to the Stockyards in Chicago

Most black workers were not unionized, which led to tensions with other ethnic groups who did support unionization as a way to increase wages and better working conditions. Blacks were understandably wary, as the factory owners held the power over their jobs and often supported community groups and activities in black neighborhoods.

The end of World War I saw increased competition for jobs combined with a declining demand for goods, and, therefore, jobs. White servicemen looked to return to the workforce, while blacks and other immigrant groups struggled to hold on to the jobs they had gained.

Black Veterans Demand Equal Treatment at Home


The 370th Infantry Regiment of Chicago

Returning black soldiers felt that their service to protect freedom and democracy abroad should also extend the basic rights of adequate housing and equality in their own country. When these rights were denied, many grew angry. (Pictured above are soldiers of the 370th–one of the few black regiments that was allowed to fight in World War I.)

“The return of the Negro soldier to civil life is one of the most delicate and difficult questions confronting the Nation, north and south.”

— George Haynes, Fisk University professor and director of Negro Economics for the U.S. Department of Labor.

House Bombings

A precursor to the physical bodily violence was a rash of house bombings. In a little over a year, 25 homes belonging to blacks or to realtors who sold to black were bombed. One of the bombings resulted in the death of a black girl.

Between February 5 and June 13 of 1919, eight bombs or dynamite containers exploded on doorsteps of buildings in the city’s south division—buildings on streets adjacent to the “Black Belt,” which was about 80 per cent black.

Athletic Clubs

Reports after the rioting lay much of the blame of violence on groups of young white men in so-called social clubs called “Athletic Clubs.” These groups of teenagers and young men, many of the roughest of whom were of Irish-American decent, played baseball and threw parties, but they also wreaked havoc by staunchly defending their territory with the “color” line at Wentworth Avenue. They terrorized blacks for years. They created problems for black packing house workers as the workers needed to cross the Irish “Back of the Yards” neighborhood in order to get to work, making blacks subject to assault and intimidation.

Chicago claimed a number of these “athletic clubs”. Perhaps, the most notorious of these was the Morgan Athletic Club in the Stockyards neighborhood, known by its honorary title of “Ragen’s Colts” after its founder and benefactor, politician Frank M. Ragen. One source cites a membership of nearly 3,000, with a vigilante slogan of, “Hit me, and you hit 3,000.”  While Ragen’s Colts controlled a large neighborhood in the Irish section of the South Side near the stockyards, other groups held additional sections of the South Side. These gangs included Our Flag Club, the Sparkler’s Club, the White Club, and the Hamburgers. (Source: McWhirter)


Ragen’s Colts Sports Team

When the rioting began, the athletic clubs unleashed their full fervor against black residents and workers. They had been waiting for a race riot and fully exploited the opportunity.

The future mayor, Richard J. Daley, was a 17-year-old member of the Hamburg Athletic Club in 1919, an Irish-American organization later identified as one of the clubs responsible for instigating the riots. It was never concluded that Daley himself participated in the violence.


The Chicago police force was predominantly white, and further, predominantly Irish. There were only about 300 black officers in the entire city. Many white officers had a reputation for being less than fair to blacks. Walter White of the NAACP, in his 4-week investigation of the riot, cited  “police inefficiency”  and “unpunished crimes against negroes” as two of the “eight reasons” for the violence. (White)

Fight for Political Power

The black voting block in Chicago was a force. Mayor Big Jim Thompson had actively sought the black vote during his campaigns, contributing heavily to his wins. Many whites resented this voting power held by blacks, and athletic clubs were known to disrupt black polling places on election day.

A Summer of Race Riots

Prior to Chicago, the nation had seen an outbreak of racial violence. In the summer of 1919, race riots broke out across the country: Washington, D.C.; Knoxville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; Phillips County, Arkansas. and Omaha, Nebraska. In fact, the months from April – November 1919 were so tumultuous and bloody, it was called “Red Summer”. Riots and lynchings claimed hundreds of lives.  The white supremacist Ku Klux Klan organization revived its violent activities in the South, including 64 lynchings in 1918 and 83 in 1919. (

Two of Chicago’s Most Famous Predicted the Riot

A well-known prophet of the riot’s outbreak was Carl Sandburg. Although many know of him through his poems, (my favorite line being “The fog comes on little cat feet”), Carl Sandburg was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. He covered conditions in the Black Belt prior to the riot and also reported on the riot’s aftermath.


Carl Sandburg in 1920

Sandburg went into the neighborhoods to investigate discrimination. He noted that blacks received lower wages and working positions, yet paid higher rents than whites to live in crowded and run-down buildings. He found an infant mortality rate 7 times higher than in other neighborhoods. And blacks told him of their desire to flee lynchings in the south and better their living standards, the quality of schools for their children and their ability to be involved in the democratic process of voting.

Sandburg highlighted these issues in a series of 16 articles for the paper, (which included a summary written after the riot). It appears no one paid too much attention.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was even more direct. She wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune, warning that Chicago was on the brink of riot, and would become another East St. Louis.


Ida B. Wells-Barnett Warned of a Coming Riot

Wells-Barnett knew of what she spoke. The previous summer, she had gone down to East St. Louis, Illinois, to gather facts after that city’s race riot. The two-day riots had left 150 blacks dead and almost one million dollars of property destroyed. As she accompanied black women back to their homes in a Red Cross truck, she saw the devastation. Homes looted. Pianos, furniture and bedding destroyed. Windows broken. Some homes even burned. But more alarming were reports that the soldiers had not intervened when black people were attacked. She reported her findings to Illinois’ Governor but could not get blacks to testify. Her only success was in raising money through an article in the Defender to free Dr. Bundy, a black dentist facing a life sentence for leading a group of blacks to arm and defend themselves.

Here is Wells-Barnett’s letter to the Editor. It is a fervent  plea for action, as she notes how the home bombings and other acts of violence mimicked those prior to the East St. Louis riots.

Chicago Tribune July 7 1919 Ida Letter

Barnett’s Letter to the Chicago Tribune , July 7, 1919

“Will the legal, moral, and civic forces of this town stand idly by and take not notice here of these preliminary outbreaks? Will not action be taken to prevent these law breakers until further disaster has occurred?”

–Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Unfortunately, no one heeded her warning.


Cameron McWhirter; Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America; St. Martin’s Griffin; 2011

Catherine A. Welch: Ida B. Wells-Barnett; Carolrhoda Books; 2000

Carl Sandburg; The Chicago Race Riots: July, 1919; Dover Publications; 2013 (Originally published by Harcourt, Brace and Howe in 1919)

William M. Tuttle, Jr. ;  Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919: University of Illinois Press; 1996

Walter White; “The Causes of the Chicago Race Riot”; The Crisis,  XVIII (October 1919), p. 25

“Prelude to a Riot: Irish Athletic Clubs and the Black Belt in 1919”;

“The Chicago Race Riot of 1919”;; 2009

“Ragen’s Colts”; Saturday, February 7, 2009; The Chicago Crime Scenes Project;

“The Race Problem in Chicago”; by Ida B. Wells-Barnett on June 30; published in the Voice of the People section, by the Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1919

Chicago’s Packinghouses: The Assembly Line Jungle

Packinghouse workers in the early 1900s endured hot, loud and dangerous conditions. Irregular working days swung wildly depending upon live animal shipments and production needs. On Mondays and Tuesdays, when cattle shipments typically arrived, sometimes working days stretched from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. or midnight. Summers were a lull period where layoffs were many. Wages were low for the unskilled and injury rates ran high—the Armour plant averaged 23 accidents per day in 1917.

It was a buyers’ market. Packinghouses opened each morning to 200 – 1,000 willing workers waiting for jobs. Foremen or yards policemen went out to the gate and choose the number of workers needed that day from the strongest in the crowd. Only about 10 men in a gang of 200 were “steady time” men, guaranteed a full 6 days of pay. Many others were hired as “casual” workers, meaning that a worker might only be asked to stay the day or only a couple of hours as needed, for as low as 15 cents an hour.

(Pictured Below: Swift Beef Department Dropping Hides and Splitting Chucks 1906: Library of Congress)


The Birth of the Assembly Line

Although Henry Ford is credited with creating the assembly line in the manufacture of his Model Ts, the hog slaughterhouses of Cincinnati were the first to utilize an assembly line process as early as the 1830s.

To help speed the time-intensive slaughtering and cutting processes, the packinghouses used extreme division of labor, where each man might perform a single cut or task. Because of the odd shapes, and differing size, weight and quality of the animals, many aspects did not lend themselves to mechanization. So instead of mechanizing the process of dismantling the animals, packinghouses mechanized how the carcasses were moved from station to station. Slaughtered animals were raised with hoists, and moved along overhead rails and along conveyors. Men no longer brought the hogs and cattle to each station—the work came to them.

The all-around butcher, who had been in use as late as the 1880s, was now replaced by a killing gang of 157 men. The jobs were divided into 78 different “trades.” Each man performed his individualized task 1,000 times a day.

The time-savings were enormous. The slaughtering and hanging process that had taken 3-4 men up to 15 minutes per animal, now could be done by one “shackler” who could hoist 70 cattle carcasses each minute by clipping the shackle around the hind foot and letting steam power raise the animals up.

“Looking down this room, one saw . . . a line of dangling hogs a hundred yards in length; and for every yard there was a man, working as if a demon were after him.” The Jungle

At the Mercy of the Foreman

Packinghouses ran on low margins. The cost of the animals (the raw materials) made up 89 cents on the dollar, leaving little room for profit. Because the work could not be mechanized, the only option was to increase output. In other words, to make the men and women work faster.

armour-hog-scraping-rail-1909In 1908, the endless chain in hog slaughtering was seen as a major breakthrough. It prevented the slowest worker from regulating the speed of the entire gang.

Now, the foremen on the killing floors controlled the speed of the conveyor line with a lever—men who were incentivized to process the highest number of animals at the lowest cost or lose their own jobs. Even small changes in speed could increase outcomes and profits. The pace of the work drew the most complaints from workers.

(Pictured: Armour Hog Scraping Rail 1909: Library of Congress)

The packinghouses worked to break unions and encourage constant competition. The companies established rivalries between houses within the firm and among foremen within the same house. Companies exchanged data on line speed and other factors. The fastest men were given higher paying jobs as “pacers” and were placed at critical points in the production flow, setting the pace for rest of the line. Less skilled “go betweens” were trained to fill the job above them, so positions could be filled when a skilled worker was absent for a day, and the threat of being replaced on a permanent basis kept skilled workers diligent.

“If you need to turn out a little more, you speed up the conveyors a little and the men speed up to keep pace.”A Packinghouse Superintendent

Because of the great number of immigrants and black migrants looking for work, packinghouses also had the power to break strikes. It was the strike of 1904 that brought a new group of blacks up to Chicago.

The Largest Employer of Black Workers in Chicago

Blacks’ reputation as “scabs” began with the strike of 1894 and repeated itself in 1904. During this second strike, labor agents recruited an estimated 10,000 black workers. Special trains carried black workers from Southern states and dropped them into the stockyards and alongside the packinghouses. In a single day, 1,400 arrived. As well, packinghouses brought trainloads of immigrants from Ellis Island and moved skilled workers from small rural plants.


As a whole, the blacks distrusted unions and lay their loyalties with the packinghouses themselves, though some blacks did join forces with their white co-workers in solidarity with unions. Employers went to great lengths to nurture a direct relationship with black workers through donations to black churches, Y.M.C.A.’s and the formation of black baseball teams. Though this courting did not include high wages (blacks held some of the lowest and lowest paid positions), the money was still better than many blacks could earn in their home states, especially if they were employed in agriculture as sharecroppers.

As WWI raged, the combination of plummeting immigration, white soldiers traveling overseas to fight, and the need for increased production to feed and defend U.S. and Allied soldiers, gave Southern blacks an opportunity at new and well-paying industrial jobs. Thousands traveled north to Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Evansville, Indiana.

dto1-family-driven-by-mob_t Between 1915 and 1920, roughly a half-million blacks migrated to northern cities. The Great Migration saw Chicago’s black population burgeon. In 1890, blacks made up less than 2% of the city’s population. During WWI, the black population rose to over 100,000.

The Department of Labor figures show that the number of black packinghouse workers in Chicago jumped three to five times from 1917-1918. For example, one major Chicago packing house only had 311 black workers in January of 1916, but employed 3,621 by the end of 1918.

By 1920, the Meat Trust was the largest employer of blacks, holding more than one-half of all of manufacturing jobs in Chicago’s Black Belt. The next largest employer was the steel mills, with less than one-quarter of black jobs.

In total, Chicago would gain more than 500,000 of the approximately 7 million southern blacks during the entirety of the Great Migration. By 1970, blacks would represent 33% of Chicago’s population—one-third of the city’s people.

Great Diversity

Chicago’s Union Stockyards and the surrounding slaughtering and meat-packing plants offered unparalleled diversity. More than 40 nationalities were represented, with diversity in age, gender and work experience.


The early immigrants to the trade included the Irish and German. They maintained the highest paying “knife jobs”. This was followed by Bohemians, (coming from the industrialized region of what is now Czechoslovakia), and later Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, African Americans and Mexicans.

Although they worked side by side within the packinghouses, ethnic groups rarely mixed outside of the walls of their employers, each group staying within its own ethnic neighborhoods within Chicago. This lead to great overcrowding in Chicago’s Black Belt and was one of the factors contributing to Chicago’s Race Riots of 1919.


Chicago and the Great Migration, 1915-1950; Hana Layson with Kenneth Warren; The Newberry Digital Collections for the Classroom;

Down on the Killing Floor: Black and White Workers in Chicago’s Packinghouses, 1904-54; Rick Halpern; University of Illinois Press; 1997

Great Migration; Encyclopedia of Chicago;

The Great Migration in Historical Perspective: New Dimensions of Race, Class & Gender; Edited by Joe William Trotter, Jr.; Indiana University Press; 1991

The Jungle; Upton Sinclair; Barnes & Noble Classics; 2003 (first published in 1906)

Prelude to a Riot—Irish Athletic Clubs and the Black Belt in 1919; American History USA;

Work and Community in the Jungle: Chicago’s Packinghouse Workers 1894-1922; James R. Barrett; University of Illinois Press; 1990

“World War I and The Great Migration”; History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Historian, Washington D.C., U.S.; Government Printing Office, 2008.





Chicago’s Black Soldiers in WWI: The 8th Regiment/The 370th Infantry

Black Infantry Soliders Marching Verdun

Black Infantry Soliders Marching Verdun

When the United States finally entered the war in 1917, blacks newspapers and leaders encouraged blacks to join the war. The Crisis stated that “while this war lasts, forget about our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our white fellow citizens.”

And young black men responded. The overwhelming feeling among the black soldiers was that if they fought for the principles of democracy overseas, that it wold translate to equality for them back home–equal rights, equal treatment and opportunities equal to whites.

The could not know how wrong they would be.

How Many Blacks Served in the Great War

Upwards of 400,000 blacks serves–a combination of volunteers, regular Army units and the National Guard. Of that number, 340,000 were drafted. But only 200,000 served in France. Many remained stationed at camps throughoutthe United Stated providing manual labor. And of those sent overseas, only 42,000 served as combat troops.


The Harlem Hellfighters – 369th Regiment

Undoubtedly, the most famous of the black fighting troops were the “Harlem Hellfighters” of New York. Yet another regiment fought just as fiercely: The 370th Infantry of Chicago.


The 8th Regiment of Illinois/The 370th Infantry

The Germans called them the “Black Devils”, especially because of the black troops’ ferocious fighting at St. Mihiel, the Argonne Forest and the Meuse. Embedded within the French troops, they earned the name “Partridges” from the French because of their proud military bearing.

The 370th Regiment

The 370th Regiment

The 8th of Illinois was the only regiment in the entire United States Army that was commanded almost wholly by black officers—from Colonel Franklin A. Denison to Lt. Colonel James H. Johnson, to three Majors and a Captain. (Torchbearers page 214).

Though the soldiers’ accomplishments were many, from the beginning they had challenges. The first blow came when Colonel Charles Young, their commander, the highest ranking black officer in the United States Regular Army and a graduate of West Point, was found not physically fit to serve and was retired from active duty, despite his fervent protests. His troops and the black newspapers were angered by this decision, feeling that Young had been unjustly denied active duty in the Great War and denied promotion to Brigadier-General (which he would have automatically received upon being called to active duty) simply because he was black.

The second blow came when the decision was reached to have black combat troops serve with the French army, as Pershing did not wish them to serve under him. Pershing even went so far as to send a letter to the commanders of the French troops warning them not to ruin the negro troops.

Black Soldiers at Rifle Training Behind the French Lines

Black Soldiers
at Rifle Training Behind the French Lines

Despite having to retrain with French equipment, including rifles, the 8th fought gallantly.

For their service, The United Stated awarded 21 of the regiments’ heroes with the Distinguished Service Cross. The French government’s honors extended even further. They awarded 68 soldiers with the Croix de Guerre.

Upon return to Chicago, the 8th Regiment received a hero’s welcome with a parade attended by thousands. But the pride and acknowledgement by the other communities in Chicago was short-lived.


By July of 1919, Chicago would see one of the most violent Race Riots in the nation’s history. But, in Chicago, as in Washington D.c., there was a difference. The blacks, including soldiers of the 8th Regiment, fought back.


The Unknown Soldiers: African-American Troops in World War I; Arthur E. Barbeau & Florette Henri; Da Capo Press 1996 (Originally published by Temple University Press in 1974)

Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era; Chad L. Williams; University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill; 2010

1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African American Fought Back; David F. Krugler, Cambridge University Press; 2015