On July 27, 1919, Chicago erupted in one of the most violent riots in the nation’s history. The tensions began weeks, months, even years before the actual riot. Resentment over blacks as strikebreakers, competition for jobs and housing (especially after white servicemen returned home from World War I), and underlying racial discrimination were all key triggers.
Below is a timeline of the Riot’s first day. It began with skirmishes on the 29thStreet beach between black and white beachgoers and ignited after the drowning of Eugene Williams, reported to have been struck with a rock thrown by a white man, causing Williams to slip under the Lake Michigan waters.
Skirmishes begin between blacks and white swimmers on the 29thStreet Beach
A raft of five black ten-age boys mistakenly ventures into white waters
George Stauber, out on a breaker, throws a stone at Eugene Williams, black, who drowns
Black and white beachgoers jump in to save Williams, but to no avail
Wiliiams’ friends bring the black lifeguard and other blacks from the 25thStreet black beach
The blacks demand Officer Daniel Callahan, white, arrest Stauber, but the officer refuses
The blacks beat Stauber
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Eugene’s body is recovered
1,000 blacks return to the beach to demand police turn over Callahan and Stauber
Police attempt to disperse the black and white crowd
Two patrol cars arrive; blacks, including James Crawford, fire at officers
Jesse Igoes, a black officer, returns fire, killing Crawford
Beach mob is dispersed, leaving 40 rioters and several policemen injured
The battle spills out into the streets of the South Side
Individual rioters fan out through neighborhoods to draw in more combatants
Fights erupt – rock throwing, shooting, stabbing—around Black Belt and other areas
Cottage Grove Avenue and State Street from 29thsouth to 35thStreet were bubbling cauldrons of action (The Chicago Tribune has this action at 5:00 p.m., but I feel this timing is more correct)
Deputy Chief Alcock sends out a call to every Chicago station to rush available officers to the South Side
Blacks attack whites—4 beaten, 5 stabbed, 1 shot
Police and white and black mobs clash at Prairie Avenue and 31stStreet, at State and 35th, and at 37thand Cottage Grove
On 39thStreet, white crowds take potshots at blacks on Streetcars
White gangs beyond the Western edge of the Black Belt attack blacks passing through white neighborhoods
A black man in pummeled with clubs as he waits for a car on Halsted
Riots break out across the city, driven mostly by white men and boys
In particular, young men affiliated with Chicago “Athletic Clubs” descend on the South Side
Hundreds of mounted police storm up and down the avenues to disperse warring mobs
Success is limited—confrontations would be broken up only to reignite 2-3 blocks away
Blacks are armed and stand ready to defend themselves; snipers shoot from buildings
Shouts and gunfire are heard for many more hours
Few arrests are made
Police focus on transporting the wounded to hospitals
Hospitals work overtime to care for the wounded
Whites: 4 beaten, 5 stabbed, 1 shot
Blacks: 27 beaten, 7 stabbed, 4 shot, 2 dead (Including Eugen Williams)
50 whites and blacks seriously wounded
Scores more suffer minor cuts and bruises
(These figures represent a consensus of several sources—listed below)
By Monday morning at 3 a.m., the rioting had quieted. Whites, especially the athletic clubs, had invaded the Black Belt using bricks, stones, fists, baseball bats, iron bars, and hammers. Blacks primarily used knives and firearms to defend their neighborhoods from the invaders.
Morning workers commute to work, white business owners in the Black Belt open shops and deliveries are received.
Monday’s papers are more concerned with a murder’s confession of killing a young girl in his building. Little does the city know what violence is yet to come.
1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back; David F. Krugler
City of Scoundrels; Gary Krist
On the Laps of God; Robert Whitaker
Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919; William M. Tuttle, Jr.
Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America; Cameron McWhirter