In the summer of 1919, over 20 race riots broke out across the nation. The worst violence occurred in Chicago. On a hot July day, African Americans went to a whites-only beach. Both sides began throwing stones at each other. Whites also threw stones at an African American teenager swimming near the beach to prevent him from coming ashore, and he drowned. A full-scale riot then erupted in the city. Angry African Americans attacked white neighborhoods while whites attacked African American neighborhoods. The riots lasted for several days. In the end, 38 people died—15 white and 23 black—and over 500 were injured.
The most serious racial outbreak occurred in Chicago late in July of the so-called Red Summer.... The riot that began on July 27 had its immediate origin in a fight at Lake Michigan beach. A young Negro swimming offshore had drifted into water that was customarily used by whites. White swimmers commanded him to return to his part of the beach, and some threw stones at him. When the young man drowned, the Negroes declared that he had been murdered.... Rumors spread among blacks and whites. Mobs sprang up in various parts of the city. In the next afternoon, white bystanders bothered some blacks who were returning from work. Some were pulled off streetcars and whipped.... On the Negro South Side a group of young Negroes stabbed an old Italian peddler to death, and a white laundry operator was also stabbed to death.... When authorities counted the casualties, 38 people had been killed, including 15 whites and 23 blacks. Of the 537 people injured, 342 were black. More than 1,000 families, mostly Negroes, were homeless due to the burnings and destruction of property.
On what points to the accounts agree? Disagree?
Which account do you find more reliable? Why?
Do you believe that one boy’s death could start a massive riot? Why or why not?
What other conditions were probably in place that created a climate for a riot?
Since 1915 the colored population of Chicago has more than doubled, increasing in four years from a little over 50,000 to what is now estimated to be between 125,000 and 150,000. Most blacks lived in the area called the “Black Belt.” Already overcrowded, this so- called “Black Belt” could not possibly hold the doubled colored population. One cannot put ten gallons of water in a five-gallon pail.
Whites who are afraid that blacks will move out of the “Black Belt” and into “white” neighborhoods have formed the “Property Owners' Association” to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods. They discuss ways to keep Negroes in “their part of town.”
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.
The spirit of the Negro who went across the seas -- who was in battle -- is different from the spirit of the Negro before the war. He is altogether a new man, with new ideas, new hopes, new dreams, and new desires. He will not quietly accept discrimination, and we should not ask him to do so. It is a new Negro that we have with us now. . . . The war transformed these men into new creatures -- citizens of another type.
Outsiders who are thinking of coming to Chicago to take a “job at the yards” will not find the “welcome” sign out awaiting them. It became known yesterday that since the end of the Great War the force of workers has dropped by nearly 15,000. This is due both to a big drop in war orders. . . .
Another problem is that the factories promised to return every employee who enlisted in the armed forces to “as good or better” a job than he held when he put on a uniform. [White] men are now returning in increasingly large numbers and none are being turned away.
“No discrimination is being shown in the reducing of our forces,” said an official of one of the packing companies, in discussing reports that southern colored men, who were hired during the war job shortage, were being fired. “It is a case of survival of the fittest, the best man staying on the job. It is a fact that the southern Negro cannot compete with the northerner.”
According to the documents, what caused the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?
Do you think one of these causes (i.e., housing, jobs, or the “New Negro”) led to the violence more than the other causes? Why?
Why do you think there were 20 riots across the nation that summer?
Do you think the Chicago Race Riots would have happened even if that boy didn’t get killed in Lake Michigan? Why or why not?