1919 July 27

Massive Chicago Race Riot Erupts


A major race riot erupted in Chicago on this day and lasted until August 3. It is generally considered to be one of the worst race riots in American history. The underlying causes involved racial tensions and discrimination against African-Americans, resulting from the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to Chicago. The precipitating event occurred on the racially segregated beaches of the Chicago lakefront, where a white man threw stones at a young African-American, causing his death. Violence then spread throughout the city and lasted a week; order was restored only after 6,000 National Guard soldiers were mobilized.

Most of the violence was directed against African-Americans: 23 of the 38 people killed and over 1,000 left homeless. The Chicago police failed to stop or arrest whites who perpetrated violence. Following the riot, the Chicago Commission on Race Relations examined the causes of the violence and made a series of recommendations for reform (see below), but no meaningful action was taken.

The year 1919 witnessed racial violence in several American cities, including Washington, DC on July 19, 1919 and Omaha, Nebraska, on September 28, 1919.

Chicago was also the scene of several incidents of racial violence in the late 1940s and 1950s, as white residents resorted to violence to block the racial integration of their neighborhoods. Two of those incidents led to important Supreme Court decisions on offensive speech. See, for example, the Supreme Court decisions in Terminiello v. Chicago, on May 16, 1949, and Beauharnais v. Illinois, on April 28, 1952.

A wave of urban racial riots erupted in the 1960s. Read the Kerner Commission report on the riots, released on February 29, 1968.

Learn about the riot: William Tuttle, Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (1970)

Read the original riot report: Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (1922)

See photographs of the riot: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchresult.cfm?parent_id=465275

Learn more about the history of African-Americans in Chicago: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/27.html

Read the report on the 1960s riots: National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Report (1968)

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