What if I told you that the anniversary of one of the biggest events in Chicago’s Black history recently took place, and not many people even know about it? Believe me, it’s true. July 27th officially marked 100 years since the bloody race riots of the city’s Red Summer took place. It’s obvious that racism is alive and well, but people are still uncomfortable having conversations about it. Talking makes us aware, and what happened during the summer of 1919 in our hometown is worth the discussion.
Even though Black people moved from the segregated South to Chicago during the Great Migration, their problems weren’t over. According to NPR, racial tensions exploded. Eugene Williams, a 17-year-old young Black man, did what any of us would do on a hot summer day. He went to the beach to beat the heat. The 29th Street Beach to be exact. Sadly, the raft he was riding floated over the imaginary boundary that led to the “White” side of the lake. To try and make him leave, 24-year-old White beachgoer, George Stauber, threw rocks at Williams. He was hit in the head, knocked out and he fell into the water where he drowned. Soon after, White people from areas such as Bridgeport invaded neighborhoods, including many on the South Side, to terrorize Black people with lynchings, beatings, gun violence and the list goes on. Don’t get it wrong though, Black people stood together and fought back during this tough time.
The History channel website reported that Chicago’s White residents were unhappy that Black people were taking away things like jobs and housing from them. Black people were upset that they came back from being in World War I only to find out that their service to this country was unappreciated. When the riots were over, “15 white people and 23 Black people would be dead, over 500 people would be injured, and over 1,000 Black families would be homeless after their homes were burned down.”
According to NPR, none of the White participants in the riot ever faced consequences for their involvement.
I definitely didn’t learn about this in school. Did you?
By Marilyn Koonce, Northern Illinois University Alumna