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8.5: Chicago Race Riots

Created by: CK-12

The textbook excerpt below provides introductory information about the Chicago Race Riots of 1919. Read that and then the documents that follow, thinking about what the textbook leaves out. According to each document, what caused the riots?

American Vision Excerpt

Source: The 2006 edition of The American Vision, a high school textbook.

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.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this? When was it created? For what audience?
  2. Sourcing: How trustworthy do you find this document?
  3. Close Reading: According to this document, what caused the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?

From Slavery to Freedom - John Hope Franklin

Source: A work of history by John Hope Franklin called From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. This is from the Eighth Edition, published in 1987, but the book was first published in 1947. Franklin is a United States historian and past president of the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. More than three million copies of From Freedom to Slavery have been sold. In 1995, Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

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 an altercation at Lake Michigan beach. A young African American 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 went down and drowned, blacks declared that he had been murdered.... Distorted rumors circulated among blacks and whites concerning the incident and the subsequent events at the beach. Mobs sprang up in various parts of the city, and during the night there was sporadic fighting. In the next afternoon, white bystanders meddled with blacks as they went home from work. Some were pulled off streetcars and whipped.... On the South Side a group of young blacks stabbed an old Italian peddler to death, and a white laundry operator was also stabbed to death.... When authorities counted the casualties, the tally sheet gave the results of a miniature war. Thirty-eight people had been killed, including 15 whites and 23 blacks; of the 537 people injured, 178 were white and 342 were black. There is no record of the racial identity of the remaining 17. More than 1,000 families, mostly black, were homeless as a result of to the burnings and general destruction of property.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What kind of document is this? When was it created? For what audience?
  2. Sourcing: How trustworthy do you find this document?
  3. Close Reading: According to this document, what caused the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?
  4. Corroboration: Compare this historian’s account to the textbook account above. How are they the same? Where do they differ? Which one is more trustworthy?

The Causes of the Chicago Race Riot – Walter White

Source: From “The Causes of the Chicago Race Riot,” by Walter White, October 1919. This article was published in The Crisis, an African-American newspaper. The author was a leader of the NAACP, an organization devoted to protecting African-American rights.

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 of them lived in the area bounded by the railroad on the west, 30th Street on the north, 40th Street on the south and Ellis Avenue on east. 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. Although many Negroes had been living in “white” neighborhoods, the increased exodus from the old areas created an hysterical group of persons who formed “Property Owners' Associations” for the purpose of keeping intact white neighborhoods....

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, both cases being continued.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who wrote this document? When? For what audience?
  2. Close Reading: According to this document, what caused the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?

The Race Riots and their Remedies – W.S. Scarborough

Source: “Race Riots and Their Remedy” by W.S. Scarborough, from The Independent, an African-American newspaper. It is talking about black soldiers who served in World War One in Europe. More than 350,000 African Americans served in World War One, which ended in 1919.(Figure below).

Race Riots and Their Remedy

“Race Riots and Their Remedy”

The spirit of the negro who went across the seas—who was in action, and who went “over the top”—is by no means the spirit of the negro before the war. He is altogether a new man, with new ideas, new hopes, new aspirations and new desires. He will not quietly submit to former conditions without a vigorous protest, and we should not ask him to do so. It is a new negro that we have with us now....

This act [of making negroes into soldiers] transformed these men into new creatures—citizens of another type.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who wrote this document? When? For what audience?
  2. Close Reading: According to this document, what caused the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?

Packers’ Force Cut by 15,000 – Chicago Tribune

Source: Article from the Chicago Tribune, the main newspaper in Chicago, April 12, 1919. Many people in Chicago worked at meat-packing factories, where they prepared meat to be shipped around the country. These factories were also called “stockyards.”

PACKERS’ FORCE CUT BY 15,000; NO COLOR LINE

Report of Discrimination Brings Tribute To Negroes.

Outsiders who contemplate dropping in on Chicago to take a “job at the yards” will not find the “welcome” sign out awaiting them.

It became known yesterday that since the signing of the armistice the force of workers in Packingtown has dropped by nearly 15,000. This is due both to a big drop in war orders and also that the meat packing business is “seasonable” and an “off season” is now at hand.

Further augmenting the dropping of new help and women employés who took up labors during the war period is the promise of the packing concerns to return every employé who enlisted in the armed forces to “as good or better” a job than he held when he donned the uniform. 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,” an official of one of the packing companies said, in discussing reports that southern colored men, put to work during the war shortage of help, were being discharged. “It is a case of the survival of the fittest, the best man staying on the job. It is a fact that the southern Negro cannot compete with the northerner.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who wrote this document? When? For what audience?
  2. Close Reading: According to this document, what caused the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?

Section Question:

  1. Considering all of the documents provided, what caused the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?

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