A member of the state militia faces off against an African-American veteran during the 1919 Chicago Race Riot. July 27, 1919.

A member of the state militia faces off against an African-American veteran during the 1919 Chicago Race Riot. July 27, 1919.

In 1919 Chicago was in the throes of an exhausting heat wave. Thousands flocked to the beaches lining Lake Michigan for some relief. Among them: a group of black boys that included 17-year-old Eugene Williams. Eugene, who was on a raft, inadvertently drifted over the invisible line that separated the black and white sections of the 29th St Beach. One white beachgoer, insulted, began throwing rocks at the black kids. Eugene Williams slipped off his raft and drowned.

The murder, and the subsequent refusal by the police to arrest the the person initially responsible ignited a race riot that would go down in history as one of the country’s bloodiest, and least-known, to date. When the riot ended on August 3, 23 African-Americans had died along with 15 whites and more than 500 injured. Over 1,000 black families lost their homes after being set alight by the rioters.

In early 1919, the sociopolitical atmosphere of Chicago around and near its rapidly growing black community was one of ethnic tension caused by competition among new groups, an economic slump, and the social changes engendered by World War I. With the Great Migration, thousands of African Americans from the American South had settled next to neighborhoods of European immigrants on Chicago’s South Side, near jobs in the stockyards, meatpacking plants, and industry. Meanwhile, the Irish had been established earlier, and fiercely defended their territory and political power against all newcomers.

Post-World War I tensions caused inter-community frictions, especially in the competitive labor and housing markets. Overcrowding and increased African American resistance against racism, especially by war veterans contributed to the visible racial frictions. Also, a combination of ethnic gangs and police neglect strained the racial relationships.

An interracial official city commission was convened to investigate causes, and issued a report that urged an end to prejudice and discrimination. United States President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress attempted to promote legislation and organizations to decrease racial discord in America. Governor Lowden took several actions at Thompson’s request to quell the riot and promote greater harmony in its aftermath.

Sections of the Chicago economy were shut down for several days during and after the riots, since plants were closed to avoid interaction among bickering groups. Mayor Thompson drew on his association with this riot to influence later political elections. Even so, one of the more lasting effects may have been decisions in both white and black communities to seek greater separation from each other

Vandalized first floor of a house.

Vandalized first floor of a house.

Troops gather at 47th Street and Wentworth Avenue during the Chicago race riots in 1919.

Troops gather at 47th Street and Wentworth Avenue during the Chicago race riots in 1919.

Over the week, injuries attributed to the episodic confrontations stood at 537, with two-thirds of the injured being black and one-third white, while the approximately 1,000 to 2,000 who lost their homes were mostly black.

Over the week, injuries attributed to the episodic confrontations stood at 537, with two-thirds of the injured being black and one-third white, while the approximately 1,000 to 2,000 who lost their homes were mostly black.

The state run militia patrols the streets of Chicago during the race riot of 1919. Photo dated Aug. 1, 1919.

The state run militia patrols the streets of Chicago during the race riot of 1919. Photo dated Aug. 1, 1919.

It is considered the worst of the nearly 25 riots in the United States during the

It is considered the worst of the nearly 25 riots in the United States during the “Red Summer” of 1919, so named because of the racial and labor related violence and fatalities across the nation.

Police removes the body of a black man killed during the 1919 Chicago Race Riots.

Police removes the body of a black man killed during the 1919 Chicago Race Riots.

People moving out from their house, accompanied by policemen.

People moving out from their house, accompanied by policemen.

Mob chasing victims during the race riots.

Mob chasing victims during the race riots.

Kids cheering in front of a burning house.

Kids cheering in front of a burning house.

Illinois National Guard soldiers.

Illinois National Guard soldiers.

Policemen showing their capabilities.

Policemen showing their capabilities.

Five policemen and one soldier with rifle.

Five policemen and one soldier with rifle.

The combination of prolonged arson, looting, and murder made it one of the worst race riots in the history of Illinois.

The combination of prolonged arson, looting, and murder made it one of the worst race riots in the history of Illinois.

During World War One, essentially being fought on the other side of the Atlantic, there had begun a great migration of African Americas from the rural south to the cities of the North.

During World War One, essentially being fought on the other side of the Atlantic, there had begun a great migration of African Americas from the rural south to the cities of the North.

When the war came to an end thousands of servicemen, back and white, found their jobs had been taken by Southern blacks and other immigrants.

When the war came to an end thousands of servicemen, back and white, found their jobs had been taken by Southern blacks and other immigrants.

Chicago race riot of 1919.

Chicago race riot of 1919.

Chicago Daily Tribune

Chicago Daily Tribune

Black residents of the south side move their belongings with a hand-pulled truck to a safety zone under police protection during the Chicago race riots of 1919.

Black residents of the south side move their belongings with a hand-pulled truck to a safety zone under police protection during the Chicago race riots of 1919.

A group of white men and boys examine the destroyed homes of black Chicago residents after the city’s 1919 riot.

A group of white men and boys examine the destroyed homes of black Chicago residents after the city’s 1919 riot.

A soldier tells a man to back up during the race riots in Chicago in 1919. The soldiers were in place to keep white people in their own districts.

A soldier tells a man to back up during the race riots in Chicago in 1919. The soldiers were in place to keep white people in their own districts.

A police officer stands in front of Burke’s Lunch Room in the heart of Chicago’s business district July 30, 1919.

A police officer stands in front of Burke’s Lunch Room in the heart of Chicago’s business district July 30, 1919.

A man armed with a machine gun sits at the Cook County Jail during the 1919 Chicago race riots.

A man armed with a machine gun sits at the Cook County Jail during the 1919 Chicago race riots.

A firefighter looks over a burned out building during the Chicago race riots of 1919.

A firefighter looks over a burned out building during the Chicago race riots of 1919.

A black resident of the south side moves his belongings to a safety zone under police protection during the Chicago race riots of 1919

A black resident of the south side moves his belongings to a safety zone under police protection during the Chicago race riots of 1919

(Photo credit: Library of Congress).