Chicago Race Riot of 1919
After World War I ended in November 1918, thousands of American servicemen, black and white, returned home from Europe and looked for jobs, as many of them had held prior to the war, in the factories, mills, and warehouses of the nation's major industrial cities. White soldiers often sought to reclaim jobs they had held before going to war. Black soldiers, by contrast, expected their status as war veterans to qualify them for jobs they had previously been denied on the basis of race. As the postwar economy contracted, however, the total number of job openings declined. In many cities, whites and blacks found themselves, unhappily, competing for the same jobs. Racial tensions steadily escalated until, in the summer of 1919, race riots erupted in no less than twenty American cities. The largest and most violent of these riots occurred in Chicago.
The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 was a major racial conflict that began in Chicago, Illinois on July 27, 1919 and ended on August 3. During the riot, dozens died and hundreds were injured. It is considered the worst of the approximately 25 riots during the Red Summer of 1919, so named because of the violence and fatalities across the nation. The combination of prolonged arson, looting and murder was the worst race rioting in the history of Illinois.
The sociopolitical atmosphere of Chicago was one of ethnic tension caused by competition among many new groups. With the Great Migration, thousands of African Americans from the South had settled next to neighborhoods of European immigrants on Chicago's South Side, near jobs in the stockyards and meatpacking plants. The ethnic Irish had been established first, and fiercely defended their territory and political power against all newcomers. Post World War I tensions caused frictions between the races, especially in the competitive labor and housing markets. Overcrowding and increased African American militancy by veterans contributed to the visible racial frictions. Also, ethnic gangs and police neglect strained the racial relationships. According to official reports, the turmoil came to a boil after a young African American was struck by a rock and died at an informally segregated beach. Tensions between groups arose in a melee that blew up into days of unrest.
William Hale Thompson was the Mayor of Chicago during the riot. Although future mayor Richard J. Daley never officially acknowledged being part of the violence, at age 17 he was an active member of the ethnic Irish Hamburg Athletic Club, which a post-riot investigation named instigators in attacks on blacks. In the following decades, Daley continued to rise in politics to become mayor for twenty years, during which he exercised surpassing political power.
United States President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress attempted to promote legislation and organizations to decrease racial discord in America. Illinois Governor Frank 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, as plants were closed to avoid interaction among warring groups. Thompson drew on his associations with this riot to influence later political elections.