Rare pictures of the Chicago Race Riots, 1919

In 1919, Chicago was in the grip of severe heat. Thousands of people flocked to the beaches along 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 squares between 29th St. A white beach-goer, humiliated, started throwing stones at the black children. Eugene Williams slips from his raft and drowns.

The murder and subsequent refusal by police to arrest the man initially responsible ignited a race riot that would go down in history as one of the nation's bloodiest and least known.

When the riot ended on August 3, 23 African-Americans along with 15 whites were killed and more than 500 were injured. More than 1,000 black families lost their homes after rioters set them on fire.

In early 1919, the socio-political environment in and around Chicago's rapidly growing black community was one of ethnic tensions caused by competition between new groups, the economic downturn, and social changes resulting from World War I.

With the Great Migration, thousands of African Americans from the American South settled next to neighborhoods of European immigrants on Chicago's South Side, near stockyards, meatpacking plants, and jobs in industry. Meanwhile, the Irish were already established, and fiercely defended their territory and political power against all newcomers.

Post-World War I tensions led to intra-community conflicts, particularly in the competitive labor and housing markets. The increase in African American resistance against overcrowding and racism, especially by war veterans, contributed to visible racial friction. In addition, a combination of ethnic gangs and police neglect made racial relations strained.

An interracial official city commission was convened to investigate the cause 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 reduce racial discord in America. Governor Lowden took several actions at Thompson's request to suppress the riots and promote greater harmony in the aftermath.

Parts of Chicago's economy were shut down for several days during and after the riots as plants were closed to avoid talks between discordant groups.

Mayor Thompson drew on his association with this riot to influence subsequent political elections. Nevertheless, one of the more lasting effects may be decisions in both white and black communities to seek greater isolation from each other.

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