The Long History Of Race Riots In The United States Pt. 1

The purpose of this series is to inform readers about a few of the many race riots that took place in the United States. The following riots have been selected for this post: Chicago 1919, Springfield 1908, East St. Louis 1917, Detroit 1942 & 1943.

Chicago 1919:

The Chicago race riot began on July 27th, 1919 after a 17yr old boy named Eugene Williams drowned near the 26th St lake Michigan beach. Eugene was with a group of friends at the beach and they drifted onto the “whites only” side. During 1919 Chicago had 82 playgrounds but only 14 of them were in Black neighborhoods. Out of the 8 public beaches in the area only 3 of them were in black neighborhoods however black people was expected to stay at 1 beach (26th St beach). Shortly after the kids crossed the imaginary whites only line a white man threw rocks at them and one of the rocks struck Eugene in the head causing him to drown. Police refused to arrest the man responsible for Eugene’s death and this would cause tension between black and white residents. In result black people were attacked in/near white areas including the individuals going to/from work. White gangs also went to black neighborhoods looking for black people to harm. This would last until 6,000 National Guard troops arrived to the city on August 3rd to keep peace between white and black people. The race riot would be the cause of $2M in property damage ($33.2M today), 38 deaths (23 black people, 15 white people) + 537 injuries (2/3 of the victims black people), 1,000+ residents (mostly black people) losing their homes after terrible vandalism and arson. Some families left everything and fled the city by train just to get out of harms way. Info, pictures and documents on the Detroit race riot of 1919 can be accessed here. The identities of victims, exact location of injuries, fires and pictures on the interactive map shown below can be accessed here.

Screenshot of interactive map.

Springfield 1908:

The Springfield race riot began on August 14, 1908 after 2 black men were accused of crimes. George Richardson was accused of raping a white woman and Joe James was accused of murdering a white man. The 2 men drew a large crowd outside of the jail they were held in. A mob of around 5,000 angry white men demanded the realease of George and Joe because they wanted to take matters into their own hands. The police officers present sensed the growing danger of the situation and snuck the 2 men out of the prison with help from a nearby business owner named Harry Loper. George and Joe were placed on a train heading to another jail in Bloomington, IL. Violence erupted shortly after the mob caught wind of the swift move. The first place of chaos was a restaurant owned by Harry Loper. Vehicles at the restaurant were set on fire and the business was vandalized. After destroying Harry’s restaurant the angry mob headed for black neighborhoods and destroyed everything they set eyes on. They also looted every black owned business in the area. The mob would eventually kidnap then lynch 2 black men named Scott Burton and William Donegan. Afterwards they headed towards another black neighborhood in the area called the Badlands. By the end of the day most of the black families left the city but that didn’t stop the violence. The riot continued for a few days until the National Guard was brought in to keep the peace. George Richardson was released because his accuser Mabel Hallam recanted her accusations and Joe James would eventually be convicted then hung for the murder of Clergy Ballard. A few dozen white people were arrested for rioting but the all white juries that would determine their future refused to convict the rioters. In result only 1 rioter would be punished and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The race riot would be the cause of $150,000 in property damage ($4M today), 12 deaths (8 black people, 4 white people) + 70 injuries, 2,000+ residents (mostly black people) fleeing or losing their homes after terrible vandalism and arson.

Site of 1908 Springfield, Ill., race riot added to the African American  Civil Rights Network | Illinois |
Newspaper from August 15, 1908

East St. Louis 1917:

The Springfield race riot(s) began on May 28th, 1917 when tensions grew between white and black people due to black people arriving to St. Louis at a rate of 2,000+/per week. In February of 1917 around 450 black workers were hired to replace the white workers that went on strike against the Aluminum Ore Company. Around 3,000 angry white men submitted complaints against black migration to the mayor of East St. Louis. That same day residents were informed about an attempted robbery of a white man. This trigged the angry mob to storm through the downtown streets and brutally beat every black person they could find. After Governor Frank Lowden found out about this he called in the National Guard and they were able to stop the violence. On July 2nd, 1917 more violence would erupt after a rumor that a white man was killed by a black man went around town. In result black men, women, and children were beaten and shot to death. Black owned businesses + homes were set on fire causing the people inside to run out and face a shower of bullets. In some parts of the city black people were lynched until the National Guard was called in again by Governor Frank Lowden. A year after the riot a committee formed by the United States Housr of Representatives launched a special investigation into the police actions during the 1917 East St. Louis Riot(s). Investigators learned that the National Guard and the East St. Louis police force failed to act adequately during the riot(s). Reports revealed that officers fled the scene of murder and arson numerous times. Some officers even ignored calls. Only a few officers were indicted for their wrongdoings that day. The race riot would be the cause of $625,000 in property damage ($14M today), 209 deaths (200 black people, 9 white people), 6,000+ residents (mostly black people) fleeing the city or losing their homes after terrible vandalism and arson. Link to newspaper from the St. Louis Argus shown below can be accessed here.

The July 6 edition of the St. Louis Argus, a black weekly, denouncing the violence of the riots. - PHOTO VIA ARCHIVE.ORG
Newspaper from July 6, 1917
Newspaper from July 3, 1917

Detroit 1942 & 1943:

The Sojourner Truth (Detroit) race riot(s) began on February 28th, 1942 when the first set of black families moved into northeast Detroit. The Detroit Housing Commission (DHC) and the United States Housing Authority (USHA) built a 200 unit apartment building for black people in the area and white residents didn’t like it at all. This caused thousands of black and white people to flood the streets. The Sojourner Truth race riot would be the cause of 40 injuries and 220 arrests (217 black people, 3 white people). On June 20th, 1943 around 100,000 Detroit black and white residents fought at Belle Isle park. Police was able to stop the violence but tensions were still rising. Later that night rumors went around town like white men throwing a black woman + her baby off the Belle Isle Bridge and a black man raping a white woman near the Belle Isle Bridge but neither rumors were confirmed. The next day mobs of black people looted white businesses and attacked white individuals on Hastings Street and Woodward Avenue. Shortly after mobs of white men gathered near the Roxy Theatre on Woodward Avenue and attacked black people as they were exiting city buses on their way to work. The violence continued until Detroit’s Mayor Edward Jeffries Jr. asked President Franklin Roosevelt to send in 6,000 federal troops. The troops arrived armed with assault rifles in tanks expeditiously. A fact-finding committee formed by Governor Harry F. Kelly released a report titled Factual Report of the Committee to Investigate the Riot Occurring In Detroit on June 21, 1943 and the report highlighted the social inequities that contributed to the riot. This race riot would be the cause of $2M in property damage ($33.2M today), 34 deaths (25 black people, 9 white people) and 675 injuries. 17/25 black people that died that day were killed by the police.

Chart, Bureau of Labor Statistics, white employee work stoppages in Detroit, 1943
A Bureau of Labor Statistics chart from 1943

Fact Check:

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