July 31st, 1919

White Mobs Set Over 30 Fires in Chicago’s Black Communities

Before noon on July 31, 1919, angry white mobs had started more than thirty fires in the African American residential area of Chicago. Far from an isolated incident, these instances of arson were part of an extended barrage of violence perpetrated against Chicago’s black community in the summer of 1919 – a season that came to be known as “Red Summer” for the extensive racial violence that erupted in major cities throughout the country during that season. The five days of riots and attacks that upended Chicago are widely considered the worst of the Red Summer race riots.

The Chicago Riots began on July 27, 1919, after Eugene Williams, an African American teenager, drowned in Lake Michigan after being struck in the head by a rock thrown by a white man angry that Williams and friends had drifted into the “white side” of the beach. Responding police refused to arrest the white man who was identified as having thrown the rock, and instead arrested a black man at the scene. When black onlookers complained they were met with violence, and widespread rioting between African American and white Chicagoans soon spread throughout the city’s black residential areas.

When the riots ended on August 3rd, after intervention by the state militia, five days of gunfire, beatings, and burnings had left 15 whites and 23 African Americans killed, 537 people injured, and 1000 African American families homeless.