Robert Abbott

Episode 29 – The 1919 Race Riots

All too often history repeats itself — with tragic results. During the last 100-years, the killing of one person becomes symbolic and spawns a larger tragedy. Irregularly bubbling to the surface these crises rise from elemental rents and systemic failures in the fabric of society. We call to mind the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020 and beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles on March 3rd, 1991 and so on cascading back to the stoning and subsequent drowning of Eugene Williams on July 27th, 1919 off Chicago’s 29th Street Beach.

The violence inflicted on these three men (and countless others) focused outrage to rally outcries, spark civil unrest and riots lasting multiple days. The conditions fanning the flames did not occur in a vacuum nor isolation, but built over time, due to compounding slights, inequality, and oppression. Although intermittent riots sprang up in different eras and regions of the country, the basic facts were the same; Black men were killed or beaten by white policemen or in Eugene Williams’ case, stones thrown and the palpable anger of whites against Blacks caused the drowning of the 17 year-old.

In the aftermath of these deaths and days of violence people asked, “Why did this happen?”

In Windy City Historians podcast Episode 29 – “The Chicago Race Riots of 1919” we explore the conditions of that hot, “Red Summer”, where Chicago, (and other cities) wrestled with the chaos of civil unrest. Through interviews with Claire Hartfield, the author of “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919”, as well as commentary from Professor Charles Branham, Ph.D. we walk through the riot’s lasting legacy on Chicago, it’s Black community, and the many questions raised by an oppressive summer a century ago. Questions that are still being raised today, more than a century later.

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Episode 27 – The Great Migration

In American history, we were taught that pioneers and homesteaders moved from east to west settling the continent in the greater pursuit of “Manifest Destiny” — killing and obfuscating the First Nations peoples’ way of life.  However, another American pattern often overlooked is the migration from south to the north.  Starting less than a century after a Black man of Haitian decent named Jean Baptiste Point DeSable became Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler; African Americans in large numbers began leaving southern States and moving to the north, which historians now call “The Great Migration”. 

Their motives were that of people everywhere seeking jobs, opportunity, and a better life. Northern States offered jobs and a relief from the weight of Jim Crow. For many Chicago had became a beacon of hope as Black-owned newspapers and in particular the “Chicago Defender”, distributed by Pullman Porters, gave hope to generations of former slaves, farmers, and sharecroppers. 

Beginning as early as the 1880s and then from approximately 1910 to the 1970, rural southern Blacks by the thousands made their way north throughout these decades. And, just as the journey changed them, their music, culture, and customs changed Chicago. 

Northern cities, and Chicago in particular, were not always welcoming, as decent  housing was scarce as restrictive covenants and red-lining forced African Americans to live in “The Black Belt”. This tightly constrained strip of blocks on the city’s south side, initially between 22nd and 31st Streets, later extending south to 39th and eventually to 95th Street and roughly sandwiched between the railroad tracks of the Rock Island on the west and Illinois Central to the east.  But even with forced segregation, many black businesses thrived, and a sense of place was established creating Bronzeville and its famous “Stroll”.

Join the Windy City Historians as we delve into the Great Migration with Dr. Charles Brahnam, author and professor, and the perfect guide to take us on a journey into the Great Migration. A trip populated by famous brave and fearless black Chicagoans such as Ida B. Wells, Oscar DePriest, and Robert S. Abbott and into a better understand of this massive cultural shift for the nation and Chicago in particular.

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