During Chicago's 1919 Race Riots, African American veterans defended their communities from attacks by whites, while the state militia eventually quelled violence. Chicago Tribune Archives/TNS.

Chicago’s 1919 race riots barely registered in the city’s current consciousness, yet they proved a significant turning point in shaping the racial divides we see today. In 2019, the Newberry Library and 13 partners organized Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots, a year-long initiative engaging in public conversations about the legacy of the most violent week in Chicago history.

Chicago 1919 was guided by the belief that the 1919 race riots can serve as a lens for understanding Chicago today. Racial tensions related to policing, migration, and housing all came to a head in 1919. By reflecting on the past 100 years, Chicagoans may see how our current racial divisions evolved from the race riots, as the marginalization of African Americans in Chicago became institutionalized through increasingly sophisticated forms of discrimination.

Throughout the year, people across Chicago came together to share in our collective reckoning with a little-known yet tremendously consequential chapter in the city’s history.

At the heart of Chicago 1919 were 11 dynamic public programs designed to engage audiences and encourage them to examine the mechanisms through which segregation and inequality have been created, solidified, and reinforced over the past 100 years. Each program focused on a specific expression of institutionalized racism, from policing and education to housing and the media. Chicago 1919 events addressed difficult history and brought Chicagoans together in recognition and reconciliation, to imagine possible ways forward.

Highlighted Digital Resource

Mapping the 1919 Chicago Riot

From July 27th to August 3rd, 1919, thousands of black and white Chicagoans fought each other in the streets, resulting in 38 deaths (23 African American and 15 white) and over 500 injuries (two-thirds of them African American). This interactive map shows how the riot was concentrated on the periphery of African American neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side, as the city’s residential “color line” was both defended and created through inter-racial violence.

View Mapping the 1919 Chicago Riot

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Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Youth Engagement Sponsor:

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Edith Rasmussen Ahern and Patrick Ahern

Chicago 1919 is being coordinated by the Newberry Library in partnership with:

black chicago history forum logoBlack Metropolis Research Consortium logoBlackstone Bicycle Works logoChicago Architectural Club logoChicago Collections Consortium logoChicago History Museum logoChicago Public Library logoChicago Urban League logoCity Bureau logoKartemquin Films logoMiddle Passage Productions logoYoung Chicago Authors logo

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