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Chicago in Cook County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

Eugene Williams Memorial

Dedicated to All the Victims of the Race Riot That Began Near This Place

 
 
Eugene Williams Memorial Tablet image. Click for full size.
By Phyllis Prats, April 23, 2015
1. Eugene Williams Memorial Tablet
Inscription.  “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King

Sunday, July 27, 1919, a group of boys rafting on Lake Michigan drifted over an invisible racial barrier. Rocks were thrown from the breakwater and Eugene Williams was struck. His drowning sparked a week long race riot that resulted in scores of deaths and injuries.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King.
 
Erected 2009 by the students from York High School, Elmhurst, Illinois, and Chicago Park District.
 
Topics. This historical marker memorial is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansDisasters.
 
Location. 41° 50.55′ N, 87° 36.535′ W. Marker is in Chicago, Illinois, in Cook County. Marker is on Fort Dearborn Drive just north of East 31st Street, on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1125 Fort Dearborn Dr, Chicago IL 60616, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance
Eugene Williams Memorial image. Click for full size.
By Phyllis Prats, April 23, 2015
2. Eugene Williams Memorial
of this marker. Douglas Plaza (approx. 0.7 miles away); Camp Douglas (approx. 0.7 miles away); Stephen A. Douglas Memorial (approx. ¾ mile away); Stephen A. Douglas (approx. ¾ mile away); Stephen Arnold Douglas (approx. ¾ mile away); The Platt Luggage Building (approx. 0.9 miles away); American Book Company Building (approx. 0.9 miles away); Victory, World War I Black Soldiers’ Memorial (approx. 0.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Chicago.
 
Also see . . .
1. The Murder of Eugene Williams and a Racial Reckoning. 2020 article by Claire Barrett on HistoryNet.com. Excerpt:
In July of that year, thousands of Chicagoans, amid the throes of a heatwave, thronged along the beaches of Lake Michigan. 29th Street beach was designated for whites and the 25th Street beach for blacks. This boundary even extended into the waters of Lake Michigan. On Sunday, July 27, Eugene Williams, a 17-year-old black youth, accidentally drifted into an area of water that was deemed to be for “whites only.”

One white beachgoer, indignant, began hurling rocks at Williams, causing the teen to drown. The pervading rumor was that Williams was struck in the head by one of the stones and drowned. Although in the autopsy, Williams’ body showed no bruises. The official coroner’s report cited that Williams drowned because the stone throwing kept him from coming to shore.
Chicago Race Riot - Beginning of the Riot image. Click for full size.
Chicago History Museum ICHi-030315, Public Domain, July 27, 1919
3. Chicago Race Riot - Beginning of the Riot
Whites and Negroes leaving Twenty-Ninth Beach after the drowning of Eugene Williams.


On the beach, “guilt was immediately placed upon a certain white man by several Negro witnesses who demanded that he be arrested by a white policeman who was on the spot,” the study wrote. “No arrest was made.”

Tensions on the beach escalated and a skirmish ensued when the officer arrested a black man instead. “The riot was under way,” the study noted. Williams’ death was the spark that touched off nearly a week of active, violent protests. But it was just the spark. Deeply rooted factors and injustices within the city kindled the flame.
(Submitted on February 8, 2021.) 

2. Red Summer In Chicago: 100 Years After The Race Riots. 2019 article by Karen Grisby Bates and Jason Fuller at NPR.org. Excerpt:
Her uncle was armed “with the biggest gun I had ever seen,” [Juanita] Mitchell [age 107] recalls. He was prepared to protect his family. So were many of the returning black veterans. A group of National Guard reserve men who’d returned from France after fighting valiantly there, broke into an armory and grabbed guns and other weapons, determined to protect black lives and property.

That resistance was a watershed, says Timuel Black Jr. “I understand that this was the first time these Northern Negroes fought back from an attack and been successful.”

So successful, in fact, that the riot soon wound down.

“From
Eugene Williams Memorial image. Click for full size.
Juan Fujita, via Chicago History Museum, July 1919
4. Eugene Williams Memorial
what I’ve been told by my family who was here, the riot was soon over, because the Westside rioters felt they were in danger, now that these Negroes returning from the war had weapons equal to their weapons.”

When the smoke cleared and the ashes cooled, 38 people—23 black, 15 white—were dead. More than 350 people reported injuries.
(Submitted on February 8, 2021.) 
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on February 8, 2021. It was originally submitted on February 8, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 33 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on February 8, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.
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Mar. 5, 2021