Fight for Rights: The Chicago 1919 Riots and the Struggle for Black Justice

A Death at the Stockyards, July 31

Rain and troops notwithstanding, there had already been several reports of violence by the time Thompson issued his statement Thursday morning.

Early that morning, Oscar Nelson, a thirty-two-year-old white man, was attacked at May and Madison Streets by two Black individuals wielding knives. His wounds were not fatal.

Thursday was payday at the stockyards, so many of the Black men and women employed at the Yards needed to go to work. Some asked for police escorts to help them pick up their wages. The department refused to let them leave the Black Belt, even for a short time, arguing that to do so risked white violence.

Some, determined to be paid, headed to the Yards on their own, apparently reassured by flyers that had been posted throughout the Black Belt advising Black workers to return to their jobs at the Yards. It was never clear who was responsible for the handbills, which were signed by George W. Holt and Eugene Manne, two officers in the all-Black South Side Business Men’s Association. At least one article suggested that the flyers were put up at Mayor Thompson's behest.

To say the least, the flyers were unwise.

A white mob gathered on Exchange Avenue, just outside the Yards, and attacked thirty-five-year-old Richard Green, who suffered a fractured skull. A group of Black men were rescued by a National Guard troop that had to use bayonets to keep a mob of whites at bay, while whites chased and beat another group of Black workers heading in to the Yards near Forty-Third and Halsted Streets. The white mob beat three of the workers badly before a unit of the National Guard arrived at the scene. 

The National Guard troop wasn't able to save William Dozier. Around 7:00 am, shortly after he arrived at the Stockyards Gate, Dozier, who was Black, asked one of the supervisors what sort of protection the meat packers planned to give their Black workers. Several white men gathered in the area found his questions offensive. One took particular umbrage and swung at Dozier with a hammer, hitting him on the neck. Dozier ran, closely followed by whites throwing brooms, shovels, and rocks as they pursued him. One of the missiles hit Dozier; he fell into a sheep pen on Exchange Avenue. Several of the men in the mob caught up with him there and beat him to death.

Not long afterwards, Armour and Company announced it would mail workers their pay, and the other meat packing companies set up emergency pay stations in Black neighborhoods. It was a solution, of sorts, but as T. Arnold Hill of the Urban League quickly pointed out, it had to be temporary. “There are 25,000 colored men and women who want to work,” he observed, “but they are unable to get from the district where they live to where they work.” Hill demanded that Thompson ask the troops to provide immediate protection to the stockyards' Black workers.

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