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

Miscarriage of Justice

When two white men accused of bombing Black homes in Chicago were found guilty in 1921, the Chicago Defender tied those convictions to verdicts in favor of Black individuals who sued the city for damages caused by the city’s 1919 race riots. Those legal events, the paper claimed, demonstrated that Chicago's courts treated the city's Black citizens fairly (though the paper also noted those verdicts demonstrated just how little the police had done to protect Black people in the city during the riots).

The Defender was too kind. The police failed Black Chicagoans during the 1919 race riots, and the prosecutor and the courts failed them in the months that followed.

Unfortunately, the full extent of those failures are hidden from view, because few records of the various riot trials remain. But we do have the trial transcript and appeal record from one riot trial involving Black defendants. And those records paint an ugly picture of perjured testimony, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and judges who stood by and did nothing. 

This is the story of that case.

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