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

"Pent-Up Feelings of Race Hatred”

That afternoon, at a meeting with reporters, Edward Brundage, the Republican attorney general, and Maclay Hoyne, the Democratic state’s attorney, agreed that Black people were to blame for the riots.

Brundage explained that the rioting had been instigated by “a secret order of negroes” who had been waiting for the moment when they could unleash “the pent-up feelings of race hatred” festering in the city because Black residents were trying to move into white neighborhoods.

Whites, he added, “of course, resented” this move, and their resentment was fanned by white politicians who pandered to Black individuals by encouraging “their ideas of race equality.” The result, Brundage warned, was dire: “I have been told that there exists among the negroes an order which has sworn to get three white men for every negro who is killed.”

Pressed for solutions, Brundage lamented that finding a long-term cure was difficult. “The negroes,” he noted “are loath to agree to segregation because that is in direct opposition to their beliefs of race equality.” He added that he did not think that calling in the militia was the answer to racial violence, because the race riot in East St. Louis had demonstrated that as soon as the militia was withdrawn racial violence returned. Instead of bringing in the national guard, he supported the idea of having one thousand extra policemen added to the force and assigned to patrol the riot area.

Brundage's repeated references to the Black community's “idea of race equality” or “beliefs of race equality” reduced a constitutional principle to an opinion: Black people in Chicago might think they were citizens who were entitled to equal treatment under law, but that was merely their point of view. And it was a point of view which, as Brundage’s comments asserted, had prompted the riot and was helping to prolong it.

While Brundage hid his polite racism behind constitutional misstatements, Hoyne, a Democrat who had lost to Thompson in the most recent mayoral election, was aggressive in his racism.

“I am convinced,” he declared, “that these riots are the results of a plan carefully laid by a certain vicious negro element which have been encouraged by a group of city hall politicians, both white and colored.” Hoyne claimed the plotters intended to cause problems July 4, but after failing for some unknown reason, they waited until a suitable moment to put their terrible plan into effect.

Hoyne advised the press that his observations of the Black Belt led him to believe that “the victims of the riots chiefly are innocent bystanders and that the fights were provoked by the colored people rather than the whites.” To prove his point, he noted that on Tuesday, when he saw Black individuals at the North Side Criminal Courts, they had not been attacked by any whites. That ignored the fact that the Black people at the criminal courts were there because they had been arrested and were in police custody.

Asked what he thought the response to the riots should be, Hoyne had no doubt. “Call out the troops and place Chicago under martial law!” he exclaimed. Soldiers, armed with bayonets and machine guns, would stop the rioters. “And if that won’t do the trick, have the troops quell the rioting by main force and order them to shoot down everybody who fails to obey their orders.”

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