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

The Troops

Finally, Mayor Thompson had enough. He asked Governor Lowden to order the National Guard to come to the aid of Chicago’s police.

The order was given and the troops marched out of the city's armories and into Chicago's streets a little after 9:00 p.m. Some of the troops deployed in Chicago were members of the home guard, units created to protect the home front during the war. Others were from National Guard units that had not been sent overseas during the war. Some were from Chicago; most were from other parts of the state. Most were office workers or small business owners. All were white. The New York Times reported (falsely) that as the troops began to march through the streets, Black individuals shot at them.

The National Guardsmen from seven different units were assigned to assist the police, not replace them. In contrast to Sheriff Peters' “shoot to kill” order, the guards’ orders directed them to: “Use butts and bayonets—fire as a last resort. Try to placate the crowd, but stand firm on enforcing orders.” And they were specifically reminded to

draw no color line. A white rioter is just as dangerous as a negro rioter, and must be handled with the same brand of firmness.

By day’s end, at least twenty Blacks and twenty whites had been injured, as had two people of unknown race. Five more men were dead: three Black and two white.

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