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

Thursday, August 7

In light of the troubles Wednesday, it was surprising that the meatpackers announced that night that they would permit roughly three thousand Black men and women to return to the Yards under armed guard Thursday morning. 

Police were posted on routes to the Yards and at the stockyard gates by 5:00 a.m. that morning, while thirty-five mounted police rode up and down Halsted Street on their horses and companies of the Illinois National Guard patrolled the streets around the Yards. 

It did not help. No sooner had the Black workers walked through the stockyard gates Thursday morning, than nearly five thousand white workers walked off the job. The SLC claimed the white workers objected to the armed guards inside the stockyards and to working with Black workers who were not union members, but the meat packers, as reported in the mainstream press, insisted the whites walked off to protest the return of the Black workers as much as the presence of the armed guards. There were also reports that white workers objected to being searched by military officers when they came into the Yards, and that the white workers claimed that Black workers were allowed to enter without being searched.

There were so many conflicting stories, it was hard to know what was happening. While the Chicago Daily News reported that there were over one thousand police officers inside the stockyards, Joseph Burns, a representative of Swift & Co., denied that there were any armed troops in the various work areas. When John Kikulski of the CFL insisted that his men were complaining that they were having to work “with a Boy Scout and a bayonet right behind them,” John O'Hearn, from Armour & Co., said that the armed men on duty in the Yards were there because the police insisted on putting them there.

But the police department said their men were inside the Yards because the packers had asked them to be present.

That evening, the members of the SLC voted to walk off the job to protest the presence of armed guards and nonunion Black employees. Once again, the meat packers insisted that the white workers walked out because the Black workers had returned.

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