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

Tuesday Evening, July 29

Chicago's newspapers, police, and City Council incited anti-Black violence by peddling stories of well-armed Black people invading white neighborhoods. Meanwhile, many Black individuals who were able armed themselves to defend their neighbors and families.

Harry Haywood, a Black veteran who at the time was working as a waiter on the Michigan Central Train, recalled returning home to Chicago during the riot and rushing to the Eighth Regiment’s armory to talk to other veterans about how to protect their families, neighbors, and friends.

“One of the guys from the regiment took us to the apartment of a friend,” he recalled in his autobiography. “It had a good position overlooking Fifty-First Street near State. Someone had brought a Browning submachine gun; he’d gotten it sometime before, most likely from the Regimental Armory. We didn’t ask where it had come from, or the origin of the 1903 Springfield rifles (Army issue) that appeared.”

Haywood and his friends set up watch at a window, waiting for invasions of whites. No white mobs passed by their outpost that night, so Haywood and his companions returned to their homes the next morning. But Haywood recalled hearing about other Black veterans who set up similar posts and did shoot at the whites who drove by, shooting pistols out of their car windows.

While Black residents like Haywood patrolled the streets, sat at windows, or watched from rooftops with a gun in hand, Chicago's police proved ineffective in keeping white marauders out of Black neighborhoods.

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