How the media covered major race riots 96 years ago

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On July 27, 1919, Eugene Williams, an African-American teen, was swimming in Lake Michigan at 25th Street beach in Chicago. He inadvertently drifted towards a de facto border at 29th Street that separated the "black" beach from the "white" beach. In response, a white man began throwing rocks at Williams, ultimately hitting him and leading to Williams drowning. Fights broke out on the beach and consumed large swaths of the city in a horrendous race riot that kicked off what historians now dub "Red Summer" due to the number of race riots that occurred that summer between whites and blacks.

After five days, the riot in Chicago ended, leaving 38 dead (23 of them African-American), over 500 injured (about 60% of them African-American), and over 1,000 African-American families homeless because of arson.

The media coverage at the time varied between the major metro papers and the black papers but looking at these papers now it's very clear that not all that much has changed in the past 96 years.

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1. The Chicago Defender (weekly African-American newspaper)

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"Monday morning found the thoroughfares in the white neighborhoods throated with a sea of humans—everywhere—some armed with guns, bricks, clubs and an oath. The presence of a black face in their vicinity was a signal for a carnival of death, and before any aid could reach the poor, unfortunate one his body reposed in some kindly gutter, his brains spilled over a dirty pavement.

—-

All the time this was happening, several policemen were in the crowd, but did not make any attempt to make rescue until too late."

Full text of "Ghastly Deeds.." here.

2. The New York World

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"Clash Begins When Colored Boy Invades White District"

3. Chicago Tribune (cartoon)

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4. Chicago Daily News (cartoon)

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5. The Broad Ax (African-American weekly)

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6. The Morning Lender (Regina, Saskatchewan)

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7. Chicago Tribune (map of riot-affected neighborhoods)

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As the fighting wore on and the days passed, 6,000 National Guardsmen were deployed to the city to put a stop to the violence, giving the news even more of national spotlight.

8.The Banner

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9. Portland Daily Press

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10. The Boston Post

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It comes as no surprise that the New York Times covered the story in depth.

11. New York Times

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The story received multiple followups.

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The weirdest bit of coverage we could find though was this editorial published in the New York Times the day after Williams drowned. The editorial points to evidence in the Times' initial story that Bolshevism had crept into the African-American community and that was the "real" cause of the tension and fighting. It's wild and deserves to be read in full.

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David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: david.matthews@fusion.net

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