The Gang Wars of June 21, 1919

From Willaim M. Tuttle,Jr Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919

1970, reissued by the University of Illinois Press 1996, Urbana.

pages 237-238

"White and Black gangs had collided near the black belt on June 13, and two days later another clash erupted, this time in Washington Park. These gang fights were inconclusive; the evening of June 21 was to be the occasion of the "big battle," and the showdown was scheduled to be waged in Washington Park. Shortly before midnight, warfare erupted near a grade school where white students had recently terorized their black classmates with rocks. From that point, incidents of violence burst forth in rapid succession. At 12:30, an anonymous telephone voice informed the Stock Yards Police Station that a white mob was "out to kill all the blacks." Two hundred policemen hastened to Washington Park, but the mob had decided to split up and seek out isolated blacks to assault, and apparently to avoid the park. The first murder victim fell with a bullet in his stomach a few minutes before midnight. Although an alert bystander hastily seized one of the armed assailants and summoned a policeman, the officer niether arrested th white mobster, notwithstanding the revolver in the accused's hands, nor did he examine the weapon to dsetermine whether or not it had been discharged. Another unprovoked attack killed a second black man that night. A white gang stormed out of a poolroom, shot and stabbed the man, and assured his demise by beating him over the head with billiard cues.

The blood shed of June 21 inflamed the black community, while the lack of arrests practically assured future clashes. At the nucleus of this white lawlessness, as everybody seemd to know, was the Irish athletic club, the Ragen Colts. "RAGAN'S [sic] COLTS START RIOT," was the Defender's banner headline after the night of June 21; "Gang of Hoodlums Riddle Man's Body with Bullets." But only infrequently did the police interfere with the Colt's violent activities. Manyof the me3mbers, as the Defender observed, were "sons and relatives of a number of the policemen of the Stock Yards Station and, as a result, their depradations seldom occasioned an arrest." The colts received an added measrue of protection as the political unerlings of a local Democratic machine. Obviously feeling that the government of William Hale Thompson was not safeguarding their vital inerests, the Colts resorted to vigilante action against blacks. The Colts, moreover, felt incresingly threatened in 1919, as they watched black workers walk through the gates at the stockyards, as they heard of their foe Thomspon's overwhelming elecoral vicotires in the Second Ward, as they saw black families picnicking and relaxing in Washington Park. In early sumer, the colts had paraded down an isolated street in teh black belt, smashing street lights and windows; by mid summer, they were ready to commit murder. As they perceived the threat from black people intensifying duroing the sultry days of 1919, the Colts' solidarity likewise intesified — and with it their race hatred and violent behavior."

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