Research not Stereotypes

Studs Lonigan and the Race Riots of 1919

In James T. Farrell's classic novel of Irish life, Studs Lonigan, Farrell describes gang participation in the 1919 race riots. Farrell's sympathetic and graphic protrayal of the growing up of the young gang member, Studs Lonigan, captures the split between the oppression of the Irish and their oppression of others, particularly African Americans. This excerpt, from the second novel of the Lonigan trilogy, "The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan" helps us understand the virulence of racism and how its unchecked rapacity helped produce and reproduce the ghetto.

 

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STUDS LONIGAN, Tommy Doyle, Red Kelly, Benny Tate, and Kenny Kilarney acted slightly aloof, while a gang of bloodthirsty kids swirled and milled about them reiterating the cry of "Let's go!" Clubs and sticks were brandished. Three Star Hennessey gritted his teeth, and slashed the air with a straight razor. Weary Reilley casually put on a pair of brass knuckles, and permitted the punks to examine them. Studs Lonigan gripped a baseball bat, and swung as if stepping into a pitch. He said that when he cracks a dinge in the head, the goddam eight ball would think it had been Ty Cobb slamming out a homer off Walter Johnson. Red Kelly unsheathed a hunting-knife, and vowed that he was ready. Andy Le Gare tried to tell everyone tha tin close fighting they should kick the niggers in the shins. Tommy Doyle said the niggers were never going to forget the month of July 1919. Studs said that they ought to hang every nigger in the city to the telephone poles, and let them swing there in the breeze. Benny Tate said that for every white man killed in the riots, ten black apes ought to be massacred. Red said that the niggers had caught Clackey Merton, from Sixty-first Street, down in the black belt, and slashed his throat from ear to ear., They lamented that Clackey was a victim of the riots. Fat Malloy started telling how the Ragen Colts were marching into the black belt and knocking off the niggers. Andy said well the Fifty-eighth Street guys were going to do the same thing.

Young Horn Buckford suddenly appeared and breathlessly said the there was a gang of niggers over on Wabash Avenue. Studs, Red, Tommy, Weary, Kenny, and Benny Tate led the gang along Fifty-eighth Street, over to Wabash. For two hours, they prowled Wabash Avenue and State Street, between Garfield Boulevard and Fifty-ninth Street, searching for niggers. They sang, shouted, yelled defiance at the houses, and threw bricks into the windows of houses where they thought niggers lived. They were joined by other groups, men and kids. The streets were like avenues of the dead. They only caught a ten year-old Negro boy. They took his clothes off, and burned them. The burned his tail with lighted matches, made him step on lighted matches, urinated on him, and sent him running naked with a couple of slaps in the face.

Back around the corner at six o'clock, Studs and Red tgalked of how they would get a bigger gang together after supper, and go north of Garfield Boulevard until they found niggers. They described what they would do to them. They walked down to the el station and bought a paper. The headlines said that with the militia out, peace and order were being restoredin the riot-stricken black belt. They cursed, and said they would get the niggers in spite of even the whole United States Army. They would avenge Clackey Merton, the kid from Sixty-first Street who had been killed down in the black belt.


pages 217-218. The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, New York, Vanguard Books. 1932 (1978).

See Farrell's description of racial bombings in Studs Lonigan.