69. Coroner's Official Report of Race Riot (1919)
Background: Following World War I, a tight job market and crowded, segregated housing conditions for African-Americans led to increased racial tensions between blacks and whites in Chicago. On July 27, 1919, Eugene Williams, an African-American teenager, was swimming at the 29th Street Beach on Lake Michigan when he crossed an invisible line that separated the "whites-only" beach and a beach reserved for African-Americans. A white mob began to throw stones at Williams and prevented him from coming ashore. Finally, exhausted, he drowned in Lake Michigan. Williams' death led to five days of rioting that resulted in the death of 38 people including 23 African-Americans and 15 whites. More than 500 people were injured and hundreds of homes were burned or damaged. It was one of at least 25 race riots in the United States in 1919 and the worst race riot in the history of Illinois, where there had also been large race riots in Springfield in 1908 and East St. Louis in 1917.
The Document: This document is the first 10 pages of the Cook County Coroner's Report of the Race Riot issued by coroner Peter Hoffman. The report was issued in November 1919, following the convening of a coroner's jury assembled to investigate the deaths and the riot. The jury was convened while the rioting continued and met more than 90 times during the next few months. The report contains just over eight pages of background on the conditions leading to the race riot and suggestions for what needed to be done to alleviate future riots. It also consists of the coroner's inquest files for those killed in the riot. Only the inquisition for the first person killed, Eugene Williams, is included here.
Note: Following the race riot, Governor Frank Lowden created the Chicago Commission on Race Relations to investigate the causes of the riot. The commission issued its final report in 1922. The Coroner's Report is part of the commission's files and is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Governor Record Series 101.027, "Frank Orren Lowden Correspondence."