The Crack-Up: The 1919 Race Riots & the Crucible of Chicago, with Adam Green

September 16, 2019

Family leaving a damaged home after the Chicago race riots in 1919. CREDIT: New York Public Library (CC)

TED WIDMER: Hi, this is Ted Widmer. You're listening to another episode of The Crack-Up, an occasional podcast series about the year 1919 and the way in which we still live in its shadow.

I'm delighted to be here today with Professor Adam Green, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, who wrote an extraordinary piece in The New York Times on the Chicago race riot of late July, 1919.

Thank you so much for being here, Adam.

ADAM GREEN: I'm very happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

TED WIDMER: There are a lot of race riots and other kinds of riots throughout the year 1919. Why does the Chicago race riot stand out?

ADAM GREEN: As you say, there are instances of racial conflict and racial violence taking place across the country, indeed even before 1919, although 1919 correctly is known as the "Red Summer" in terms of the number of incidents that took place around the country.

I think that part of why Chicago is significant—although there was a major riot in Washington; there were other riots that had taken place in small-to-mid-sized cities as well as actually countryside areas of the South and to some degree even elsewhere in the country—was that Chicago was by far the largest city in which there was a riot, and that's significant to some degree just because of the number of people who then are drawn in to that dynamic of racial conflict and the ways in which people afterward reckoned with the aftermath and thought about the prospects for sustainable community.

I think also one has to think practically about what a city can do with an event like that in terms of on the one hand creating a story and establishing frames for how to understand it and how to address it, but also equally important in terms of thinking about a major city, urban community like that, what's done in a certain sense to suppress the events that take place, to make it something that in a sense is a kind of no-go zone in relation to thinking about the identity of the city and the nature of social relations in the city. I think those things are happening in Chicago.

One should not get away from the particulars of the event, and we can talk about that. Many people lost their lives. A tremendous amount of property was damaged. Indeed, in many cases arson was a very important technique of the riot that in a broader sense was meant to intimidate and even try to remove African Americans at least from some parts of the city if not the city as a whole.

But I think these ideational dimensions, the ways in which it was understood as it was taking place, the ways in which particularly the events were reported by the media or understood by political leadership or understood by public and civic leadership had a huge bearing on the ways in which people processed that event and a not small impact on the ways in which people understood the Chicago riot as something of a touchstone in relation to thinking about conflict related to race—within a year that was coming after the end, of course, of the first major World War—and really a kind of reckoning with how to understand conflict and the ways in which human relations might alleviate the prospect of conflict but might also exacerbate the prospects of conflict.

In that sense, I think Chicago became something of a crucible in terms of understanding how people were going to try to move toward a society in which the prospect of conflict and violence would be alleviated, and the outcome of that crucible was, to put it mildly, quite mixed in relation to what happened in Chicago.

TED WIDMER: You use the phrase "no-go zone." It begins with an incident related to that idea, a kind of invisible line at a beach between where black swimmers and white swimmers are supposed to self-segregate. In a sense, lines of racial demarcation are being drawn throughout the riot. Can you just take us through the way it began?

ADAM GREEN: That's a really important point because I think what it allows us also to appreciate about the riot is that we're not really talking about a city in the case of Chicago in which a fully developed regime related to race relations, to race position, access to resources, and as it were kind of relationship to power, were drawn up and fully established. Chicago is protean at this point.

I think going back to the incident at the beach, the drowning of Eugene Williams after quite likely he was hit by a stone. It's not fully ascertained what were the specifics of that incident, but it's very likely in fact that he died as it were at the hands of another person, a white person, who—

TED WIDMER: Because he had swum over into the white zone.

ADAM GREEN: Because he swam over the 29th Street line to the south of the beach, and the area north of 29th Street—which had inferior frontage, which had some effluvia that was coming from industry—those were areas that blacks were allowed to swim in, but the "beach," as it were, that was right there was one that was customarily reserved for whites.

That's an important point to stress, that so much of what governed the rules of racial separation and racial order in Chicago was, in fact, customary. There were ways in which people's everyday behavior dictated what was going to be the order that people worked under.

I said before that the city is rather protean at this point. One of the reasons why that is—is because the black population is expanding enormously during this period as a result of migration, largely driven by the need for industrial labor to supply output related to the war effort after 1917. African Americans are coming by tens, scores of thousands each year, ultimately resulting in the population that is African American in Chicago increasing from about 40,000 to 100,000 in the course really of five years. Even though it was measured by the census from 1910 to 1920, effectively this is happening from about 1916 to 1920.

There's a sense that literally the face of Chicago is changing. People are coming into a city that is not rigidly segregated, for instance, according to residence, according to access to occupation, according to education, according even in some cases to social relations.

But one should not present it as a kind of nirvana or wonderful place in relation to race. There were tensions, there were rivalries, there were both anxiety and resentment on the part of certain communities of whites about what the emergence of this increasing African American community would mean in relation to their hold on jobs, in relation to their proximity to political power, and in relation to their social status.

So, tensions had been rising for a few years before 1919, and that fateful late July afternoon, when Eugene Williams drifted across the line and proceeded to have stones targeted at him, one of which most likely hit him in the face and caused him to go under the water and drown, that was the spark that lit a certain tinderbox that created this conflagration in relation to race.

But it's really, really important I think to recognize that what emerged was both the kind of ignition of a series of standing tensions but also the exposure of the way that there wasn't a set of rules about how to deal with race and plurality and a kind of more multicultural Chicago. The riot was one step, and then there were steps afterward that established what was going to be the protocol and the system of order that was going to govern the relations between races.

In a sense, I think the riot should not be understood as something that just expressed something that existed. In many ways, like many moments of social conflict, it opened up the space for people to decide what was going to be the system of order that was going to come out of it.

TED WIDMER: Then, what were the next steps after the stoning of Eugene Williams? How were the battle lines drawn? How was information fanning across the city over the next day or two?

ADAM GREEN: Sociologists coming into prominence at the University of Chicago, foremost among them Robert Park, were fascinated with the idea of the city being a new kind of structure for information to be produced through and also for information to be circulated and distributed.

One of the things that they stressed in terms of this sociology of urban consciousness, something that was prominent in European thought but is being advanced in interesting ways by how people are thinking about this in the United States, was that in a sense disinformation—rumor, conspiracy ideas, various kinds of exotic states of mind—could really captivate large numbers of people and move them to definitive sorts of action.

You see this in a sense demonstrated to an exemplary degree by the degeneration of restraint that takes place within the first 24 hours or so after the death of Eugene Williams and the recovery of his body. There are a number of policemen who come to the scene, which by this time has a large number of African Americans and a large number of whites who are facing off with each other rather tensely.

The policemen—one in particular—are asked to arrest a specific white man who is alleged to have been the stone thrower. That policeman receives a denial from the person who threw the stone and then refuses to the African Americans assembled to do anything, saying this is not a basis for an arrest.

That then becomes a series of rumors about the number of people who were involved in the killing of the black teenager and the ways in which the police clearly are abetting. This in a certain sense has more than half-truth involved with it, but this circulates around in the South Side, and it begins to inflame passion among African Americans that yet again they are not being seen as equal before the law in spite of the guarantee of their rights.

Meanwhile, the number of African Americans who are assembled there begins to bring forth rumors among whites, particularly whites living a little bit west of the defined African American community—the "black belt"—that African Americans are not only assembling en masse, but they're making certain kinds of resolutions to take arms from nearby armories, to march on white communities, and to wage war against whites. That in turn kindles a sense on the part of whites that they're going to act on their resentment and proceed to try to target African Americans and meet this challenge with the overwhelming force, the demographics afforded them within the city. Blacks, even with the increase in population, are maybe 4-5 percent of the population. Whites obviously outnumber that vastly.

So, people are moved into the evening through Sunday night to begin to equip themselves for a battle that's going to come as early as later that evening in some cases. There are white athletic clubs affiliated with Democratic politicians within the Bridgeport community and other communities nearby the stockyards that go on forays and raids as early as Sunday night, but Monday and Tuesday is going to be when those incidents really go forth.

Much of it was driven by this idea that if one side did not take a step to either protect itself or to assert its superior position within the city, the other side was going to take the advantage and endanger them. That sense that there's a kind of way in which a different mentality takes hold—as is often the case with major urban riots or major urban disturbances—was something that was really classically manifested by what happened in Chicago.

TED WIDMER: You mentioned while discussing the athletic clubs, one of them, the Hamburgers, and the high probability that Richard Daley, later the mayor forever, was a young member and an active participant in the fighting. Did that help his political career later or harm it? It must have helped him with half of Chicago and harmed him with the other half.

ADAM GREEN: I don't know if it's so much a question of it advancing his career. What it certainly opens up for us is understanding how essential political tensions—specifically party political tensions—were, in terms of Chicago in the summer of 1919.

There was a Republican mayor, William Hale Thompson. He was someone who was understood to be notoriously corrupt, to a legendary degree, someone who was the bane of people who thought about reform. Often reform was something that was promoted from the Republican side rather than the Democratic side in municipal politics, but in Chicago in a certain sense it was almost the reverse where the idea of corruption was something that related to Republican administration, and Democratic politicians imagined themselves as reformers.

One of the things that propelled that story—which itself in a certain sort of way is also about at least some dimension of misinformation—was the idea that any politician who relied on African American voters and black voters who historically tilted toward Republican allegiances, was seen as especially corruptible going back to the misinformation campaign that related to Reconstruction and the idea that once blacks entered politics it was something that tainted the whole system irreparably and required restoration of white rule.

That sensibility is certainly evident in Chicago, and it's certainly something that newspapers rely upon to some degree, major political leaders rely upon, and Thompson in a sense probably did himself no favors not so much by cultivating African American votes that consistently provided the margin of victory for him over two elections and then a third election later in the 1920s, but it put him in a position where he was vulnerable to charges that he was a captive of African American voters and he was there really only to do their bidding and that the worst caricatures about what would result as an outcome of African Americans being more empowered within the public order—that there would be rampant miscegenation, that there would be rampant crime, that there would be abuse left and right of the ways in which government operated.

All of this was something that was rather openly circulated in terms of thinking about the question of political leadership in Chicago leading up to 1919, so that from the side of whites the successful election of Thompson in the spring of 1919 was something that revealed the ways in which essentially African American participation within power sharing was something that had gone way too far. In a certain sense, there were many people who just felt like there needed to be a lesson taught, that blacks needed to be brought down a peg or two in order to tell them what their proper place was within the city order. I think that context of resentment was something that was powerfully crucial to propelling the sort of animus and the kind of anger and ultimately violence that marked the city in 1919.

But I think it's also important to note—and perhaps this is a way of understanding what Daley and others learned from 1919 that they applied later in the century—that racial division, when it served one's interest and one's advantage, was a strategy that paid politically within Chicago.

So, something like, say, the election of Harold Washington in 1983, which in many ways remains perhaps the most divisive campaign outside of the campaign of 1919 . . . related to William Hale Thompson, that campaign itself only adds to the racialization of municipal politics within the city of Chicago leading up to 1919.

The ways in which politicians like Daley took that strategy, and didn't necessarily deploy it all the time—Daley again was somebody who assembled a pretty robust biracial coalition in 1955 and for really successive elections up to 1963. By 1967, 1971, Daley has moved away from that strategy completely and is basically running as the defender of white ethnic privilege and prerogative within the city and someone who is the last, best line of defense against African Americans coming in and seizing too much power.

So, in a sense history repeats itself later in the century. Whether or not Daley did or did not avow his participation in the Hamburgers, he certainly learned from the politics of racial division that provided a really important precedent for the kind of social mood up to the riot in the summer of 1919.

TED WIDMER: How do you feel about the performance of the police in those crucial early days of the riot? Are they preventing violence? Are they participating in violence? Are they deployed in the wrong parts of the city?

ADAM GREEN: What's striking and really significant about the police is that even though it was a unified force under central command, even though it meant to operate in a regimented fashion in a moment of social crisis like this, there are actually a range of tendencies that are evident in the behavior of the police.

The police are deployed effectively as a buffer between white and black communities as the hostilities really begin to take hold on Monday going into Tuesday morning. They effectively create this wall of separation at the western edge of the black community between white ethnic neighborhoods that were to the west and the black community that was located to the east. However, their rules of engagement are ones that say, "We need to ensure that no African Americans, especially groups of African Americans, leave their community," but there's not necessarily the same degree of prevention in terms of keeping whites from going into the black community, in raiding campaigns on cars and such.

But I think most significantly and really most tragically, at the major intersections and thoroughfares that comprise the major black communities, so at the most prominent intersections—31st Street and State, 35th Street and State, 63rd Street and Cottage Grove—you have Monday going into Tuesday multiple episodes of mobs, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, that are stopping streetcars, pulling African Americans off, chasing them, and stoning, stabbing, or clubbing them, often to death in immediate areas around where African Americans are living, and there is next to no police intervention at that point. Of course, streetcar operators, bystanders, nobody's cooperating with the very few police that are actually trying to gather information. But it needs to be said that many police did not see cause to aggressively investigate once these incidents take place.

But that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is when you have police officers, sometimes in uniform, individually going with raiding parties of white ethnic youths for the most part. Many of the worst perpetrators in relation to the riots were white youths between the ages of 16-17, say, and 23-25, something along those lines.

Police officers in some cases—you don't want to say that the majority of the police force did this, but enough did it to further create the sense that the police were actually taking a side with this conflict—would actually ride along with the people involved in doing raiding violence, and in some cases they took part, but in many more cases they actually interceded when police would stop the group and either try to tell them to turn around or in some cases even seek to investigate whether they had been involved in crimes.

Those police officers who were accompanying the raiding groups would say, "No, no, no. Don't intervene here. I can vouch for these people. They're fine. We're just going around trying to make sure that there's not going to be any violence that threatens our community." Then those police who had made the stop initially would step to the side and allow them to proceed to engage in a raiding party that would indeed do exactly that kind of bringing of violence into the communities.

The police force itself is both operating to contain African Americans but not interceding on the incursion of whites into black communities to engage in acts of violence. But also individual officers are actually either not really pursuing investigations or in some cases are embedding themselves within the groups of whites who are engaged in violence.

That was a scandal that many in the African American community really fixed on during the course of the riot in terms of understanding the degree to which institutional Chicago sought not to protect them but to contain them and leave them in a certain sense even more at risk of harm. In the aftermath of it, of course, calls for police reform, calls for changes in police practice were an important part of the demands that came from black communities.

Of course, this is a tremendously important legacy coming out of the riot because in some ways the face of institutional racism in Chicago has either been the kind of question of residential segregation or the question of differential policing related to race up to and including shootings, violent abuse, and police harm against suspects when in detention and the like. All of that in a certain sense can also be traced back to the riot as an important opening of a new form of how race was going to be managed within the city.

TED WIDMER: One of the many haunting elements of your piece is the photography that went along with it. Who is this Japanese American man [Jun Fujita] capturing these unbelievable moments of violence? He seems to have been everywhere, and yet I knew nothing about him before your piece.

ADAM GREEN: As I understand it, he freelanced. He did some work that eventually moved into journalism.

I don't know a great deal in relation to his particulars of coming into the city, but I think that one of the things that it does tell us is this idea of the person who's the marginal man, the person who is not necessarily counted in relation to the sides of conflict—it's someone who is able to come in and in a certain sense be privy to the most stark and horrific and arresting instances of conflict between groups because in a certain sense people don't count that person as a participant.

I think that says something about the ways in which many of the most important stories—that not only we get from Chicago but many places in the United States—are ones that come from people outside the United States who have both the savvy and the skill to effectively move themselves into the active space of activity. But also that are not seen as people who themselves are counted as threats because of the ways in which they don't align with the kind of defined dyadic racial order or the defined dyadic order in relation to some other line of conflict. These people who come in as somewhat marginal figures are often the ones who can give us the most powerful stories. I'm sorry that I don't have more of a sense of that aspect of the story.

TED WIDMER: That's a really interesting theory. It just occurred to me as a reader.

You said at the beginning of our conversation that Chicago is protean; it's not finished. The rules are not clearly understood, which is partly why the riot starts.

But then, the rules do become clearer in the aftermath of the riot. Can you tell us how the city responded to both black complaints and white fears, even though the whites were largely the perpetrators of the violence? What is the racial order that follows the riot?

ADAM GREEN: This involves understanding the riot as something that, of course, lives on in relation to how people seek to make sense of it in its immediate aftermath—really in a lot of ways how people move on and indeed suppress memory of it as a point of consultation and understanding what Chicago is. I think there are a few ways to see the consequence of that and see it playing out.

One is that the aftermath of the riot gives rise to a rather extraordinary kind of congregating of municipal and civic leadership, and people resolve and are called together by the governor of the state—not the mayor—to do an inquest and essentially understand what the root causes were of the tensions that led to the riot, what if anything were the dynamics that were problematic or adverse that maybe exaggerated the nature and intensity of the riot beyond what it necessarily needed to be, and then what would be the kinds of reforms that would potentially change the conditions in Chicago and prevent such a conflict from taking place.

What comes out of that eventually in 1922 is a quite extraordinary report, The Negro in Chicago, written by committee but effectively drafted by the African American head of research for the Chicago chapter of the Urban League, Charles Spurgeon Johnson, who is going to go on to a very illustrious career as an African American intellectual, African American academic, and African American researcher.

The findings of this report are really quite profound. He and others who are working as researchers point out that up to the riot there is on the one hand a rather disturbing kind of increase in racial violence, particularly around the movement of African Americans into particular neighborhoods in the city.

Hyde Park, the home of the University of Chicago and the place where the 1893 Columbian Exposition had been staged, was one of the places in which there was particular intensity in terms of exclusion of African Americans, and it seems a kind of extralegal campaign of using violence and intimidation to try to move African Americans from the greater Hyde Park area—which included the areas around Washington Park, which included areas adjacent to Woodlawn—to move African Americans away from moving into these neighborhoods, and this included among other things bombings which were taking place as early as 1917 and continued up until 1921 and 1922, 50 such bombings, some of which actually proved to be fatal in relation to African Americans who lived within those houses.

But at the same time that you have this violence or you have the tensions related to the political campaign for the mayor in 1919 or just the kind of street violence and street fights that are taking place—primarily involving whites but in some cases involving whites and blacks leading up—at the same time you have that the report emphasizes that there are actually many instances where you can see peaceful racial adjustment and stable biracial living in terms of neighborhoods. Woodlawn, a neighborhood adjacent to Hyde Park, was one in which African Americans had moved in—several hundred actually—during the 1910s, and there had been no increase in terms of incidents of violence and a fair amount of cooperation that was taking place in terms of community life.

Similar things were happening in relation to small neighborhoods to the east in some cases of the black belt area and also a couple of neighborhoods to the far south. So, in a sense the report is saying that when blacks and whites come into contact with each other it doesn't inevitably lead to conflict. The role of rumor, the role of how people understand African Americans coming into communities as positive neighbors rather than as people who are driving down property values and are introducing crime—so again, we're coming back to this question of misinformation and stereotype and caricature. The report was really arguing, though, the fact of what happens when African Americans move into neighborhoods they hadn't lived in before. Then, people have the possibility of peaceful adjustment.

Also, importantly the report called for significant reforms in relation to police practice, significant reforms in relation to how police were deployed, and what in a sense was the community's confidence, the black community's confidence specifically, in terms of police being impartial.

But most significantly, I think the report tried to argue that tensions around the movements of African Americans residentially into white neighborhoods was perhaps the deepest kind of tension that existed within the Chicago of the 1920s and that the single most important thing that could be done in Chicago was to disabuse people living in the city of the idea that whites and blacks in fact could not live within neighborhoods with one another and that they therefore needed to be segregated.

So, the report is done. By the way, it becomes a template in relation to the Kerner Commission report of 1967, so in a certain sense it lays down a form for how people are going to engage in this kind of inquest into racial tension and the deterioration of race relations within the United States.

What Chicago actually does through the 1920s is really double-down to some degree on measures that will ensure that there will be institutional means to separate white from black. So, rather than trying to find ways to encourage African Americans to move in numbers corresponding to their very, very small percentage of the population into white neighborhoods, what comes up instead is the establishment of a series of mechanisms—first, intimidation by neighborhood associations, and then after that the innovation of something called a restrictive covenant, which in essence is a binding contractual agreement involving the members of a neighborhood or the members of a block not to sell to African Americans.

Not law, because it was a contractual arrangement. It was not something that originated with either city government or the courts, but very quickly these contracts are upheld again and again and again by municipal courts, to the point where 75 percent of property around the city of Chicago is effectively governed by the requirements of restrictive covenants banning African Americans from coming into neighborhoods by the mid-to-late 1930s, which is really in some ways the equivalent of a kind of Jim Crow law prohibiting African Americans from being able to live within a particular neighborhood.

Through the century afterward you're going to see successor kinds of techniques, contract selling, redlining involving the federal government, denial of mortgage access for African Americans, and ultimately steering practices on the part of realtors. Some of these practices in terms of differential access to mortgage capital or steering are practices that persist to the present day and explain how it was that Chicago, as a Northern city and as a city with a sizable and active and fairly robustly self-defending community became in some ways the exemplar of Northern institutional segregation going through the 20th century and into the early years of the 21st century.

This is one example of the ways in which a regime related the racial order, a regime of how to manage relations between the races was something that emerged out of the riot. It was against the recommendations of this report and this commission. It was certainly against the wishes of African Americans, who sought to advocate for themselves.

I think what it reflected in a lot of ways was the sense that the riot gave rise to a rationalization of urban society and urban relations that related to race, but it was not a progressive rationalization. It was a regressive rationalization. It was one that largely trafficked in the idea that African Americans were a blight on urban life more generally, that African Americans were an element who would bring down the quality of community life generally within Chicago, and communities increasingly adopted this mindset.

From that I think emerged the general kind of stance and mood and perspective that African Americans were a community that was prone to negative or dysfunctional behaviors and that people living within urban neighborhoods were best served by trying to isolate them and restrict the amount of contact that they had with them to the greatest degree possible.

In a sense that's telling us that what emerged out of the riot of 1919 was certainly a sophistication of mechanisms and institutions of urban governance but sophistication in a way that I think mirrors how we think about modernity more generally in 1919. It's not something that is necessarily moving in a progressive direction. It has really regressive tendencies, and one then needs to think about the emergence of a modern system of urban order within Chicago as one that actually in a certain sense worsened the circumstances of African Americans rather than improving them, and in some ways moved further away from really meaningful democracy rather than trying to find a way to build on it and extend it.

TED WIDMER: That's such an important word in our series, issues throughout the year 1919, and the world believes it's advancing toward a new kind of democracy, the word Woodrow Wilson keeps saying, and yet we find over and over again how hard it is to deepen democracy.

The great blessing of your piece for a Northern reader is it helps us to see that we have many things to answer for in our part of the country. The South's problems are well understood, but as you point out so graphically in Chicago and many other Northern places, new forms of institutional racism were quickly becoming the norm. You really did the readers of The Times a great service with your piece.

ADAM GREEN: I think one of the things, too, and it's a very troubling legacy, is that these are blind spots within the liberal mind rather than blind spots within the reactionary or conservative minds strictly. Obviously, at this moment in our own journey as a society I think we're prone to project out to very retrograde elements, indeed to retrograde leadership, that this is all the result of people who are not like us, who have evil thoughts and say terrible, irresponsible things, and inflame passions, and upset the ways in which we had lived and lived harmoniously before that.

I think that one of the things that Chicago over a hundred years really demonstrates to us is the nationalization, if you will, of questions related to race in the United States: How do we grapple with the legacy of slavery? How do we extend the opportunities that are supposed to accompany democracy to the widest scope of the people that comprise our nation? How do we think about fair play and a sense of encouraging an appreciation of all people to something that actually has a connection to affirming then at least an aspiration to equality if not a guarantee and a protection of that as a kind of routine outcome of the distribution of opportunities, of the creation of resources, of the cultivation and employment of talent in relation to building the society that we have?

Chicago from 1919 through really to 2019 is an exemplary case, but it's by no means an exceptional case of pointing out how hard in fact it is for our society to be true to those ideals.

Much of this really has to do with the sense that when push comes to shove people are driven by fear more so than hope, that when they encounter people that they are not familiar with they expect the worst rather than searching for what might surprise them in relation to the kinds of contributions that they can make.

The doubling-down that took place in the years immediately after 1919 on establishing a firm, comprehensive, and enduring system of segregation within Chicago—which is what happened in residence, in policing, to some degree in terms of thinking about how political life was organized within the city, and tragically, because this was not something that was much of a problem in the period leading up to the 1919 race riot, in education. You really did not have segregated schools with the small black population that existed. You certainly had that by the time that you moved into the second half of the 20th century.

On almost all counts, Chicago becomes a city that's devoted to an ideal that the best racial order is one that separates people according to race, that distributes resources in a way that corresponds to their access to power, which meant that African Americans were perennially cut an inferior share, and most insidiously that the existence of inequality as something that reflects the incapacity of African Americans to make the best of their own circumstances rather than understanding the ways in which there are systemic barriers to their ever being able to bring together the resources to realize something like a full harnessing of their potential.

We're still wrestling with those problems today. I suppose in that sense it means that we have to go back to an event like 1919 to understand that there was nothing natural or inevitable about the kind of segregation that begins to emerge within Northern cities. Indeed, there were recommendations about how to take a different course, and those recommendations, for a range of complicated reasons, were ignored or denied.

That led I think to the kinds of tremendous problems and indeed the kinds of ongoing tragedies that seem to mark the ways in which we think about race in American cities going into the 21st century, and we still wrestle with that today.

TED WIDMER: Adam, I can't thank you enough for the deep thought you've brought to Chicago in 1919 and in 2019 and the eloquence of your answers today. It was such a pleasure to talk with you.

ADAM GREEN: Thank you again very much for having me come on.

TED WIDMER: Anytime. That was Adam Green, a professor of history at the University of Chicago. We've been talking about the Chicago race riot of 1919. This is another episode of The Crack-Up.

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