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Friday, July 11, 2014

On this day.... Recent American history


Recent history, at that.  And not far away.


On the evening of July 11, 1951, one of the biggest riots in U.S. history began after a young black couple moved into an apartment in all-white Cicero, IL, west of Chicago. The husband, Harvey Clark, was a World War II veteran who migrated to Chicago from Mississippi and was working as a bus driver. He and his wife Johnetta had been crammed with their two children in a two-room tenement with a family of five on the city's overcrowded South Side.
The couple found more space and cheaper rents in Cicero, closer to his work, but the sheriff turned them away when they first tried to move in. With a court order in hand, the  couple finally moved their belongings into the apartment on July 11, as a mob formed around them, heckling and throwing rocks. The mob, many of them eastern European immigrants, grew to as many as 4,000 by nightfall. The couple fled, unable to stay overnight in their new apartment. 
That night, the mob stormed the apartment and hurled the family's belongings out of a third floor window: the sofa, the chairs, the clothes, the baby pictures. The mob tore out the fixtures: the stove, the radiators, the sinks. They smashed the piano, overturned the refrigerator, bashed in the toilet. They set the family's belongings on fire and then firebombed the building, leaving even the white tenants homeless. The rioters overturned police cars and threw stones at firefighters who tried to put out the fire. 
The Illinois Governor, Adlai Stevenson, had to call in the National Guard for the first time since the 1919 race riots in Chicago. It took more than 600 guardsmen, police officers and sheriff's deputies to beat back the mob that night and three more days for the rioting over the Clarks to subside.  
The Clarks were prevented from spending a single night in Cicero. A total of 118 men were arrested in the rioting but none were indicted. Instead, the rental agent and the owner of the apartment building were indicted for inciting a riot by renting to the Clarks in the first place.  The Cicero riot attracted worldwide attention and became a symbol of northern hostility to the arrival of millions of African-Americans during the Great Migration. 
-- From the book, The Warmth of Other Suns
www.thewarmthofothersuns.com

On the evening of July 11, 1951, one of the biggest riots in U.S. history began after a young black couple moved into an apartment in all-white Cicero, IL, west of Chicago. The husband, Harvey Clark, was a World War II veteran who migrated to Chicago from Mississippi and was working as a bus driver. He and his wife Johnetta had been crammed with their two children in a two-room tenement with a family of five on the city's overcrowded South Side.

The couple found more space and cheaper rents in Cicero, closer to his work, but the sheriff turned them away when they first tried to move in. With a court order in hand, the couple finally moved their belongings into the apartment on July 11, as a mob formed around them, heckling and throwing rocks. The mob, many of them eastern European immigrants, grew to as many as 4,000 by nightfall. The couple fled, unable to stay overnight in their new apartment. 


That night, the mob stormed the apartment and hurled the family's belongings out of a third floor window: the sofa, the chairs, the clothes, the baby pictures. The mob tore out the fixtures: the stove, the radiators, the sinks. They smashed the piano, overturned the refrigerator, bashed in the toilet. They set the family's belongings on fire and then firebombed the building, leaving even the white tenants homeless. The rioters overturned police cars and threw stones at firefighters who tried to put out the fire. 


The Illinois Governor, Adlai Stevenson, had to call in the National Guard for the first time since the 1919 race riots in Chicago. It took more than 600 guardsmen, police officers and sheriff's deputies to beat back the mob that night and three more days for the rioting over the Clarks to subside. 


The Clarks were prevented from spending a single night in Cicero. A total of 118 men were arrested in the rioting but none were indicted. Instead, the rental agent and the owner of the apartment building were indicted for inciting a riot by renting to the Clarks in the first place. The Cicero riot attracted worldwide attention and became a symbol of northern hostility to the arrival of millions of African-Americans during the Great Migration. 


-- From the book, The Warmth of Other Suns
 www.thewarmthofothersuns.com


America.  You make us all so proud.



4 comments:

Anonymous said...

after the riot, what became of this family? were they able to eventually live some semblance of a decent life?

Mo Rage said...

First, you'd have to research it.

Second, I assume they merely went back to an all-black neighborhood and weren't bothered again.

But in the meantime, it's all pretty irrelevant. The damage was done, both emotional and financial. They saw and found out how their fellow Americans actually were. They thought it would be an easier life, closer to work. Instead, it blew up in their faces. From the original article, they apparently lost lots of if not all of their home possessions.

Sevesteen said...

My mother grew up in a Chicago-area Sundowner Town during this era, meaning that Blacks could work as domestics and other menial jobs but weren't allowed in town after sundown.The federal government was complicit in the housing segregation that was part of this. Not only were blacks not eligible for mortgages due to federal regulators, the prohibition extended to any home on a block with a black family living there regardless of the race of that buyer. This not only encouraged the racists, but artificially created incentives for otherwise decent people to support segregation--if your most expensive asset will not only lose some value due to racists, but even more due to government actions, it is much harder to do the right thing.

It is hard for me to give much credit to the government for promoting equal housing...when they were greatly responsible for unequal housing in the first place.

It's also the same sort of thing that the government is doing now with Operation Choke Point--the government is pressuring banks to drop customers with certain legal but disapproved businesses like dating services, guns and ammo, drug paraphernalia, etc.

Mo Rage said...


That the government sanctioned and supported this blatant racism is well-known and documented, certainly. It was important that they finally, finally reversed it, without doubt.

You seem to be saying, in the 2nd half of your comment that, because it is, again, government, even though it was the Equal Housing Act, and we/they were trying to correct this obscenity, that they shouldn't have done it. That even in this case, "more government" is just wrong. Surely that's not what you're saying, right?