Monday 8 February 2016

Cicero Race Riot

"Get out of Cicero and don't come back in town or you'll get a bullet through you."
(Chicago police officer to new tenant, Mr. Clark)

On July 11, 1951, a mob of 4,000 whites attacked a Chicago suburb apartment building where one black family had moved in.  When the fires burnt out, and the rubble was cleared away, 19 people were hurt and 117 arrested.

Mob of 4000 riots at Cicero apartment buildling courtesy

Mrs. DeRose, the landlord of a Cicero, Illinois apartment building, supposedly had a disagreement with some of her renters.  To get back at them, she rented out her unoccupied apartment to the first black family in the neighbourhood.  On June 8, police stopped a moving van with $2000 worth of furniture inside, which arrived at the apartment building.  The black family, the Clark's, were pulled aside by police and warned:  "Get out of here fast.  There will be no moving into this building."  Mr. Clark was hit eight times by police officers and warned:  "Get out of Cicero and don't come back in town or you'll get a bullet through you."

Harvey Clark and his wife circa 1951 courtesy

Mr. Clark, a World War II veteran, filed a lawsuit with the NAACP and tried to move into the Cicero apartment building again on June 26.  Some whites in the building stored their furniture and moved out.  Others plotted.  On the night of July 11, 4,000 whites gathered at the apartment building.  Twenty-one occupants fled to the rooftop.  The mob set to work destroying the building:  radiators were ripped from the wall; holes were punched through the plaster; windows were smashed, and furniture was set on fire.

Fires set at Cicero apartment building courtesy

For the first time in America's history, television crews were there to document what happened next. The police were called to the scene:  they could not do much given there were only 60 officers.  Their chief was supposedly "out of town".  Firefighters were called to the scene.  Asked by police to turn their fire hoses on the unruly mob, they refused.  Their fire chief was also "out of town".  The firemen were greeted by the protesters with a shower of bricks.

National Guard on front lawn of Cicero apartment building circa 1951 courtesy

Finally, the National Guard, armed with bayonets, rifle butts and tear gas, ended the riot the following day.  Damage was estimated at $20,000.  However, a Cook County jury did not charge the rioters.  Instead, they went after the NAACP lawyer and Mrs. DeRose.  But the charges did not stick. The apartment buildng was so severely damaged, all of the tenants, including the Clark's had to move out and the building was boarded up.

Boarded up apartment building courtesy

Note:  For more information, read As Long as They Don't Move Next Door (Hirsch).

*First published in 2014.

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