On Saturday, July 24th, CRR1919 will host its third annual bike tour exploring the legacy of the Chicago race riots of 1919. This tour will culminate with the unveiling of the markers commemorating the victims of the riot, created by Chicago’s own Firebird community artists. The tour focuses on the neighborhoods of Bronzeville and Bridgeport, exploring the histories of Black migration, struggle, and institution-building that have contributed to the development of Chicago’s “Black Belt.” Participants will also learn about the forms of anti-Black racism and segregation that have shaped the development of race relations on the South Side, from 1919 through the present. This map shows the nine stops of the tour. After the Victory Monument we will reconvene at the Chicago Military Academy for a light lunch provided by Ain’t She Sweet and watch the unveiling of the commemorative markers. Register here.
Chicago Military Academy
Our tour will begin at Bronzeville’s Chicago Military Academy, formerly the 8th Regiment Armory of Illinois. Built in 1914, the armory housed the all-Black 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard. While the U.S. military was segregated and most Black units were assigned to hard manual labor, during WWI Black soldiers from Illinois saw combat in France against German forces. When these decorated veterans returned from the war to the bloody Red Summer of 1919, Black soldiers continued the fight, using their military experience to defend their communities against white mob attacks. This building represents the story of Illinois’ all-Black military units and their heroic struggles abroad and at home in the violent year of 1919.
Our next stop is The Chicago Defender building, which housed the famous newspaper from 1920 until 1960. Founded in 1905 by Robert Abbot, the Defender became an influential voice in the African American community, leading the struggle against lynching, unequal housing, disfranchisement, and other forms of racial discrimination from the early 20th century onwards. On this stop we explore the role of the Defender in promoting the Great Migration, which set the stage for a new era of struggles for racial equality, as well as new forms of racist backlash, in Chicago.
Our next stop is Armour Square Park, on the eastern edge of Bridgeport. Just to the east of the park is Wentworth Ave. which historically served as an unofficial dividing line between all-white Bridgeport and the Black community of the “Black Belt” (now called Bronzeville). Philip D. Armour, the wealthy head of a meatpacking corporation, donated the land for this park in 1906. Since then, the park has been a flashpoint in the city’s history of racial violence and segregation. Using Armour Square Park, we will discuss how the unofficial but very real racial borders of our city have been enforced, including by the white ethnic so-called “Athletic Clubs” and, later, by infrastructure such as the Dan Dyan Expressway completed by Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1962; Daley himself was a member of the Hamburg Athletic Club which was a key instigator of the violence in 1919.
Vortex of Violence/ Jesse Binga Bank
Our next stop is the site of the historic Jesse Binga Arcade Building located at 35th and State Street. Jesse Binga was Chicago’s first Black banker and an icon of Black entrepreneurship in the 1910s and 20s. Binga’s Bank provided an alternative to the large white-owned banks and the predatory lenders who exploited African Americans seeking to purchase homes and establish businesses. Binga’s success made him a frequent target of white racist violence, and both his personal home and business were bombed before, during, and after 1919. Here, we tell the story of the rise and fall of Jesse Binga, the State St. Stroll at the heart of the Black commercial and entertainment district, and the racial violence that engulfed this part of Bronzeville during the 1919 riots in what the Defender named the “Vortex of Violence.”
Our next stop is the Roberts Temple of the Church of God in Christ. This historic building is the first Chicago sanctuary of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination with roots in early 20th century Memphis. Here we will explore the history of this important religious and cultural institution of Black Chicago, including the electrifying performances of congregant Sister Rosetta Tharpe (“godmother of rock n’ roll”) and Mamie Till-Mobley’s decision to hold an open casket memorial service for her 14-year-old son, Emmett, who had been brutally murdered while visiting family in Mississippi in 1955.
Our next stop is the historic headquarters of the Black-owned newspaper, Chicago Bee, a conservative rival of the Defender from the 1920s through ’40s. The gorgeous, rehabilitated art deco building serves as another entry point for a discussion of “the Stroll,” the bustling business and entertainment district that attracted Blacks and whites in its early 20th century heyday.
Ida B. Wells Monument
Our next stop is the newly christened “Light of Truth” monument crafted by legendary Chicago artist Richard Hunt and dedicated to the memory of the great anti-lynching activist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. We will tell the story of her pioneering efforts to document and critique systemic anti-Black violence in Memphis, Chicago and across the U.S., including during the Chicago riots of 1919. We will also discuss the construction and eventual demolition of the Ida B. Wells homes in this part of Bronzeville as well as the efforts to commemorate Wells’ legacy in present day Chicago.
Our tour will conclude at “victory,” that is the Bronzeville Victory Monument at 35th and MLK. This monument was constructed to honor the 8th regiment of the Illinois National Guard, an all-Black Army unit renamed the 370th Infantry during World War I.