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Chicago bike tour commemorates 1919 race riots

A bike tour in Chicago brings riders up close to Chicago's 1919 race riots, honoring the 38 victims and highlighting the riots' impact.
Chicago bike tour commemorates 1919 race riots
Posted at 8:00 PM, Jul 25, 2023

A somber history lesson on two wheels is taught by visiting sites where people died and places where people fought back. On a historical bike tour, Chicagoans get to reflect on how the racial terror that took place over a century ago continues to shape their city today.

On July 27, 1919, a 17-year-old Black Chicagoan named Eugene Williams drowned in Lake Michigan after a White man hurled stones at him for drifting over an invisible line separating Whites and Blacks.

Police refused to arrest the killer, sparking a week of racial violence during which gangs of White people terrorized Black residents, who also fought back. 

In all, 38 people died and more than 500 were injured — most of them Black people.

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Though the riots remain the most violent week in the history of the city, the only public memorial acknowledging them is a small plaque — but that's about to change.

As co-directors of the annual bike tour, Franklin Cosey-Gay and Peter Cole are also working on installing glass markers at each of the 38 locations where people died during the riots.

The memorials will be installed in 2024. For now, prototypes are being made by youth affected by gun violence.

Cole, a history professor, came up with the commemoration idea on a 2018 trip to Germany after coming across pavement bricks memorializing victims of the Holocaust in front of their former residences.

Cole and Cosey-Gay say it's past time Chicago — and America — reckon with long-ignored events that continue to affect race relations and segregation today.

On the bike tour, cyclists say learning about their city's dark history with neighbors is empowering.

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