Photos: Tacuma Roeback
On Saturday, 300 bicyclists and trolley riders converged on a Bronzeville parking lot for a tour that chronicles one of the darkest moments in the city’s history: The Chicago race riot of 1919.
The tour, given by the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project with support from Organic Oneness, began at a 35th and State parking lot on a corner opposite a Starbucks and a few blocks from where the Chicago White Sox play.
About 104 years ago, amid a brutal week, that intersection wasn’t the seemingly sedate urban crossing that it appeared to be on Saturday. From July 27 to August 3, 1919, 35th and State was the epicenter of the race riots, ultimately claiming 23 Black and 15 White lives.
Back then, The Chicago Defender referred to 35th and State as the “Vortex of Violence.”
However, on this day, where a DJ spun soul anthems like Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” and a diverse assemblage of bike and trolley riders gathered, the vibe of the two-hour tour was both a history lesson and a recreational outing.
Participants toured historic stops, including The Chicago Defender Building, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Armour Square Park, Union Stockyard Gate, Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, the Light of Truth Ida B. Wells National Monument and Victory Monument.
Ultimately, they learned about the lives and institutions connected to this grievous event, which started after a White man threw rocks at a raft of Black boys for crossing an invisible boundary near a White Beach.
One of those rocks struck 17-year-old Eugene Williams, who drowned.
Various speakers along the tour illuminated the resistance and resilience of Bronzeville’s Black community in the aftermath of those riots.
After it was over, many who participated enjoyed a free lunch and socialized amongst each other, reflecting on what they had experienced.
Here are some snapshots from the 5th Annual CRR19 Historic Bike and Trolley Tour, which organizers say is their largest one yet: