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Author Coming to Western Illinois to Talk about Chicago Race Riot

1919 proved to be a violent year in the United States.  Race riots flared up across the country.  But today, those events seem lost to history. An Illinois-based author is shining a light on one of the riots, hoping it helps Americans avoid repeating past mistakes. 

“This is the 100th anniversary of the (Chicago) riot so I am gratified to see that there is a lot more out there right now about it and that people are interested in learning about it and talking about it and talking about what problems that we have now echo what was going on back then,” said Claire Hartfield.

“When I talk to people, I think it’s really important to include ‘Well, what can we do from here? How can we make sure that we go in a better direction as we move forward into the future?’”

Hartfield is author of A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919.  The book received the 2019 Coretta Scott King Author Book Award and is recipient of numerous other honors.

Claire Hartfield

“I wrote it with the intent of reaching younger readers so it is being marketed for seventh grade and up. But I’m also finding that many, many adults are reading this book as well. And that also was part of my hope,” said Hartfield.

She said she is finding many people are not aware of the 1919 race riots.

“There is nothing an author of history wants more than the opportunity to share that history with as many people as possible to try to give them more food for thought in terms of what they do with their lives today,” she said.

Hartfield will be further share what she learned during a couple appearances in western Illinois this week:

  • On Thursday, April 25, Hartfield will give the opening presentation at the annual Carl Sandburg Festival in Galesburg.  Room C102 at Carl Sandburg College during the noon hour. It’s free and open to the public.
  • On Friday, April 26, Hartfield will speak at the Western Illinois Museum in Macomb at 5:00 p.m. It’s open to the public with a suggested five-dollar donation at the door.

38 people were killed in the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Hundreds more were injured and the rioters caused more than $1 million damage, mostly to working class homes. Hartfield said the violence in Chicago was one of 25 riots across the U.S. that summer, which she said has become known as the Red Summer because of all of the bloodshed.
Hartfield said the title of her book came from the poem I Am the People, the Mob by Galesburg native Carl Sandburg, who covered the Chicago Race Riot in a series of articles for the Chicago Daily News.  Hartfield said the poem was written several years before the riot but proved prescient in terms of seeing what might happen as tensions increased (in this case, racial tensions in the U.S.) and Americans failed to remember and learn from their history.

“And at the end of the poem, he is much more hopeful. He says, “When I, the People, learn to remember…” then things will be better.”

Rich is TSPR's News Director.