‘Peace Camp’ helps commemorate 1919 race riot in Chicago

Sergio Blanco Gutierrez (first on right) assists other parish members in preparing sign boards for the “Blood Lines” sound installation during the second day of Peace Camp at Augustana Lutheran Church. (Photo by Mrinalini Pandey)

By Mrinalini Pandey
Herald Intern

The Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park and the Lutheran Campus Ministry along with Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council held two nights of Peace Camp on June 25 and 26 at 5500 S. Woodlawn Avenue commemorating the 1919 Race Riots in Chicago.

On June 25, Pastor Nancy Goede of the Augustana Lutheran Church along with Saba Ayman-Nolley, Professor Emeritus (Psychology) at Northeastern Illinois University and Advisor for the Baha’i Association of the University of Chicago invited guest speakers Tobita Chow, Padraig McGuire, and Ronald Browne to share their insights on the 1919 Race Riots.

On June 26, artist Christophe Preissing addressed the Peace Camp laying out plans for his sound installation “Blood Lines” that he will be making in collaboration with David Sundry, visual design and construction artist for Blood Lines art installation. The sound installation will be displayed for public in the nave of the church in commemoration of the riots on July 27 and will continue through Fall.

Tobita (Toby) Chow, Global justice organizer at the People’s Lobby, an independent political organization based in Chicago gave a presentation explaining the workers’ condition in the late 19th century, as a way to understand the social and material circumstances that served as a prelude to the 1919 riots.

Chow explained how the rise of the labor movements led to greater marginalization of already marginalized groups such as Black and women workers. The workers were divided by race already, and the management played different racial groups against each other, and fed the feeling of competition that the white workers had towards their black counterparts.

These racial divisions were further intensified, when in 1916, the first wave of the Great Migration began, when black people from the South began emigrating en masse to Northern industrial cities like Chicago, further leading to feelings of competition and insecurity felt by white workers towards blacks.

Ronald Browne is President of North Beverly Civic Association, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to improving civic, cultural and educational life in the North Beverly area and creating a feeling of community pride through objective planning, cooperation and communication. Browne spoke of the circumstances that developed in the years immediately preceding the “Red Summer of 1919,” and specially, the role played by the WW1 in exacerbating the developing animosities. When white veterans returned to cities like Chicago, they found that many of their old jobs had been taken over by Black immigrants from the South. The Blacks who had served in the war earned a new assertiveness, and a desire to be treated as equal citizens.

This assertiveness meant that even though Blacks were at a significant disadvantage in this conflict, their voice and collective strength still registered.

Padraig McGuire, Cantor for the parish, gave a performance of several famous songs of that era, including “We Shall Overcome”, “Bread and Roses”, and “We Will Not Be Moved.” He encouraged the audience to participate, and also took brief pauses to explain the background of the songs.

“They articulate the wrong, call the masses to take up the struggle and often posit the new/just outcome sought,” said McGuire. On the other hand, he continues, “The Blues selection articulates the struggle in the singular. This is more lament than protest.” In relation to Chow’s presentation, McGuire sought to give a taste of the songs that would have been part of the era related to injustice, oppression, and hoped for liberation.

“The Blood Lines installation will commemorate the Race Riots and honor the lives lost,” said Preissing.

On June 26, McGuire and children participating in the peace camp, gathered in the nave of the church to assist Preissing in mapping streets on the floor marking each location of the deaths that followed that occurred in the riots.

Following the Peace Camp, members gathered for Peace Circle in which they related familial memories about the city at the time of 1919 race riots or in its immediate aftermath. On the second day of the peace camp, everyone gathered for Peace Circle envisioning their hopes for the future of the city that is marred by a tragic history of violence and continues to grapple with its remnants a century later.