A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

by Claire Hartfield (Author)

Reading Level: 8th − 9th Grade
On a hot day in July 1919, five black youths went swimming in Lake Michigan, unintentionally floating close to the "white" beach. An angry white man began throwing stones at the boys, striking and killing one. Racial conflict on the beach erupted into days of urban violence that shook the city of Chicago to its foundations. This mesmerizing narrative draws on contemporary accounts as it traces the roots of the explosion that had been building for decades in race relations, politics, business, and clashes of culture. Archival photos and prints, source notes, bibliography, index.
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Kirkus Reviews

"A comprehensive, careful account. (source notes, bibliography, map, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)"

Publishers Weekly

Taking her title from a line in a Carl Sandburg poem, Hartfield (Me and Uncle Romie) examines a weeklong clash between black and white Chicago residents in August 1919. She plunges readers into the story with a description of the event that sparked the riots, the accidental but racially motivated killing of a 14-year-old black boy at a Chicago beach. Hartfield then provides a detailed history of racial tensions in her native city, highlighting the economic and societal impact of the waves of Southern blacks who migrated north to Chicago between the middle of the 19th century and WWI, lured by the promise of work and educational opportunities. Racial tensions, Hartfield explains, were further fueled by the influx of Irish and Eastern European immigrants, themselves the target of discrimination and scorn ("Chicago was a hotbed of prejudice"). The author bolsters her account of this long-simmering conflict with succinct profiles of various Chicagoans, including abolitionists, meatpacking barons, union leaders, journalists, and politicians. Photos, editorial cartoons, and advertisements further immerse readers in a vivid chronicle with no shortage of contemporary relevance. Ages 12-up. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Jan.)

Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up--When 17-year-old Eugene Williams was murdered while rafting on the unofficially segregated beaches of Lake Michigan and a white police officer refused to arrest the murderer, Chicago became the site of a deadly race riot. Hartfield backtracks from that moment to explore how turn-of-the-century Chicago was a beacon for both African Americans from the South and European immigrants. However, with the end of World War I, the numerous job opportunities turned scarce and white gang activity against black residents increased. Powerful stories of resistance and inspiring profiles of John Jones, Ida B. Wells, and others who created libraries, hospitals, The Chicago Defender, and other initiatives balance the narratives of discrimination and violence. The stoning of Williams and the riots that followed are not the primary focus; rather, Chicago's history as a destination in post-Reconstruction era United States, its labor movement, the Great Migration, and how all these factors were the underlying elements for the riots make up the bulk of the book. Under 200 pages, this is a relatively slim but powerful account of early 20th-century U.S. history. A plentiful amount of clear and intriguing photography, as well as primary source materials, is included. Back matter includes research citations, an extensive bibliography, and picture credits. VERDICT A worthy and gripping account of early 20th-century African American, immigrant, and labor history framed by the haunting murder of a young black man.--Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Richly illustrated with contemporary photographs, the narrative is also carefully researched, drawing on accounts from the time... A comprehensive, careful account." —Kirkus

"This well-documented text outlines the events leading to the race riot in Chicago in the summer of 1919...This solid entry covers a topic not often mentioned in YA literature, and will support researchers looking for balanced coverage for history, civil rights, and economics reports."
— Booklist

"Photos, editorial cartoons, and advertisements further immerse readers in a vivid chronicle with no shortage of contemporary relevance."—Publishers Weekly

"A worthy and gripping account of early 20th-century African American, immigrant, and labor history framed by the haunting murder of a young black man."—School Library Journal

"This readable, compelling history explores the longstanding and deeply rooted causes of the 1919 Chicago Race Riot, which left thirty-eight people dead and 537 wounded (two-thirds of the casualties were black; one-third, white)."—Horn Book

"Young readers will find this an excellent example of narrative nonfiction."—VOYA

"A sweeping drama."—BCCB
Claire Hartfield
Claire Hartfield is an attorney who specialized in school desegregation litigation. Recently she has been involved in setting policy and programs in a predominantly African American charter school in Chicago, where she lives. Her grandmother's experiences during the 1919 riot inspired this book. www.clairehartfield.com
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Clarion Books
Publication date
January 02, 2018
BISAC categories
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF030000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Law & Crime
JNF053210 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Social Topics | Violence
Library of Congress categories
African Americans
20th century
Social conditions
Race relations
Chicago (Ill.)
Chicago Race Riot, Chicago, Ill., 1919
Coretta Scott King Book Award
Winner 2019

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