“Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.” Carl Sandburg
In July 1919, in the midst of a global pandemic and severe economic disruption, an African-American boy named Eugene Williams crossed an imaginary line between whites and blacks while swimming in Lake Michigan. A group of white men threw stones at him, and he wound up drowning in the lake. Like George Floyd and Eric Garner decades later, he too couldn’t breathe. When the white police refused to arrest the men who killed him, angry crowds took to the streets. The state militia eventually was called in to quell the protests. Many more lives were lost. Sound familiar?
If the intensity of black anger right now seems out of proportion to you, consider that it’s been 101 years since the Chicago race riots, and while much has changed, too much remains the same. Black Americans still live with a fear that white Americans can’t fathom.
Carl Sandburg documented the 1919 Chicago Race Riots in real time as a journalist. He won two Pulitzers eventually, but his most prized honor was the lifetime achievement award bestowed upon him by the NAACP. And he wrote, “Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.” Forgetting is a privilege black Americans don’t have, and that’s why the streets are full. Enough is enough.