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The Cicero race riot of 1951

The Cicero race riot of 1951

The Cicero race riot of 1951 occurred July 11–12, 1951, when a mob of 4,000 whites attacked an apartment building that housed a single black family in a neighborhood in Cicero, Illinois.

In 1951 a race riot occurred in Cicero, Illinois on July 11th and 12th, when a mob of around 4,000 whites attacked an apartment building that rented an apartment to a Black family. In June of 1951, Camille DeRose who owned an apartment in Cicero had issues with tenants and was ordered to refund a portion of their rent. Out of anger after the controversy she rented an apartment to Harvey E. Clark Jr., a Black World War II veteran and graduate of Fisk University along with his family in the all-white neighborhood. A Cicero official learned that a Black family was moving into a Cicero apartment and warned DeRose that there would be “trouble” if the family moved in.

On June 8th around 2:30 pm a moving van containing $2,000 worth of the family’s furniture was stopped by the police. A crowd gathered and Clark was told by the police to get out or he would be arrested “for protective custody.” A detective warned Clark that, “I’ll bust your damned head if you don’t move.” At 6:00 pm the same day Clark was grabbed by 20 police officers. The chief of police told Clark, “Get out of here fast. There will be no moving into this building.” Clark was hit multiple times as he was pushed towards a car which was parked across the street and was shoved inside the car. The police told him, “Get out of Cicero and don’t come back in town or you’ll get a bullet through you.”

A suit was later filed by the NAACP against the Cicero Police Department on June 26th. The Clark family would later moved in.  On July 11, 1951, a crowd of 4,000 whites attacked the apartment building that the Clark’s family lived. Only 60 police officers were assigned to the scene and did almost nothing to control the rioting. Women carried stones from a nearby rock pile to bombard Clark’s windows. Another tossed firebrands (a piece of burning wood) into windows and onto the rooftop of the building. The mob destroyed a bathtub, woodworks, plaster, doors, windows, and set fires to the place. Most of the whites who joined in the rioting were teens. Firemen who rushed to the building were met with showers of bricks and stones from the mob. Sheriff’s deputies asked the firemen to turn their hoses on the rioters, who refused to do so without their lieutenant, who was unavailable at the time.

County Sheriff John E. Babbs asked Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson to send in the Illinois National Guard. When troops arrived at the scene, the rioters fought with them. Armed with bayonets, rifle butts, and tear gas, the troops ended the riot by setting a 300-yard perimeter around the apartment block in which the rioting was in progress. On July 14th most of the violence had ended. When the riot was over, $20,000 in damage had been done to the building.

The Cook County grand jury failed to indict any of the accused rioters, instead indicting Clark’s attorney from the NAACP, the owner of the apartment building, and the owner’s rental agent and lawyer on charges of inciting a riot and conspiracy to damage property. The charges were later dropped.

A federal grand jury then indicted four Cicero officials and three police officers on charges of violating Clark’s rights in connection with the race riots after the United States Attorney General launched an investigation of the incident. Charges were, however, dropped against the fire chief, whose firefighters refused to direct their water hoses at the rioters when requested by the police, and the town’s president. The police chief and two police officer were fined a total of $2,500 for violating Clark’s civil rights. Of the 120 mobsters arrested, two were convicted and fined $10 each. The federal prosecution was hailed as a courageous achievement, since it was rare that civil rights in housing had stirred action by federal officials.

Source:

JULY 11, 1951: CICERO RIOT OVER HOUSING DESEGREGATION – ZINN EDUCATION PROJECT

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