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"Radically different and radically unchanged..."
In July of 1919, Eugene Williams, an African-American boy, accidentally floated into the “whites-only” section of the 29th Street beach on Lake Michigan. White sunbathers started throwing rocks. After being struck by a rock, Williams drowns. The South Side of Chicago exploded. Racism, neighborhood segregation, and economic instability became a tinder box that when lit, raged out of control. Once the fires were extinguished, 38 people were dead and 1000s were homeless. The 1919 Chicago riot was the worst out of over twenty riots across the United States that became known as the “Red Summer.”
Eve Ewing’s book 1919 asks us to remember this often forgotten event. As she notes in the introduction, “This collection of poems is meant as a small offering, an entry point into a conversation about a part of our history that I think is worth talking about much more than we do” (p. 4) .
In 1919, Ewing presents us with poetry that is accessible, yet deftly complex. Each poem connects with the official report that was published after the riots. She connects us to the history but helps us to feel the time and place in ways that that a “standard” history does not. Ewing explores the before, during, and after of the 1919 riots touching on the murder of Emmett Till, the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the murder of Laquan McDonald.