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How It Happened

Chronology of a Riot

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The article that follows appeared, in shorter form, in the now-defunct Chicago Daily News one week after the riots that were touched off by the murder of Dr. King. Daily News editors cut out large chunks of the article, including the "fists" introductory section. Here we have restored most of those cuts and reedited the piece to conform to the Reader style. We present it as both a chronology of events and an artifact of the time.

My assignment then was to assemble a chronological narrative of the rebellion or riots from as many eyewitnesses as I could interview in the three days following the event. I interviewed student leaders, community workers, residents, businessmen, and laborers from Chicago's black neighborhoods. Policemen were not talking to reporters.

I also debriefed about a dozen Daily News reporters assigned to cover the action in the streets. I worked essentially as a rewrite man--during and after the riots--relying heavily on phoned interviews with reporters and news sources. I personally saw some riot activity in the Cabrini-Green area.

This story should have been handled by a black reporter. But at that time, the Daily News had only one black reporter--Burleigh Hines, now at WBBM TV, and he was tired of being the house expert on "the mood of the ghetto."

The story was written at a time when journalistic convention required--and some black news sources requested--that the word Negro be used to refer to those who are now commonly called blacks. At the time, the term black was worn as a badge of protest. I usually asked blacks whether they wanted to be called black or Negro in print. Famed black historian John Hope Franklin of the University of Chicago once gave me a stern lecture urging me to avoid the term black, saying "Negro is the right word. It is the term historians use, and it is the word I shall continue to use." Since then, Negro History Week has become Black History Month.

When this article appeared, on Saturday, April 13, the atmosphere of the city was one of paranoia. Two days later, Mayor Richard J. Daley made his notorious order for police to "shoot to kill arsonists and shoot to maim looters." Few people wanted to be quoted by name, as city officials hastened to prove that the disorders were planned by a handful of black militants. Many sources expressed fears that their published comments might result in their being subpoenaed by a grand jury.

The Daily News headlined the article:

Riot story

Word of Dr. King's death spreads, there is eerie silence, and then . . .

Fists. It was a Friday of fists. Black furious fists.

"They just have a fist inside of them that made them hurt," said Eddie Mack Jones, a Negro deputy sheriff who usually serves summonses.

Last Friday afternoon he turned pied piper. He led about 100 black teenagers out of the Civic Center Plaza, where they held a makeshift ceremony mourning the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

Hundreds of terrified whites watched as Jones led them down State Street south to Van Buren. They turned west on Van Buren and marched back to the west-side ghetto that was their home.

Jones talked about that fist inside of them and how "they didn't know what to do about it."

There were other fists that Friday. Fists bloodied by window breaking. Fists full of loot. Fists that flung homemade gasoline bombs. Fists that flared out at "whitey." The fists of Friday's fury.

How did it start?

On Thursday evening, April 4, came the bulletin: a white sniper's bullet had torn open the jugular vein of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a Memphis motel. Dr. King was dead.

Within minutes, Chicago police deputy superintendent James M. Rochford summoned his top aides for a conference on the sixth floor of police headquarters, 1121 S. State. Fearing retaliatory violence, top police officials cancelled all days off for the city's 11,500 policemen, effective at midnight.

Rochford also called Richard T. Dunn, a Bloomington lawyer who is commander of the Illinois Emergency Operations headquarters. Dunn sounded a National Guard alert, warning the militia to be ready for an emergency call-up.

There were other meetings that evening--some on the street corners, others in shabby storefronts and churches in the black ghettos on Chicago's south and west sides. These are the overcrowded, overpriced slums that Dr. King wanted to "end" in 1966, when he marched into stone-throwing white mobs to seek justice in housing.

There teens gathered in informal clusters or orderly meetings to discuss what to do. Dr. King was dead. They had to do something: march out of school, hold vigils in parks, march to the Loop.

Trying to cool it

On the west side, a few older militants met and spoke of revenge. It was a short meeting, though. "Cool it," one said. "We don't know everyone here." They didn't. One of them was an undercover policeman.

On the south side, leaders of the Blackstone Rangers gathered in Saint Cyril Church, 6420 S. Sangamon. They worked out plans to keep the peace in Woodlawn--and for the most part they succeeded.

In the near-north-side ghetto there were no meetings, a militant youth later said--at least none that he heard of. This black ghetto, clustered about the massive high-rise Cabrini-Green public-housing projects at Division and Larrabee, though less notorious, is just as impoverished as those on the west and south sides.

"We didn't need to meet," said the youth. "Everyone knew what happened to King, and they knew what they had to do about it." Several youths, he said, had cans of gasoline in storage. The gasoline was later poured into bottles that were hurled into white-owned businesses that burned to the ground.

The meetings didn't disturb the numbed silence that the assassination brought to the ghettos.

"It was an eerie silence," said the Reverend Virgil Patterson, who entered his office at Lawndale Presbyterian Church, 1908 S. Millard. "The sounds of the street just weren't there."

First firebombing

At another church, Calvary Presbyterian, 4201 W. Jackson, the silence was interrupted by a gasoline bomb. Fire destroyed most of the church. The Reverend Lynward Stevenson, pastor, said he knew of no motive for arson.

Police later arrested five Negroes--some of whom were at the abortive west-side meeting--and charged them with firebombing the church and four other buildings during the riots that followed.

Aside from the church fire, Thursday and early Friday were "without incident," as police said later.

Friday morning dawned bright and springlike. Negro children--some bearing placards or wearing pictures of Dr. King pinned to their coats--headed for school. Attendance was light. Several mothers--mourning or fearing the worst--kept the little ones home.

Sometime before 9 AM, students at all-Negro Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams, worked in the school print shop to put out a flier. It said: "Dr. Martin Luther King has been assassinated. Show your respect by staying out of school."

Youths left the school to circulate the leaflets at nearby schools. Some adults helped. A teacher at nearby Delano Elementary School said the leaflets were handed to children at recess. Most of the young children didn't return from recess, he said.

At 9 AM Marshall High was in chaos. Some youths walked through the streets near the school and, as a youth worker said, "made certain gestures" at shop owners at Madison and Kedzie.

The merchants--most of them white--got the message. Many closed their stores, pulled the iron cages over their windows, and left for home.

The march begins

Inside Marshall, officials were trying to conduct staggered memorial assemblies, as school superintendent James F. Redmond had requested. Teachers couldn't hold classes. And soon even the assemblies couldn't hold the youths.

By 10 AM, most students left Marshall--"orderly," a school official recalled. "There was no violence, only a few fires in wastebaskets." Several youths, following Thursday's hasty plan, headed south on Kedzie toward Jackson--toward Farragut and Harrison high schools.

On the south side, other ghetto high schools began to pop like kernels in a kettle of sizzling oil. Many of the schools had been seething with student protest--orderly and otherwise--since September.

In fact, social workers said, three of the schools had planned walkouts for Friday--even before the murder in Memphis.

At one of them, Hirsch High, 7740 S. Ingleside, students walked out at 10:30 and rallied in Grand Crossing Park to discuss their grievances. Then they held a ceremony in mourning. A young bugler sounded taps. Students, chanting a hymn, walked in orderly fashion around the school and then dispersed.

There were also walkouts at nearby Harper, Parker, and Englewood high schools. Most of the Parker crowd went to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church for a memorial service.

Suddenly, police were summoned to South Halsted and 63rd Street. Youths were breaking windows along Halsted. Police, badly outnumbered, were forced to play "cat and mouse."

To the west, students at Lindblom and Harper joined the mob of 500 that swept east on 63rd Street from Winchester.

Windows shattered

Police, surprised and overwhelmed, watched as the youths broke almost every window of businesses on 63rd. It was a white area--a backlash area--and some white youths promptly retaliated.

After the wave of youths dispersed into the Negro area west of Ashland, white youths hurled stones and bricks at Negro motorists moving along the riot-scarred street. Meanwhile, a white barber nursed the wounds from a brick that had crashed through his window and hit him in the face.

Window breaking and some looting raged at 63rd and Halsted. A white motorist was dragged from his car at 69th and Morgan by Negroes who later drove off in it.

To the east and south, Hyde Park and Calumet high schools were dismissed early. Students reportedly dispersed calmly. At Chicago Vocational School, 2100 E. 87th St., where black-white tensions run high, Negro youths swarmed from the school and swept west on 87th Street, breaking windows along the way.

At the same time on the west side, hundreds of youths from Farragut and Harrison high schools met up with the young army from Marshall.

Sporadic violence was tearing at Madison and Kedzie. "Anything white was fair game," said a youth worker.

It looked like a mob, but the Marshall-Farragut-Harrison march was fairly orderly as it marched up Kedzie past Marshall again.

A few threw stones, but as the march turned west on Madison--heading toward Austin High, 231 N. Pine--most of the 1,500 marchers were nonviolent.

Singing "We Shall Overcome" and chanting "King is dead," the marchers picked up younger children, some as young as seven, who also had left school. They marched north at Kildare and turned west on Washington.

Police, who had watched but not interfered with the march, decided to invoke some controls at Pine and Washington. They tried to split the march into two groups before it headed north to Austin.

"That's where nonviolence turned into violence," said Warner Saunders, director of the Better Boys Foundation, who observed the march.

Marchers scuffled with police, some of whom began swinging their billy clubs. Youths broke past police lines and streamed to the school.

"It was a swell march until then," said a Farragut junior. "But some of the militant souls decided they wanted more. They said the whites had killed nonviolence so they must want violence."

Some, including Saunders, said the police overreacted.

When commander Mark Thanasouris saw fights break out between some whites and Negroes, he fired his gun in the air. Other police fired their pistols. Youths scampered out of the street and began leaving the school.

Black-power rally

About 400 to 500 reassembled and marched east on Madison--toward Garfield Park, where the planned vigil was to have taken place. The vigil became a black-power rally, with two women--in green pillbox hats and African garb--exhorting the crowd.

"Don't loot," one said. "Break all the damn windows you want, but don't loot. You only ruin it when you loot."

But the breaking and looting had already begun a mile to the east near Madison and Western. A group of youths from Crane and Marshall, marching east on Madison, never reached their Loop destination.

A social worker, driving east on Madison at the time, called it a "carnival of breaking and looting.

"They were using their fists," he said, "and they knocked out every last piece of glass. All of them were teenagers and younger. The adults stood near their homes or on the sidewalks and watched. They really looked shook. The police were helpless."

Others not looting were members of the Conservative Vice Lords, who were meeting to discuss ways to cool down their "brothers and sisters." The gang proved to be a stabilizing influence, but only after most of the damage was done. Then they dispensed food and clothing, helped the homeless.

On the near north side, meanwhile, Negro youths stormed from Waller and Cooley schools. Police herded the Waller youths south, out of the white neighborhood around Waller, 2039 N. Orchard.

But they couldn't stop the window breaking and stone tossing once the youths reached Division Street. White motorists and white stores were the targets.

Friday's fury had been set loose--north, south, and west. There was even sporadic window breaking and looting in the Loop. But most of the rallies and processions there, like the one Eddie Mack Jones led, were relatively orderly.

The west side was the worst. The Garfield Park rally broke up at about 1:30 PM and riotous bands of teens headed east and west on Madison. Daily News reporter Burleigh Hines saw it this way:

"Vandalism began in earnest. The youths were not satisfied unless the main stores were completely destroyed--clothing, discount, liquor, and jewelry stores.

"The police, outnumbered, stood by and watched. This made looters bolder. They made faces at the cops while they stole anything they could reach from the stores--most of which were closed with iron bars in front.

"Little kids, 10 and 11, joined in the fun. Mannequins were torn from the dress shops and became dancing partners. The white police did nothing. They sat in their squad cars and let Negro cops do the law enforcing. The Negro cops would fire in the air and this would momentarily disperse the looters.

"At no time did I see any brutality. For the most part the police kept their distance--much to the chagrin of store owners.

At 2 PM, police superintendent James B. Conlisk phoned Mayor Richard J. Daley and recommended calling out the National Guard. His manpower was spread much too thin. Within minutes Acting Governor Samuel Shapiro, called by the mayor, mobilized the Guard. Troops were ordered to armories. Governor Otto Kerner was in Florida on a speaking tour and vacation.

Unlike in other riots, the Guard was called out before there was any burning or sniping or shooting by the police, a police spokesman said.

Worker exodus

Fear gripped the city. Negro workers at a Northlake electronics plant brought guns to work. Whites who work in or prey on the ghettos were fleeing. Several were pulled from their cars, from buses, from stores they were trying to close. Loop workers, leaving early, jammed Michigan Avenue.

So many motorists were being stoned along Division Street that police blocked it off. West-side business streets, likewise, were impassable.

Madness, it seemed, was everywhere. First- and second-graders leaving Gresham School in a middle-class Negro area cheered, "They are going to tear down everything." Youths at Frances Cabrini homes burned an American flag.

Nearby, near Scott and Sedgwick, a car driven by a Negro and occupied by a white man, a visitor from England, was stopped by angry youths. The visitor was pummeled as he scrambled south to Division where police were stationed.

Then police, led by commander Clarence Braasch of District Six, marched north on Sedgwick to Blackhawk, sweeping anyone black into paddy wagons rolling slowly behind them.

Mothers shrieked from the windows of the Old Town Garden Apartments as their children--both innocent and guilty--were piled into the vans.

"Those indiscriminate police sweeps really embittered everyone," said a VISTA volunteer working in the area. "One of the kids picked up was nabbed later Saturday with a rifle, he was so furious."

The stone throwing and the beatings, he and others reported, came from only a few in the crowd. But the police, few of them Negro, were judged to have been wholly ineffective. They did manage to contain the crowds from spilling onto Old Town's Wells Street--the garish, bangled playground northeast of Cabrini-Green.

On the besieged west side, the first fire broke out. It was in a large furniture store, already looted, at 2235 W. Madison. It was a savage blaze--meriting five alarms and three specials.

It was now 4 PM, and it was a time for burning. The west side lived up to its reputation as a tinderbox.

"Find a fire"

Like the police before them, Chicago's fire fighters were soon overwhelmed. A thousand Streets and Sanitation workers were pressed into service as auxiliary fire fighters. Suburban departments were called to man outlying stations--while half the city's fire-fighting equipment was dispatched to an area bounded roughly by Damen, Madison, Kildare, and 16th.

As quickly as a store was looted, it was firebombed. Weary firemen didn't need their radios to tell them where to move next. While they toiled, they were pelted by rocks, bottles, and sometimes bullets, they reported.

Officials at the Fire Academy, 550 W. DeKoven, told fresh crews, "Get on West Madison and find yourself a fire."

Shops on other streets were burned. Fires raged on Kedzie, Pulaski, and particularly West Roosevelt from Kedzie to Independence on both sides of the street.

Stores were the targets, but Negro apartments above them also were destroyed. Heavy black smoke forced the sun to set early on the west side.

Darkness brought death to the west side. The first of nine victims--all killed Friday and early Saturday--was Ponowel Holloway, 16, of 3946 W. Maypole. The Marshall High sophomore was shot and killed, police said, while looting a store at 4135 W. Madison. It was now 7:15 PM.

Moments later, the second death. Cyrus Hartfield, 32, of 4137 W. Van Buren, found shot in the chest at 4113 W. Madison.

Both were taken to Garfield Park Community Hospital, where a tall, husky attendant--a veteran of riots past--said:

"It's like this. First you get a lot of whites who got beat up when they don't get out of the area on time. Then you get a few cops with cuts and maybe a gunshot wound. But the rest of the night, it's all Negroes--mostly cuts.

"The longer it lasts, the more serious the wounds. When the cops start shooting back, then we get the dead ones."

The cops, after unprecedented restraint, were shooting back.

One policeman brought a young Negro boy into the hospital. He had a long, jagged cut on his leg. The boy said he was hit by flying glass.

The policeman twisted his face into a mask of exasperation and said:

"To hear them tell it, they were always walking down the street minding their own business." He turned to the boy.

"How about it, son? What happened? Got your leg tangled up on broken glass crawlin' through a broken window, eh? Or maybe it happened when you kicked the window in, right? Yeah! Was it worth it? A pair of shoes? Maybe five pair, huh? And now you can't even walk in the pair you have on?"

Many of the looters tried to justify their thievery.

"Don't call it looting," said a youthful Cabrini resident. "It's swappin'. They take from us with their high prices and bad meat, and now we're takin' a little of it back."

Some of those arrested for looting were Friday and Saturday shoppers, a youth worker said. They were older people who stood and watched with puzzlement as youngsters tore through the stores. When the police arrived, they nabbed the adults--too slow to dash away.

The west side was an inferno, but there were fires north and south also. Every white-owned store in the near-north riot area was firebombed. There also were fires on Halsted from 55th to 69th--even though the south side was the quietest.

Woodlawn, where gang members prowled the streets for peace, was spared serious trouble Friday and early Saturday--a tribute to the power of the Blackstone Rangers.

Escorts lacking

While the west side burned, fire trucks were running out of gasoline.

Extra gas was brought in, gingerly, by commercial tankers. Police squads were supposed to escort the trucks into the battle zone, but only one of four cars assigned showed up to escort one truck.

"I'm sittin' on the top of 4,000 gallons of gas," the driver yelled. "Either get me help or I'll get the hell out of here."

There were more deaths. The first and only death on the north side came when Curtis Jefro, 31 of 1230 N. Larrabee, was shot on his 12th-floor balcony. Unarmed, he was just looking. Several witnesses said they saw police shooting up at the time.

At about 11 PM the first units of the National Guard rolled into the streets. For the most part, they patrolled the streets in jeeps like American gunboats in the China seas. Some police said they should have stationed themselves at fixed locations. Looters would disappear when the trucks rolled by--only to return.

By 3 AM Saturday the streets were calm, emptied of residents. Authorities hoped for a lull. The fires crackled on. There was no lull.

As early as 7 AM the looters were back. Daily News reporter Ed Rooney said the situation was "crucial" on Roosevelt, Kedzie, Madison, and Western.

"The police were obviously overwhelmed and the National Guard troops were inexperienced and outmaneuvered by the rioters, who seemed to be toying with them," Rooney said.

Fire demolished a Greek restaurant at 63rd and South Artesian--a white neighborhood.

Sniping had been reported through Friday night, but on Saturday morning police spokesmen said the "first serious sniping" broke out at Cabrini. No law-enforcement authorities were reported hit. Some residents in the building were shot. Police were returning fire. Two snipers were eventually flushed out of 1158 N. Cleveland--a high-rise public-housing unit. It was built that way because white wards didnt want public housing. The city hadn't intended to build the fortress it became--a perfect haven for snipers.

Nearby, young Negro children were playing "cops and looters" with police. They would tear out after a store near Clybourn. The bold ones would break in. Police, responding more aggressively now, would tear after them in squad cars. The kids would scatter, laughing. A few would be caught.

But the others would gather near police again, taunting and jeering.

"C'mon let's play again . . . let's go at it again."

Free music

Youths virtually danced in the streets, as the soul sounds of the Impressions blared out of windows from record players, some of them brand new, not paid for.

"We're winners . . . and never let anybody say 'Ah, you can't make it 'cause your feeble mind is in the way.' No more tears will be cried, because we have finally dried our eyes and we're movin' on up, movin' on up. Lord have mercy, we're movin' on up . . . movin' on up."

Police cursed. Youth workers reported that those arrested got some extra thwacks in the kidneys. A young man, Ray Scott, who was taking movies, was arrested and jostled into the paddy wagon.

Saturday afternoon Conlisk asked the mayor to request U.S. troops. Daley called Shapiro, who in turn notified President Johnson. And at 4 PM troops from bases in Texas and Colorado were en route. Conlisk, meanwhile, canceled all police furloughs and Mayor Daley imposed a 7 PM curfew and a ban on liquor and gas-by-the-can sales.

The fear was that trouble would soon break out on the vast south side, and the manpower, once more, would be spread too thin.

As the troops were landing at O'Hare, trouble did erupt on the south side, along 63rd from Cottage Grove to Woodlawn. The familiar pattern of breaking, looting, burning, and some sporadic sniping followed, police reported.

But, police said, violence did not rage out of control as it had on the west side on Friday.

Trouble subsides

Sunday was a day of mourning, a day of help, and a day of scattered trouble south--but not north or west.

Army troops camped at Jackson Park patrolled on 63rd Street. It was the Lord's day, but the 63rd Street crowds were surly. Police and firemen were pushed around by angry crowds while trying to rescue some kids from a fire at 6325 S. Ingleside. The kids, overcome with smoke, lived.

Refugee stations were set up. Agencies collected food and clothing for riot victims, as emergency supplies poured in from the mostly white suburbs.

Order had returned to the west and near-north sides.

And the south side cooled down after a Homeric truce confrontation by some 3,000 members of two traditionally warring Woodlawn gangs. The truce and "keep-the-cool" mobilization plans were arranged--through the efforts of the University of Chicago--by Jeff Fort of the Rangers and David Parksdale of the East Side Disciples.

They parleyed on kitchen chairs on the grassy mall of the Midway Plaisance near the university. Their troops passed in single-file lines stretching two blocks around the Midway.

They met near where Dr. King once spoke, valiantly seeking to unite the embattled gangs behind his freedom movement "to end slums." It didn't work in his lifetime, but now--at least temporarily--the gangs had united to honor his death.

The long-sought calm had been restored. There would be scattered incidents the next few days. But nothing major. Violence rarely takes a holiday from the ghetto.

For the statistical abstract, nine were dead, all Negroes; hundreds were injured, and more than 2,000 were arrested--most for curfew violations, a good portion of the rest for looting. Looting bonds were set high: $5,000. About 160 buildings were destroyed. Property damage is estimated at $9,000,000. Some 200 families are burned out of homes and belongings.

The jails are filled and--if past riots are any indicator--they hold the innocent as well as the guilty.

The talk turns to rebuilding--this time public housing no higher than three stories. Help--in the form of food and clothing, not housing--is offered by white communities.

"Those white people sure are bein' nice to us," said a 16-year-old girl from the near north side. "They even have buses coming to take us to shop.

"But if those buses don't go to stores owned by Negroes," she snapped angrily, "I just have to firebomb that bus."

She was boasting, trying to shock "whitey" the reporter.

But in her right hand, there was that fist.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Paul Sequeira, permission of the Chicago Sun-Times, Inc..

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