Review of A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919
by Claire Hartfield
Middle School, High School    Clarion    196 pp.    g
1/18    978-0-544-78513-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-328-69904-6    $9.99

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). De facto segregation was woven into much of Chicago’s social fabric in the early twentieth century, including access to the public beaches. An invisible line had been drawn between the Twenty-Sixth Street and Twenty-Ninth Street beaches, resulting in an eruption of animosity and violence whenever that line was crossed. On a sweltering Sunday in July, five black youths were swimming from a raft that drifted too near the white beach when a white man began to throw rocks at the boys, striking seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams and causing him to drown. This tragedy was the catalyst for a week-long uprising that began with a brawl on the Twenty-Ninth Street Beach that Sunday afternoon and escalated into citywide unrest (“seven days of death and destruction as the city purged the rage that had been building for so long”). The first two-thirds of this book carefully unpacks the underlying factors that led to the unrest; the remainder details the events of each violence-filled day until the riots finally ended the following Saturday. Hartfield’s careful account is peppered with phrases from the time (“woe betide”; “a mighty bit better than”), subtly infusing the text with historical flavor. Meticulously chosen archival photos, documents, newspaper clippings, and quotes from multiple primary sources add authenticity. Appended with copious source notes and a thorough bibliography; index unseen.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Eboni Njoku
Eboni Njoku is a children’s librarian at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library Branch of the DC Public Library.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more