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A Pilgrimage

July 30, 2019

The only existing marker of the event, as of today.

On a warm, sunny day like today, in 1919, a young black boy named Eugene Williams drifted, while swimming or on a raft, over an invisible, watery line of white supremacy just north of Chicago’s 31st street beach. For that transgression—likely enabled by waves similar to those I’m watching today—he was stoned to death by a white vigilante. His name was added to the list of black boys punished for being black, turned into an example and spectacle to remind residents who was in power.

Right now, on July 30, 2019, I’m sitting lakeside near the commemorative plaque pictured below. I’m here, on a pilgrimage, three days after the 100th anniversary of the start of Chicago’s 1919 race riot—to honor Eugene. I sit alone at the beach, bike at my side and the sun warming my back, reflecting on how the struggle for racial equality continues. I’m here deliberately. I want to signal opposition to the racial divisiveness stoked by our demented hate-mongering president.


This is what it looks like, facing east toward Lake Michigan, with the commemorative plaque behind me. This is the beach where Eugene died on July 27, 1919.

The law didn’t protect Eugene that day. The thin blue line excluded black communities. No white allies helped. That boy couldn’t fight, by himself, a chickenshit white supremacist throwing rocks from a safe distance. Instead, while being pelted, he fought the elements, unsuccessfully. We can’t bring that young boy back. But but we can fight to preserve the memory of injustice.

Perhaps this little act of remembering, this pilgrimage, can help heal and, maybe, prevent just one future act of violent oppression. – TL

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