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This Day in Resistance History – The Chicago Eviction Riots

August 3, 2011

The Great Depression hit working people hard all over the country, especially in industrial cities like Chicago.

By 1931 there were roughly 750,000 unemployed living in Chicago and many municipal workers and public school teachers were not getting paid on time or at all beginning that spring.

With unemployment so high and people not getting paid for their work, landlords began giving out eviction notices all over the city. Some people left quietly, but many people started to resist the thought of being homeless and began to stay in the rental property they inhabited.

The landlords began to use the legal system and the Chicago police to physically force people out of their homes, but the more that people witnessed this kind of brutality the more it caused people to want to resist this injustice.

At times people would pile up their furniture near the entrance of the door so that it was nearly impossible for landlords or the police to get in. Other times people would stack their furniture in front of the house near the sidewalk as visible sign of protest. Often this kind of resistance was spontaneous, where people would get an eviction notice and then walk around in their neighborhoods telling people what would happen. This sometimes would lead to a march and clashes with cops.

People also took action that was more organized and in early August of 1931 an estimated 60,000 people marched to protest the new eviction laws in Chicago. The march turned ugly when police began attacking protestors. At least 3 protestors were killed and several cops injured, but the eviction uprising also led to the creation of unemployment councils and unions in Chicago and around the country.

From eviction riots to foreclosure crisis

Today, millions of Americans are faced with very similar circumstances with thousands of people being evicted daily across the country and millions confronted with home foreclosures.

Like the first Great Depression some people are responding to the foreclosure crisis by protesting and refusing to leave. There have even been stories where local law enforcement has refused to evict people as they see it as an inhuman act.

There are also organized groups that have sprung up all over the US since 2008 as a response to the foreclosures. Groups like Detroit Moratorium Now have organized homeowners and tenants to fight to keep their homes and they have engaged in organized resistance to the banks and other lending institutions that have profited from the foreclosure crisis.

This kind of a movement does not exist in Grand Rapids, but there is the group Foreclosure Response. Foreclosure Response connects people facing foreclosure to resources and advocates for change to stop foreclosure, which is important work. However, the local group doesn’t seem to be engaging the power structure or the banks that are the cause of the foreclosure crisis, nor are they advocating direct action as a response.

Maybe we need to reclaim the spirit of resistance that people engaged in after the 1929 economic crash, take to the streets, demand housing rights for all and organize tenant unions to counter the power of contemporary landlords.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 4:59 pm

    Definitely didn’t read about those happenings in Chicago in history class in school growing up. Fighting for the details in the history textbooks is another extremely important thing to worry about these days.

  2. September 22, 2011 8:45 pm

    Landlords have bills to pay. Many landlords have worked many hard, long hours in order to buy the residential property that they lease out. Why should THEY have to lose the property they worked so hard for because the tenant can’t pay rent and refuses to move out?? Things happen in life but everyone must remember that we have to become responsible human beings, if you sign a lease, you agree to fulfill the rental obligations.

  3. bloomcollective permalink
    September 22, 2011 8:51 pm

    Did you actually read the article? It is not about all landlords, but this specific action that took place in Chicago. The only contemporary connection I made was to home foreclosures, where we know that home owners were cheated by lending institutions.

  4. Christopher R Reed permalink
    May 1, 2018 1:11 am

    FOR a FULLER PICTURE OF CHICAGO, READ Christopher Robert Reed, The Depression Comes to Chicago’s South Side, 1930-1933 (Indiana University Press, 2011)

  5. Christopher R Reed permalink
    May 1, 2018 1:13 am

    Conventional politics having proved ineffective, black Chicagoans took to the streets in the Don’t Spend campaign, street car riots, eviction riots and relief station riots


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