This week in Illinois history: May 28-June 3
May 28, 1917 - East St. Louis. A race riot shakes the city of East St. Louis. This period of racial unrest was violent enough to warrant the term “massacre,” according to People’s World, a Communist party publication. In a June 26, 2017 piece documenting the riots, People’s World said the city suffered 200 casualties and “extensive property damage.” New manufacturing plants in the North helped spur migration of freed former slaves from the South -- each looking for sustainable employment. The influx of new workers allowed striking workers to be easily replaced; hence the unrest, as new and old workers clashed.
May 29, 1856 - Bloomington. GOP leaders meet for the inaugural state convention. This is rumored to be the site of future President Abraham Lincoln’s “lost speech,” according to the Abraham Lincoln Research Site. Paul M. Angle, the former director of the Chicago Historical Society, explained that a “speech by Lincoln was rarely an ordinary occurrence, but on this occasion he made one of the really great efforts of his life.” Before an audience of approximately 1,000 people, Lincoln delivered a passionate polemic against slavery, blaming it for “the root cause of the country’s problems.” It became the rallying cry to form the modern-day Republican Party, creating a force to eliminate slavery.
May 29, 1914 - Chicago. Birthdate of actor Stacy Keach Sr. Though his son might be better known to some viewers for his 1980s Mike Hammer roles, the elder Keach was himself once a well-known character actor in shows such as "Get Smart” and “Matlock,” as well as General Foods’ TV commercials, according to his 2003 New York Times obituary. His early career included stints for Universal Studios and RKO.
May 30, 1933 - Chicago. Performer Sally Rand displays her fan dance at the World’s Fair. A former vaudeville chorus girl, Rand became famous for dancing to an orchestral backing with both bubbles and fans, the latter of which featured prominently in her World’s Fair Act. The act was provocative for its time, as it featured a backlit Rand in an all-but-transparent gown.
May 31, 1924 - Mattoon. Birthdate of Patricia Roberts Harris, the first African-American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. In her Los Angeles Times obituary, Harris is noted for a “firm” management approach, hallmarks of her service as President Jimmy Carter’s HUD secretary, and later as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. A graduate of Howard University and George Washington University Law School, Harris defied criticism that her success as a lawyer disqualified her from overseeing agencies that help the poor. “I am a black woman, the daughter of a Pullman (railroad) car waiter,” the LA Times quotes her as telling Democratic Sen. William Proxmire during her confirmation on Capitol Hill. “I didn’t start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needs a scholarship to go to school. If you think I have forgotten that, you are wrong.”
June 1, 1912 - Chicago. Architect Daniel Burnham dies during a family trip to Europe. The designer of such well-known edifices as the New York City’s Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, Burnham is almost single-handedly credited with planning Chicago’s rebirth decades after an 1871 blaze decimated the city. A 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune mentions his 1909 plan, unveiled three years after businessmen commissioned it, noting the coverage at the time minimized Burnham’s involvement.
June 2, 1845 - St. Clair County. Statesman William H. Bissell serves in the Mexican-American War. Bissell, a doctor, schoolteacher, lawyer and state representative, added to his list of achievements the title Colonel of the Second Regiment during the war. The Democrat also served in the U.S. Congress and in 1856 was elected Illinois’ governor.
June 2, 1990 - Lower Ohio Valley. Tornados rake Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. The National Weather Service in Indianapolis says this storm outbreak brought heavy damage from “Southeast Illinois through Southern Indiana and into Southwestern Ohio.” The storm front brought 65 tornadoes, destroying hundreds of homes, barns and mobile homes across the quad-state region.
June 3, 1861 - Chicago. Death of Democratic Sen. Stephen A. Douglas reported. A victim of typhoid fever, Douglas was felled campaigning for support for the North during the Civil War. The year prior, Douglas had tried to broker a compromise to keep states from seceding, but ended the effort by proclaiming: “There can be no neutrals in this war; only patriots and traitors,” according to a modern obituary in Politico.com.