Race War Flares Up: Chicago’s Swedish Press, the Great Migration, and the 1919 Riots

  • Ulf Jonas Björk Indiana University at Indianapolis
Keywords: immigrant press, Swedish-Americans, African-Americans, race relations, ethnic images


This study of the three large Swedish-language weeklies in Chicago examines how they covered the city’s African-American community during the latter half of the 1910s, a time when blacks migrated to the North in huge numbers. In Chicago, the result was that the African-American population almost tripled between 1910 and 1920. Little of that was visible in the columns of the weeklies, however, with only a handful of items telling readers that blacks were arriving in record numbers. What news there was about African-Americans, moreover, tended to portray them as criminals. Consequently, the riots that shook Chicago in late July 1919 seemed to take the editors of the weeklies by surprise. A major explanation for the Swedish weeklies’ coverage was that they relied almost exclusively on the city’s English-language dailies for news that did not concern their own ethnic group and thus mirrored the negative way the dailies portrayed African-Americans.

Author Biography

Ulf Jonas Björk, Indiana University at Indianapolis
Ulf Jonas Björk, Ph.D., is Professor of Journalism at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, where he teaches journalism history and media law. He has a long-standing interest in the immigrant press in America and has published several articles and book chapters on that topic, which was also the subject of his dissertation. He can be reached at jbjork@iupui.edu.