Private Privat's 'distinction'

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

In response to a July 31 article I wrote, entitled "West Side clergy highlight legacy of 1919 race riot," an alert reader, Edgar Hiestand, emailed an Aug. 8, 1919 Oak Leaves article, "News From Militia Front," that's worth mentioning. 

"Pvt. George Privat of Company D claims the distinction of being the only Oak Park militiaman to have drawn blood," according to the Oak Leaves. "He stabbed a colored man with his bayonet. Mr. Privat was sitting in a doorway on Park avenue. His rifle with the bayonet fixed was across his knees. The tired citizen-soldier fell asleep. A colored man running to get aboard an auto truck ran into the sharp blade of the infantry weapon. The bayonet penetrated his leg to a depth of two inches and he bled freely. Mr. Privat was shocked and the black man forgave him and limped away." 

The rioting started on Sunday, July 27, 1919, after Eugene Williams, 17, drowned in Lake Michigan after a white mob hurled stones at the Black teenager, because he was swimming on the "white side" of a segregated beach near 29th Street. 

Not even Oak Park was untouched. 

Michael Romain


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