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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Performance Honoring Eugene Williams At Bronzeville Beach Will ‘Reclaim A Site Of Violence’ On Race Riot’s Centennial

About 100 people will float in Lake Michigan at Burroughs Beach Saturday where Williams was killed for crossing invisible racial boundaries 100 years ago.

The lone marker of the 1919 riots, placed along the lakefront, near where Eugene Williams was killed.
Patty Wetli/Block Club Chicago
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BRONZEVILLE — Local artists and historians behind FLOAT, a performance art piece honoring Eugene Williams on the centennial of his murder, are calling for people from the community to participate in Saturday’s performance.

The piece by Jefferson Pinder and A.J. McClenon will involve about 100 participants floating in Lake Michigan at Margaret T. Burroughs Beach, 3100 S. Lake Shore Drive.

Williams, a black teenager, was killed after his raft drifted to the “white side” of the lake around 29th Street, sparking Chicago’s 1919 race riots. A white man on the beach launched rocks at the raft and one either hit Williams and caused him to drown or he floundered under the water.

RELATED: It’s Been 100 Years: Is Chicago Finally Ready To Reckon With the City’s 1919 Race Riots?

While participants are floating in Lake Michigan Saturday, 100 years to the minute after Williams died, a meditative soundscape will be played.

Chicago has a tradition of impactful performance art, said Aimy Tien, a storyteller and one of the event’s organizers. FLOAT is a creative way to remind residents of the country’s “long history of racial unrest.”

“I don’t think (the riot) is widespread knowledge,” Tien said. “I’m hoping all the projects Chicago organizations are doing around 1919 will bring more attention to it.”

Those interested in participating in the piece can contact Tien by email.

FLOAT is presented by the Chicago History Museum and the DuSable Museum of African American History.