By Eve Ewing


1919 by Eve Ewing is a striking collection of poems that intricately explores the racial and social dynamics of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. 📖 Eve Ewing, a sociologist, visual artist, and poet based in Chicago, utilizes her unique blend of academic insight and creative expression to bring historical events to life through vivid and compelling poetry. This work falls under the genre of documentary poetry, where real historical events are presented through poetic narratives, combining fact with the emotive power of poetry to provoke thought and invoke empathy. The book not only delves into the events of 1919 but also reflects on how those events echo into modern times, making it a significant piece for both historical and literary studies. 🌟

Meaning of 1919

Opening Section
In the opening section of 1919, Ewing sets the stage by depicting the tense atmosphere of Chicago during the summer of 1919. This part of the poem introduces the racial tensions that are about to explode into violence. The use of vivid imagery and selective historical detail paints a stark picture of the segregation and inequality that fueled the riots.

Mid Section
The mid section of the poem delves deeper into the incidents of the riot itself. Here, Ewing shifts focus from the broader social context to individual stories, highlighting personal experiences and tragedies. This part often uses direct quotes and references to actual events, bringing authenticity and emotional depth to the narrative.

Concluding Section
In the concluding section, the poem reflects on the aftermath and the long-term impacts of the riots. Ewing explores themes of memory and history, questioning how the events of 1919 are remembered and taught. The tone here is often reflective, with a call to acknowledge and learn from the past to inform the future.

Throughout these sections, Ewing’s use of language is both beautiful and brutal, crafting a narrative that is as informative as it is moving.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza by Stanza Dissection

Stanza One: Here, Ewing uses short, abrupt lines to mimic the sudden onset of violence. The syntax is choppy, creating a sense of urgency and chaos.

Stanza Two: The diction becomes more intense, with words like “smoldering” and “shattered” evoking strong visual and emotional responses.

Stanza Three: This stanza employs figurative language, with metaphors and similes that compare the riots to a storm, suggesting both natural inevitability and destructive power.

Stanza Four: Ewing utilizes rhythmic pacing to mimic the frenetic activities of the riot. This stanza focuses on the clash between the police and the community, using verbs like “clashed” and “roared” to describe the confrontation.

Stanza Five: The focus here is on the aftermath of a particular day of rioting. Ewing employs quieter, more somber tones, with a focus on loss and mourning. The imagery here is less violent but more poignant, reflecting on the debris of the conflict.

Stanza Six: This stanza explores the broader societal implications, linking the events of 1919 to contemporary issues. The use of modern slang and references to current social movements connects past events with present realities, making the historical narrative relevant today.

Themes and Symbols

Theme of Injustice: Ewing repeatedly highlights the systemic inequalities faced by Black residents of Chicago, making the theme of racial injustice central to the poem.

Symbol of Fire: Fire appears throughout the poem as a symbol of both destruction and cleansing, representing the destructive impact of the riots and a fervent desire for change.

Theme of Community: The community’s response to the violence and how they cope and rebuild afterward highlights the resilience and solidarity among the affected residents.

Symbol of Water: Water in the poem symbolizes both life and destruction. It refers to Lake Michigan, near which much of the rioting took place, and serves as a motif for cleansing and renewal.

Symbol of The Red Summer: The term “Red Summer” is used throughout the poem as a symbol of the bloodshed and the widespread racial violence during the summer of 1919 across America, not just in Chicago.

Poetic Devices used in 1919

Alliteration“Silent streets suddenly stirred.”
Assonance“The heat of hate hung heavy.”
Consonance“Last light lingering at the lake.”
Enjambment“The fire flew/furious and fast.”
Imagery“Smoke smothering the skyline.”
Metaphor“Chicago was a powder keg.”
Personification“The wind whispered warnings.”
Simile“Anger spread like wildfire.”
Symbolism“The broken glass was everywhere, / shards of shattered dreams.”
Synecdoche“All hands on deck.”

1919 – FAQs

Q: What inspired Eve Ewing to write ‘1919’?
A: Eve Ewing was inspired by the historical events of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, her own experiences in Chicago, and her academic research into the sociocultural dynamics of the city.

Q: How does ‘1919’ relate to today’s social issues?
A: ‘1919’ draws direct lines between the historical racial tensions of the early 20th century and the continued struggles against racial injustice and inequality today.

Q: What poetic form does Eve Ewing use in ‘1919’?
A: Eve Ewing employs a variety of poetic forms in ‘1919’, including free verse and narrative poetry, to bring flexibility and emotional depth to her examination of historical events.

Q: How is the structure of ‘1919’ significant to its themes?
A: The structure of ‘1919’, with its shifts between individual and collective experiences, underscores the interconnectedness of personal and historical narratives. This structural choice amplifies the impact of societal issues on individuals and vice versa.

Q: Are there historical references in ‘1919’ that require additional context for understanding?
A: Yes, ‘1919’ is filled with historical references, such as mentions of specific locations in Chicago and events from the Red Summer. Understanding these references enhances the reader’s comprehension of the poem’s depth and the gravity of the events discussed.

Q: What can students gain from studying ‘1919’ in an advanced placement language course?
A: Students can gain insights into how poetry can explore and illuminate historical events and social issues. They also learn about literary devices and how these can be used to enhance storytelling and convey complex messages in a nuanced way.

1919 Study Guide

List all the devices used in this verse of ‘1919’:
“Bricks fell like raindrops,
murmuring the city’s sorrows,
drenched in the tears of the sky.”


  • Simile: “Bricks fell like raindrops”
  • Personification: “murmuring the city’s sorrows”
  • Metaphor: “drenched in the tears of the sky”

This detailed guide provides a comprehensive look into Eve Ewing’s “1919,” offering insights into its structure, themes, and literary devices, along with practical exercises for deeper understanding and engagement.