When Rahm was a baby, their mother left him momentarily in the care of two-year-old Ezekiel and a five-year-old cousin before leaving the room. When the boys were children, she sent them off alone to spend summer days on Chicago’s Foster Avenue Beach, which they reached through a tunnel beneath Lake Shore Drive. After a few days in the sun Ari and Rahm could pass for African-Americans, which led to the occasional dustup on a beach that was segregated in custom and practice. “Certain people—mostly white males between the ages of 10 and 15—made it their business to enforce the unwritten whites-only rule,” Ezekiel writes. “When they called my brothers n*****s and tried to bully us off the beach, we—naturally—refused to move. Instead, one of us would answer, ‘You can’t make me leave.’” If shouting didn’t work, the Emanuel boys had no qualms about throwing punches. “We were city kids, not anti-war activists.”
Whew. That’s exactly the situation that started the 1919 race riot. A white mob stoned black swimmers who drifted onto the wrong beach. Thirty-eight people were killed and hundreds more injured.
Fortunately, violence was averted when the Emanuels moved to Wilmette, where nobody cares what color you are, as long as you can pay the fee to use the beach.