Ranjan and his kids
The Daniels family outside of the Steppenwolf Theatre

Senior Associate Dean Ranjan Daniels writes about his experience seeing 1919 at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.

Last week my family and I saw 1919 at the iconic Steppenwolf Theater. The play is based on UChicago Professor Eve Ewing’s award-winning book of the same name.

Professor Ewing’s 1919 looks back on a riot in Chicago fueled when a Black teen drowned while being stoned to death by white people. The play and book connect these horrific chapters of history with modern day issues of struggles to break systemic racism.

I grew up in Hyde Park, attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School, went on to study political science at Emory, public policy at Harris, business at Kellogg, and loved studying US history. One might assume I would have been exposed to this incident somewhere during that time. However, the first I ever heard about the events of 1919 was in 2021 as part of The Common Read, when my team read The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson as part of our team's Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) work. 

The Daniels family outside of the steppenwolf
The Daniels family waiting at the box office under the sign for 1919

I had never heard about this riot—or many other acts of racist violence and injustice that took place during that era across our nation—during my academic career. My history courses seemed to go from Lincoln and the end of the Civil War to the1960s Civil Rights victories, omitting the persecution and senseless slaughter in between.

When I saw that 1919 was going to be interpreted for the stage, I knew my family and I needed to see this important part of our history.  I am grateful that that my kids are learning about the Jim Crow era in their schools, and the play heightened their interest in social justice. 

One shouldn't have to download Watchman to learn about the Tulsa Massacre or see 1919 at my age to learn about the race riots in Chicago that led to the institutionalization of segregation across Chicago.

If you have the opportunity to see the play or read 1919, I cannot recommend it highly enough: it is an invaluable eye-opening experience.