I began the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project (CRR19) to address historical amnesia and fight racism. Despite its impact, few know of the worst incident of racial violence in Chicago history—a week of violence that killed 38 people and injured 537 others. Further, this event greatly contributed to the subsequent expansion and hardening of residential segregation that still shapes Chicago. Having taught US history in Illinois for two decades, I can say no one knows this history. Yet how could such a pivotal moment be “forgotten”?

In recent years, I had the good fortune to spend three summers in Berlin, where I was shocked by the many monuments, museums, and other sorts of public reckoning with the Holocaust. By contrast, the silence of America's public spaces—regarding the genocide of Indigenous peoples and enslavement of Africans—is deafening.

One German public art project particularly affected me: Gunter Demnig began Stolpersteine...

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