[Blackstudies-l] Red Summer of 1919 remembered
lima at geneseo.edu
Wed Jul 24 09:14:55 EDT 2019
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Red Summer of 1919 remembered
Violence against blacks was rampant through US
Jesse J. Holland
America in the summer of 1919 ran red with blood from racial violence, and
yet today, 100 years later, not many people know it even happened.
It flowed in small towns like Elaine, Arkansas, in medium-size places such
as Annapolis, Maryland, and Syracuse, New York, and in big cities like
Washington and Chicago. Hundreds of African American men, women and
children were burned alive, shot, lynched or beaten to death by white mobs.
Thousands saw their homes and businesses burned to the ground and were
driven out, many never to return.
Branded "Red Summer," it amounted to some of the worst white-on-black
violence in U.S. history.
Beyond the lives and family fortunes lost, it had far-reaching
repercussions, contributing to generations of black distrust of white
authority. But it also galvanized blacks to defend themselves and their
neighborhoods with fists and guns; reinvigorated civil rights organizations
like the NAACP and led to a new era of activism; gave rise to courageous
reporting by black journalists; and influenced the generation of leaders
who would take up the fight for racial equality decades later.
"The people who were the icons of the civil rights movement were raised by
the people who survived Red Summer," said Saje Mathieu, a history professor
at the University of Minnesota.
For all that, there are no national observances marking Red Summer. History
textbooks ignore it, and most museums don’t acknowledge it. The reason: Red
Summer contradicts the post-World War I-era notion that America was making
the world safe for democracy, historians say.
"It doesn’t fit into the neat stories we tell ourselves," said David
Krugler, author of "1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African
Americans Fought Back."
That could change. A monument has been proposed in Arkansas. Several
authors have written about the bloody summer. A Brooklyn choral group
performed Red Summer-theme songs like "And They Lynched Him on a Tree" in
March to commemorate the centennial. At the National World War I Museum and
Memorial in Kansas City, Mathieu and author Cameron McWhirter plan to
present some of their findings next Tuesday.
Researchers believe that in a span of 10 months, more than 250 African
Americans were killed in at least 25 riots across the U.S. by white mobs
that never faced punishment. Historian John Hope Franklin called it "the
greatest period of interracial strife the nation has ever witnessed."
The bloodshed was the product of a collision of social forces: Black men
were returning from World War I expecting the same rights they had fought
and bled for in Europe, and African Americans were moving north to escape
the brutal Jim Crow laws of the South. Whites saw blacks as competition for
jobs, homes and political power.
The violence didn’t start or end in 1919. Some count the era of Red Summer
as beginning with the deaths of more than two dozen African Americans in
East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917 and extending through the Rosewood
Massacre of 1923, when a black town in Florida was destroyed. All told, at
least 1,122 Americans were killed in racial violence over those six years,
by Tuttle’s count.
In 1919 alone, violence erupted in such places as New York; Memphis,
Tennessee; Philadelphia; Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore; New
Orleans; Wilmington, Delaware; Omaha, Nebraska; New London, Connecticut;
Bisbee, Arizona; Longview, Texas; Knoxville, Tennessee; Norfolk, Virginia;
and Putnam County, Georgia.
In the nation’s capital, white mobs – many made up of members of the
military – rampaged over the weekend of July 19-22, beating any black they
could find after false rumors of a white woman being assaulted by black men
"In front of the Riggs Bank the rioters beat a Negro with clubs and stones
wrapped in handkerchiefs; the bleeding figure lay in the street for over
twenty minutes before being taken to the hospital," Lloyd M. Abernethy
wrote in the Maryland Historical Magazine in 1963. "Sensing the failure of
the police, the mob became even more contemptuous of authority – two
Negroes were attacked and beaten directly in front of the White House."
In Elaine, Arkansas, poor black sharecroppers who had dared to join a union
were attacked, and at least 200 African Americans were killed.
Ida B. Wells, a pioneering black journalist and one of the few reporters to
interview victims, wrote about a woman named Lula Black who was dragged
from her farm by a white mob after saying she would join the union.
"They knocked her down, beat her over the head with their pistols, kicked
her all over the body, almost killed her, then took her to jail," Wells
wrote in her report "The Arkansas Race Riot."
Black journalists like Wells played an important role in getting the story
"Black newspapers like the Chicago Defender were instrumental in providing
an alternate voice that represented why African Americans deserved to be
here, deserved equal rights and were, in some cases, justified in
fighting," said Kevin Strait, a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum
of African American History and Culture.
Red Summer also marked a new era of black resistance to white injustice,
with blacks standing up in unprecedented numbers and killing some of their
tormentors. Returning black soldiers from World War I led the charge, using
skills they refined in Europe.
"The Germans weren’t the enemy – the enemy was right here at home," said
Harry Haywood in his autobiography, "A Black Communist in the Freedom
Struggle: The Life of Harry Haywood."
In Washington, Carrie Johnson, 17, became a hero for shooting at white
invaders in her neighborhood. She fatally shot a white policeman who broke
into her second-story bedroom. She claimed self-defense, and her
manslaughter conviction was overturned.
The NAACP gained about 100,000 members that year, said McWhirter, author of
"Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America." Soon,
blacks were "going to Congress, they’re pressing congressmen and senators
to pass anti-lynching legislation. At the same time, they’re fighting back
in the courts, they’re filing lawsuits when people are being mistreated or
A crowd of men and armed National Guardsmen are seen during 1919 race riots
in Chicago. CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM/THE JUN FUJITA NEGATIVES COLLECTION VIA
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