Red Summer of 1919

Red Summer of 1919

Red Summer, coined by author James Weldon Johnson, is used to describe the bloody race riots that occurred during the summer and autumn of 1919. Race riots erupted in several cities in both the North and South of the United States. The three with the highest number of fatalities happened in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Elaine, Arkansas.Fact|date=May 2008


According to a period analysis of the events, there were 26 separate riots in communities and cities across the United States where blacks were the victims of physical attacks. [ [ "For action on race riot peril"] , "The New York Times". October 5, 1919. Retrieved 5/26/08.]

The riots were sparked by postwar tensions of racism, unemployment, inflation, and violence by radical political groups. In 1919 it was estimated that 500,000 African Americans had emigrated from the South to the North and Midwest industrial cities for work during the period bookmarked by World War I. [ [ "For action on race riot peril"] , "The New York Times". October 5, 1919. Retrieved 5/26/08.] During the war, African-American workers filled many jobs left empty by whites who had joined the military, or new ones created by the war mobilization. In some cities, they were hired as strikebreakers, especially during strikes of 1917. Some disaffected black workers joined radical political organizations such as the African Blood Brotherhood or the Communist party, which targeted blacks for recruitment. All of these actions increased resentment and suspicion among whites, especially the working class. Following the war, rapid demobilization and a lack of price controls led to inflation and unemployment. The resulting competition for jobs between whites and blacks was fierce. European-American workers resented displacement by less expensive laborers, including the many new African-Americans added to the rapidly growing cities.

The unrest was intensified by anxieties about changing attitudes brought by recent European immigrants, some of whom were members of radical political or labor organizations, including communists, the I.W.W., and anarchists such as Luigi Galleani, who openly advocated the violent overthrow of the government and 'propaganda by the deed'. This was the time of the Red Scare, after the Russian Revolution and rise of the Bolsheviks. African Americans who were attracted to the idea of an independent African-American government based on Marxist principles, such as Cyril Briggs, those who were attracted to socialism or communism as a political philosopy, such as W.E.B. DuBois, and even those who advocated racial equality, labor rights for African Americans, or the right of self-defense were all branded as radicals or revolutionists. The Jamaican poet Claude McKay, then a Communist, wrote his poem [ "If We Must Die"] in response to the situation.

Unlike earlier race riots in U.S. history, the 1919 riots were among the first where there was an organized black resistance to the white attacks, in part due to the rise of the "armed resistance" movement led by the African Blood Brotherhood. The Elaine, Arkansas riot was less typical of others; it took place in the rural South and violence was directed not against black industrial workers, but agricultural sharecroppers.


Between January 1 and September 14, 1919 at least 43 African Americans were lynched, with an additional eight men burnt at the stake. [ [ "For action on race riot peril"] , "The New York Times". October 5, 1919. Retrieved 5/26/08.]

ee also

*African Blood Brotherhood
*The Communist Party and African-Americans
*First Red Scare
*Mass racial violence in the United States
*1919 United States anarchist bombings
*Racial equality proposal, 1919


* [ Red Summer - A Season of Fear]
*Erickson, Alana J. "Red Summer." In "Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History". New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1996.
* [ Repression Against the IWW]
* Dray, Philip. "At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America", New York: Random House, 2002.
* Zinn, Howard. "Voices of a People's History of the United States". New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004.
* Tuttle, William M., Jr. "Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919". 1970. "Blacks in the New World". Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

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