Red Summer of 1919: How Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs

Red Summer of 1919: How Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs


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The ink had barely dried on the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended World War I, when recently returned black veterans grabbed their guns and stationed themselves on rooftops in black neighborhoods in Washington D.C., prepared to act as snipers in the case of mob violence in July of 1919. Others set up blockades around Howard University, a black intellectual hub, creating a protective ring around residents.

White sailors recently home from the war had been on a days-long drunken rampage, assaulting, and in some cases lynching, black people on the capitol’s streets. The relentless onslaught proved contagious, escalating in dozens of cities across the U.S. in what would become known as the The Red Summer.

The racist attacks in 1919 were widespread, and often indiscriminate, but in many places, they were initiated by white servicemen and centered upon the 380,000 black veterans who had just returned from the war. “Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination,” notes a report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

Indeed, many African American soldiers returned from the war armed with a renewed determination to fight segregation and a near-constant barrage of brutality.

A postal official wrote at the time that “As far back as the first movement of the American troops to France the negro publicists began to avail themselves of the argument that since the negro was fit to wear the uniform he was, therefore, fit for everything else.” In Texas, a federal agent reported, “One of the principal elements causing concern is the returned negro soldier who is not readily fitting back into his prior status of pre-war times.”

At the same time, cities across the north were being reshaped by the Great Migration. By the end of 1919, about 1 million African Americans had fled segregation and a total lack of economic opportunities in the south for northern cities. Between 1910 and 1920, the black population in Chicago grew by 148 percent and in Philadelphia by 500 percent, creating massive anxiety among white people in northern cities that black people were taking jobs, housing, and security from them.

During the Red Summer, massive anxiety became mass violence. Between April and November of 1919, there would be approximately 25 riots and instances of mob violence, 97 recorded lynchings, and a three day long massacre in Elaine, Arkansas during which over 200 black men, women, and children were killed after black sharecroppers tried to organize for better working conditions. The Ku Klux Klan, which had been largely shut down by the government after the Civil War, experienced a resurgence in popularity and began carrying out dozens of lynchings across the south.

Just a few years earlier, many young black men had heeded Wilson’s call to make the world “safe for democracy” and gone off to fight for America in one of history’s bloodiest wars. Now they had come back to a country that recognized neither their service nor their humanity. Having just returned from battle, however, black veterans were not inclined to take the abuse lying down. Across the country, former soldiers used their government-provided weapons training to defend their neighborhoods against vicious white mobs.

“Black people [formed] ad hoc self-defense organizations to try to keep white folks from terrorizing their communities,” says Simon Balto, a Professor of African American History at The University of Iowa and author of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power. “Black veterans are instrumental in that.”

Black veterans were a large part of what made the summer of 1919, in the words of historian David F. Krugler, the year that African Americans fought back.

“This is the country to which we Soldiers of Democracy return. This is the fatherland for which we fought!” W.E.B DuBois, a civil rights activist and prominent intellectual, wrote in Crisis Magazine in May 1919, a month after the earliest event of the Red Summer, a riot in Georgia where six people—two white officers and four black men—were killed at a church. "But by the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that that war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land.”

Riots at the Steps of the Capitol

Washington D.C had 5,000 black veterans and for many of them, self-defense was a last resort after weeks—and indeed decades—of government inaction.

One of the first people killed in Washington D.C.’s violence was a 22-year-old black veteran named Randall Neal. At a high point of the mayhem, one Washington newspaper reported that the city had “passed through its wildest and bloodiest night since Civil War times.” Many of the city’s white-owned newspapers fanned the flames of terror, reporting on fabricated instances of black men assaulting white women. In one case, The Washington Post ran a front page story advertising the location for white servicemen to meet and carry out further attacks on black people in the city.

Washington D.C. had a vibrant black middle class that in many ways epitomized black people’s slow but expanding economic and social advances. The cities’ black population was growing rapidly thanks to the Great Migration and in 1919, they made up a quarter of the population. They also held many jobs in the federal government and at the country’s first black-owned bank, the Industrial Savings bank. It was a limited but steady march forward—one that many white people felt needed to be stopped.

“I knew it to be true, but it was almost an impossibility for me to realize as a truth that men and women of my race were being mobbed, chased, dragged from street cars, beaten and killed within the shadow of the dome of the Capitol, at the very front door of the White House,” wrote James Weldon Johnson, who coined the term “Red Summer,” in Crisis Magazine.

As the situation escalated, Wilson refused to act. He worried that the riots would damage the image he was cultivating of the United States as a global paragon of justice. Wilson also had a demonstrated record of racism (including, among other things, tacit support of the Ku Klux Klan).

After four days of racist mob violence in Washington D.C., an estimated 40 people were killed and dozens more were injured. The chaos was only quelled when 2,000 federal troops were deployed onto the city streets at the end of the month—just in time for the riots to spread to Chicago.

A Murder in Chicago Ignites a City

Just two days after federal troops withdrew from Washington D.C., a black teenager was killed by a white man in Chicago, lighting the match that would kick off a week of violent riots. By the end, 15 white people and 23 black people would be dead, over 500 people would be injured, and over 1,000 black families would be homeless after their homes were burned down.

The teenager, 17-year-old Eugene Williams, was floating on a homemade raft off the shores of Lake Michigan, trying to escape the city’s oppressive summer heat, when a white man named George Stauber started pelting him with rocks. Williams had unwittingly drifted past the line that divided the white beach from the black beach.

A rock hit Williams in the head, knocking him unconscious. His body went limp and slipped into the lake. No one got to Williams in time to save him.

A white police officer refused to arrest Stauber, despite a growing crowd of angry witnesses to the murder. By the time Williams’ lifeless body had been removed from the lake, a crowd of around a thousand black people had gathered, demanding action. For many, Williams’ death was a microcosm of the longstanding violence perpetrated against black people without consequence.

In response to the protest, armed white men jumped in cars and tore through the city streets, firing into black homes and businesses. A white mob marched down the street, assaulting black pedestrians and torching black homes. Still, police refused to act.

“When the riot explodes it’s not so much some kind of a spontaneous event as it is a culmination,” Balto explains. In the two previous years, white supremacists had bombed over 25 black homes in an effort to keep black people out of the city. The police never intervened.

Veterans in Chicago formed militias to defend black homes, neighborhoods, and families when the police and government refused. In the time following Williams’ death, one group of black veterans broke into an armory and stole weapons they then used to beat back a white mob. “Because many of them have actually seen battlefield combat, they are willing and capable of using violence for the purpose of self-defense,” says Balto.

Throughout the summer, black veterans around the country took inspiration from the actions of their brethren in Washington D.C. and Chicago and followed suit. In a riot in South Carolina, one preacher reportedly said of the black self-defense units: “The males carried their guns with as much calmness as if they were going to shoot a rabbit in a hunt, or getting ready to shoot the Kaiser’s soldiers.”

For Veterans, a Broken Promise

As bloodshed spread nationally—to South Carolina, Nebraska, Florida, Ohio, among others—veterans continued to be targeted. At least 13 veterans were lynched across the United States after the war. Many of them were in uniform which, when worn in public, many white people saw as an affront to America’s racial caste system.

It was the opposite of the reception many black soldiers believed they would receive when returning home, their choice to serve in the war spurred on by intellectuals like DuBois who believed it would be a path to equality.

“World War I was very much a broken promise for basically all African Americans, but the people who felt the brokenness of that promise most acutely [were the veterans] who had gone and risked their lives for this supposed war to make the world safe for democracy and then came home to find that the country was still going to deny African Americans the privilege of democracy,” says Balto.

This wasn’t unique to the Red Summer—or even World War I. A report by the Equal Justice Initiative found that, from Reconstruction to just after World War II, “thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service...No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.”

Despite the events of the Red Summer, 1.2 million black men would enlist in World War II.

The conclusion of the summer of 1919 would not be the end of mass violence against black Americans—far from it. Two years later would see one of the worst instances of racial violence in American history, The Tulsa Race Massacre, during which a white mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa. News reports were largely squelched, despite the fact that up to 300 people were killed and thousands left homeless

It did, however, signal a permanent shift in the way black people responded to white violence in the United States and presaged increasing self-defense tactics, including when black veterans once again mobilized during the violence in Tulsa. For many black people, the way veterans responded to the bloodshed added a sliver of inspiration to the terror of that summer.

Before the war, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had 9,000 members yet by the early 1920s it had 100,000, signaling a growing boldness and cohesion to the organizing that would eventually plant the seeds of the Civil Rights Movement.

READ MORE: How the GI Bill's Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans


African-American veterans lynched after World War I

When they returned home from World War I, African-American veterans faced heavy discrimination. This article focuses on those African American veterans who were lynched after World War I.


1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back

Book — Non-fiction. By David F. Krugler. 2015.
This book details the wave of racist violence that swept the United States in 1919, through the lens of Black armed resistance and freedom struggle.

Between late 1918 and later 1919, the United States recorded ten major race riots, dozens of minor, racially charged clashes, and almost 100 lynchings as white Americans tried to enforce the continued subjugation of Black Americans in the postwar era. This description of Red Summer is from the introduction to 1919, The Year of Racial Violence by David Krugler.

Krugler details the circumstances of many of these episodes of racist violence, revealing some clear patterns. In almost every case, white mobs instigated the violence in spite of the fact that they were often deemed “race riots,” as if culpability was shared by both Blacks and whites. In almost every case, the spark for the violence was the assertion of Black agency and full citizenship.

In almost every case, law enforcement either failed to quell white violence, sided with white attackers, disproportionately disarmed and arrested Black defenders, or blamed Black people for the violence. And in almost every case, Black people responded to the violence in an inspiring display of self-defense and resistance.

Krugler’s scholarship reminds readers of the limitations of mainstream civil rights curriculum, which too often leaves out the tradition of armed self-defense in the long Black freedom struggle.

Krugler notes: “In the following excerpt from my book 1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back, I explain how key federal agencies, particularly the Military Intelligence Division and the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI), reacted to the Red Summer. Intelligence officers, certain that socialists and communists were urging African Americans to take up arms, mistakenly believed that a revolution was imminent, that blacks across the country were conspiring to attack whites. In their eyes, the Red Summer was a Red Scare. Ignoring the indisputable evidence that white mobs were initiating the violence, the Military Intelligence Division and the Bureau of Investigation began working with local authorities and gun dealers across the country to block the sale of weapons to African Americans. Just as the New Negroes fought back against white mobs, they resisted this national campaign to disarm them. Download an excerpt from 1919 here.”

ISBN: 9781107639614 | Published by Cambridge University Press.

Note from the Zinn Education Project: The book’s cover (not selected by the author) does not reflect the overall theme which is Black resistance. If you teach using this excellent book, please encourage students to consider what image would be a better representation of the book. If time allows, encourage them to write to the publisher to request they change the cover image in a subsequent printing.


Red Summer

American servicemen returned from the First World War only to find a new type of violent conflict waiting for them at home. An outbreak of racial violence known as the “Red Summer” occurred in 1919, an event that affected at least 26 cities across the United States.

Racial tensions across the U.S. were exacerbated by the discharge of millions of military personnel back to their homes and domestic lives following the end of the war. Competition for opportunities in postwar America combined with a radically changed social landscape placed Whites and Blacks in conflict with one another, leading to tragic results.

World War I intensified the Great Migration, the mass emigration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North and Midwest in hopes of escaping the poverty and discrimination of Jim Crow laws. By the summer of 1919, approximately 500,000 African Americans had resettled in northern cities. In many cases, northern Whites—many of them newly arrived immigrants themselves—did not welcome Black newcomers.



National Guard during the 1919 Chicago Race Riots.
Photograph by Jun Fujita, courtesy of Chicago History Museum, ICHi-65477.

When the war ended many returning servicemen resented that their vacated jobs had been taken, particularly by African Americans. Black laborers already suffered from a negative reputation in the White working community for their use as low wage-earning strike breakers, or “scabs,” who would keep factories in operation while the employees went on strike. The situation was made worse in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Many officials and others, with little or no evidence, suspected Black workers of being pawns of Bolsheviks and anarchists.

Many Whites feared that the return of tens of thousands of Black veterans, with experience living abroad and, more significantly, having received military training, would be unwilling to resubmit to traditional political and social subjugation in the U.S.

Many Black leaders encouraged returning servicemen to assert themselves and fight for the dignity and respect they had earned through their military service. W.E.B. Du Bois famously called upon Black veterans to not simply “return from fighting” but to “return fighting.” Many Black veterans were mistreated, and in some cases, attacked while in uniform. Lynchings increased from 64 in 1918 to 83 in 1919. Membership in the revived Ku Klux Klan, reborn after D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, skyrocketed into the millions by the early 1920s.


Neighborhood children raiding an African American family's house after they were forced out during the 1919 Chicago Race Riots.
Photograph by Jun Fujita, courtesy of Chicago History Museum, ICHi-40052.

Most violent incidents during the Red Summer of 1919 were not initiated by fringe white supremacist terror groups. Ordinary white civilians and veterans, unaffiliated with the Ku Klux Klan or any other racist organization, formed most of the mobs. Many of the dozens of incidents that occurred over the course of the year were made far worse because local, state and federal officials hesitated in taking action or turned a blind eye to the violence. Racial violence broke out in some of the nation’s most populous cities.

A four-day riot in Washington, D.C. began on July 19 when a rumor that Black men had assaulted a white woman incited mobs to attack local Black neighborhoods and assault random African American individuals on the streets. Off-duty sailors and recently discharged Army veterans led the mobs.

When the local police were overwhelmed by the mayhem, Washington’s Black community banded together to fight back, arming themselves with bats, clubs, pistols and knives. Soon, Black mobs were attacking white passersby just as indiscriminately as Whites did to Blacks. In nearby Norfolk, Va., a parade celebrating the return of a unit of African American troops from Europe turned into a bloody melee and two Black servicemen were killed. Ultimately, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had to order troops to secure the streets.



Mob running with bricks during Chicago Race Riots of 1919.
Photograph by Jun Fujita, courtesy of Chicago History Museum, ICHi-65495.

Washington was closely followed by a massive race riot in Chicago. Rioting erupted on July 27 when a Black teenager drowned after being hit with stones when he and friends drifted near a de facto whites-only beach. Violent rioting across Chicago’s South and West sides and into the downtown lasted days. Eventually the state militia was deployed to restore order. Though records vary, the final Chicago casualty count listed 38 fatalities (23 Black, 15 White), 537 injured and upwards of 1,000 Black families made homeless by the burning and rampant destruction of African American neighborhoods.



Couple moving during the 1919 Chicago Race Riots.
Photograph by Jun Fujita, courtesy of Chicago History Museum, ICHi-65492.

Likely the single deadliest incident of the Red Summer occurred in and around Elaine, Ark., on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, after a white law officer was killed in a shootout outside a Black sharecropper gathering. Gov. Charles Brough ordered 500 Army soldiers from nearby Camp Pike to march on Elaine and put down what was labeled an “insurrection” among the Black sharecroppers. Estimates vary as to how many African Americans were killed, but upwards of 200 are believed to have lost their lives.

It’s impossible to say exactly how many people were killed or injured in the race riots and lynchings of the Red Summer of 1919—official records for some incidents were poor or never documented. We know that hundreds of people lost their lives, thousands were injured and many more were forced to flee their homes. Yet one legacy of 1919 was the growing confidence and desire to fight back—in the streets, in the courts and in the voting booth—for African American communities across the country.

The Red Summer saw Black populations fight back aggressively against racial violence and intimidation in ways that were not typical before. The Red Summer of 1919 did not intimidate African Americans into submission, as their tormentors had hoped. Instead, African Americans emerged from the violence of that bloody year with a greater sense of shared purpose, identity and pride, which served as a vital foundation for the civil rights movement to come.


Remembering Red Summer — Which Textbooks Seem Eager to Forget

Confronting a national epidemic of white mob violence, 1919 was a time when Black people defended themselves, fought back, and demanded full citizenship in thousands of acts of courage and daring, small and large, individual and collective. Neither the defiance of Black communities in 1919 nor the racist violence to which it was a response was anomalous. 1919 is a moment that reaches back to the Stono Rebellion, Nat Turner, and Robert Smalls, and forward to the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2020 rebellion. The racist riots of 1919 are critical to understanding our past and our present.

But pull a standard U.S. history textbook off the shelf and you’re unlikely to find more than a paragraph on the 1919 riots what you do find downplays both racism and Black resistance, while distorting facts in a dangerous “both sides” framing. These textbooks render students stupid about white supremacy and bereft of examples from those who defied it. At this moment of revived racist backlash, today’s students — and all the rest of us — need to learn the lessons of 1919.

White Rage, Black Self-Defense

In 1919, Charleston, South Carolina Longview, Texas Bisbee, Arizona Washington, D.C. Chicago Knoxville, Tennessee Omaha, Nebraska and Elaine, Arkansas experienced a wave of anti-Black collective violence usually and problematically termed “race riots.” In addition, white supremacists lynched nearly 100 Black people and initiated dozens of smaller racist clashes throughout 1919. In Pittsburgh, the Klan made clear the goal of this bloody work in the printed notices posted around a Black neighborhood: “The war is over, negroes. Stay in your place. If you don’t, we’ll put you there.”

Southern Tenant Farmers Union meeting in 1937. Photo by Louise Boyle. Source: Kheel Center

Historian Carol Anderson, in her 2016 book White Rage, argues, “The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is Black advancement. It is not the mere presence of Black people that is the problem rather, it is Blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.” Red Summer (so deemed by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson to capture its sheer bloodiness) is a study in white rage. Throughout 1919, the exercise of Black agency — Black veterans wearing their military uniforms in public, Black children swimming in the white section of Lake Michigan, Black sharecroppers in Arkansas organizing for better wages and working conditions — was met with white mob terror broadcasting the message: “Stay in your place.”

But in 1919, Black people did not stay in their place.

In Knoxville, armed Black men organized themselves throughout the Black community to successfully repel hundreds of white rioters who had already destroyed the county jail with a battering ram and dynamite. In Chicago, African Americans formed self-defense units after days of white terror in their neighborhoods. Many of these defenders were World War I veterans like Harry Haywood, of the all-Black 370th Infantry Regiment, who explained, “I had been fighting the wrong war. The Germans weren’t the enemy — the enemy was right here at home.” In Washington, D.C., 17-year-old Carrie Johnson opened fire on men breaking into her home while 1,000 white rioters laid siege to her neighborhood. In Anniston, Alabama, a Black veteran, Sgt. Edgar Caldwell, was ordered out of the white section of a streetcar. He refused. Kicked out of the car and set upon by the white motorman and conductor, Caldwell shot his pistol twice, killing one of his attackers. Though uncoordinated, when looked at together, these hundreds of moments in 1919 read as an awesome display of collective Black agency and self-preservation.

“Dying, but Fighting Back!”

“You’ll consider me seriously from now on, I’ve fought for it and mean to obtain the same.” Washington Bee, DC, 9/6/1919. Source: University of Georgia Libraries via Visualizing the Red Summer digital archive.

Just as contemporary targets of anti-Black police violence are often blamed for their own victimization — Mike Brown was “no angel” while white supremacists in Charlottesville are deemed “very fine people” — the white media’s coverage of the 1919 riots almost always assigned blame for the violence to Black people. But the Black press worked alongside Black leaders and political organizations to establish a powerful counter-narrative. Activist William Monroe Trotter clarified who was at fault for the violence and what was at stake: “There will be no peace until white Americans . . . make up their minds to give the colored Americans equal justice and let them share the democracy at home for which our brave soldiers fought and died abroad.” The Chicago Defender, Black America’s most influential newspaper, carefully documented the riots while striking a tone of defiance:

America is known the world over as the land of the lyncher and the mobocrat. For years she has been sowing the wind and now she is reaping the whirlwind. The Black worm has turned. A Race that has furnished hundreds of thousands of the best soldiers that the world has ever seen is no longer content to turn the left cheek when smitten upon the right.

Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die,” a poem written in July 1919, became a kind of anthem for the summer. It concludes:

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

White youth raiding an African-American home and throwing its contents onto the street. 1919, Chicago. Photo by Jun Fujita. Source: Chicago History Museum.

“Race Riots” in Textbooks

And what do students learn of this early 20th-century episode of sustained, collective self-defense, a crucial moment in the long history of the Black freedom struggle? Both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s American History and Pearson’s American Journey (two U.S. textbooks used in my school, outside of Portland, Oregon) devote only a single paragraph to the riots. By comparison, American Odyssey’s (McGraw-Hill) five paragraphs, focusing mostly on the D.C. riot, seems generous. Unfortunately, American Odyssey’s account distorts the history and leaves students mystified about racism’s role in the violence:

Southern African Americans who had migrated to Washington, D.C., during the war had been competing for jobs in an atmosphere of mounting racial tension. Newspaper reports of rumored African American violence against whites contributed to the tension.

Following one such newspaper story, 200 sailors and marines marched into the city, beating African American men and women. A group of whites also tried to break through military barriers to attack African Americans in their homes. Determined to fight back, a group of African Americans boarded a streetcar and attacked the motorman and the conductors. African Americans also exchanged gunfire with whites who drove or walked through their neighborhoods.

By opening its analysis of the riots with Black people migrating and seeking work, American Odyssey structurally implies it was the actions of African Americans — rather than the white mobs — that prompted the violence. This is the same kind of backward reasoning that makes note of Trayvon Martin’s hoodie or Tamir Rice’s airsoft pistol in explaining their murders. In this framing, Black people always “do” something that justifies the violence that follows white violence and volition is always incidental, never fundamental.

Daniel Hoskins at Gregg County Courthouse where a depository for privately owned guns was temporarily established following a race riot in Longview, Texas. July, 1919. Source: Library of Congress.

The authors of American Odyssey also pretend that Black resistance amounted to a single example aboard a streetcar, erasing the magnitude and breadth of the self-defense effort. A Black newspaper, the New York Age, celebrated as “splendid” the reach of the resistance, which included “poolroom hangers-on and men from the alleys and side streets, people from the most ordinary walks of life.” Neval Thomas, an active member of the Washington branch of the NAACP, counted 2,000 African Americans — many of them armed — patrolling D.C. city blocks with the intention to “die for their race, and defy the white mob.” White people were not being targeted because they “walked or drove through” Black neighborhoods, as American Odyssey ludicrously suggests, but because thousands of white people had organized themselves into mobs, and Black people were determined to protect themselves.

These textbooks peddle in the ambiguity of “racial unrest,” “racial violence,” and the most ubiquitous offender, “race riot,” to describe the events of 1919. (It’s worth asking: How does race riot?) These phrases give the impression of groups of Blacks and whites in conflict with each other, responsibility shared by “both sides.” But there is little doubt about who instigated these riots. As Cameron McWhirter has written, “In almost every case, white mobs — whether sailors on leave, immigrant slaughterhouse workers, or Southern farmers — initiated the violence.” African Americans, on the other hand, were not “rioting.” They fought back, counterattacked, defended themselves.

To capture the irrefutable fact of white culpability, a more accurate term might be racist riot. But “racism” or “racist” are terms these textbooks avoid. Even American Journey, the only book to actually use the word “racism” in its coverage of 1919, is not clear on what it is or how it operates. The authors write, “Housing shortages and job competition interacted with racism in 1919 to produce race riots in 26 towns and cities,” a vague formulation that makes racism outside, rather than constitutive of, the history of U.S. labor and housing patterns.

White mob running with bricks during the race riots in Chicago, 1919. Photo by Jun Fujita. Source: Chicago Historical Society.

The absence of a full-throated naming of racism’s role in these episodes of anti-Black collective violence matters. By downplaying the extent to which violent white supremacy shaped African Americans’ 20th-century experiences, textbooks leave students without the knowledge to fully account for racism as a key force in modern social relations. No wonder the question of reparations is so seldom seriously entertained in mainstream U.S. political discourse. You cannot repair a pattern of harm that you have been taught to neither acknowledge nor understand. When students are given access to the real history, as they are, for example, in Linda Christensen’s powerful lesson on the Tulsa Massacre, which shares many of the hallmarks of the riots of 1919, reparations no longer seem outlandish, but simply fair.

One hundred years ago, Black people across the United States met white mob violence with countless defiant acts of self-defense. Today’s Black Lives Matter activists fit seamlessly into this centuries-long pattern of Black militant resistance to white supremacy, as they mobilize against the violent policies and militarized police that threaten their neighborhoods, as they challenge the corporate media’s habit of framing victims of white racist violence as the authors of their own destruction, as they demand we confront the damage the history of white supremacy has wrought. Our students deserve the opportunity to identify this through line of Black agency, rebellion, and resistance. It is a powerful call to action for all of us: Red Summer is now.

This article is part of the Zinn Education Project’s If We Knew Our History series. © 2020 (Updated from original publication in April, 2019.) The Zinn Education Project, a project of Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

A shorter version of this article was published in Teen Vogue on April 8, 2019, “In This Moment of Revived Racism, the Red Summer of 1919 Matters.”

This article is also available at Newsela. It was adapted for several additional reading levels by Newsela staff in September 2019.

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca has taught high school social studies since 2000. She is on the editorial board of Rethinking Schools and is a Zinn Education Project Writer and Organizer.

Related Resources

Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession

Article. By Linda Christensen. If We Knew Our History Series.
Students need to learn the hidden history of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and how this links to racial wealth inequality today.

Who Gets to Vote? Teaching About the Struggle for Voting Rights in the United States

Teaching Activity. By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca. 2020.
Unit with three lessons on voting rights, including the history of the struggle against voter suppression in the United States.

Book — Non-fiction. By Eve L. Ewing. 96 pages. 2019.
Poetic reflections on the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 — part of ‘Red Summer’ — in a history told through Ewing’s speculative and Afrofuturist lenses.

1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back

Book — Non-fiction. By David F. Krugler. 2015.
This book details the wave of racist violence that swept the United States in 1919, through the lens of Black armed resistance and freedom struggle.

Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America

Book — Non-fiction. By Cameron McWhirter. 2012. 368 pages.
A chronicle of white supremacist violence in major U.S. cities across the nation after World War I.

April 13, 1919: Jenkins County Riot

A riot ensued after Louis Ruffin, an Army veteran, pulled out his gun to defend his family during an altercation between his father and two police officers.

July 3, 1919: The Battle of Brewery Gulch

A battle between Black soldiers and the local white law enforcement who targeted them in Bisbee, Arizona during Red Summer.

July 10, 1919: Beating of Samuel L. Jones and the Longview Riot

The Longview Riot is one example of white mob violence during the period known as “Red Summer.” Photo: Daniel Hoskins at gun repository required by U.S. Marshall. Undermined African Americans’ ability to engage in self-defense.

July 19, 1919: White Mobs in Uniform Attack African Americans — Who Fight Back — in Washington, D.C.

White mobs, incited by the media, attacked the African American community in Washington, D.C., and African American soldiers returning from WWI. This was one of the many violent events that summer and it was distinguished by strong and organized Black resistance to the white violence.

July 27, 1919: Red Summer in Chicago

Sparked by a white police officer’s refusal to make an arrest in the murder of a Black teenager, Chicago’s Red Summer violence lasted almost a week. At least 38 people were killed and thousands of Black homes were looted and damaged.

Aug. 30, 1919: The Knoxville Riot

In Tennessee, a group of whites rioted after forming a mob to lynch Maurice Mays, a Black man in custody on for the alleged (with no evidence) murder of a white woman.

Sept. 28, 1919: The Omaha Courthouse Lynching and Riot

A white mob of between 5,000 to 15,000 lynched African American Will Brown. The Army arrested mob ringleaders. Even though photographs identified them, all of the suspects were eventually released.

Sept. 30, 1919: Elaine Massacre

Black farmers were massacred in Elaine, Arkansas for their efforts to fight for better pay and higher cotton prices. A white mob shot at them, and the farmers returned fire in self-defense. Estimates range from 100-800 killed, and 67 survivors were indicted for inciting violence.


Reviews & endorsements

"Decades before the Black Power movement brought a national spotlight to armed self-defense, African Americans waged a multi-front battle to protect themselves and their communities from white supremacist violence. This powerful book captures the high cost and high stakes of the War for Democracy brought home. By turns devastating and inspiring, it sets the new standard for exploring African Americans' struggle for safety, truth, and justice in the aftermath of World War I."
Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke University, North Carolina

"David Krugler's 1919, The Year of Racial Violence continues the narrative of the tradition of armed resistance in the Black freedom struggle. Most of the recent scholarship on armed resistance focuses on the Civil Rights Movement. Krugler's excellent research focuses on the armed defense of the 'Red Summer' of 1919 and how Black people also utilized their newspapers and litigation strategies to assert their humanity. This is a contribution to the documentation of Black agency in the face of white supremacist violence and lynching during arguably the most dangerous period of our sojourn in the United States."
Akinyele Umoja, Georgia State University

"With meticulous research and narrative force, David Krugler has produced a brilliant account of one of the most turbulent and bloody years in American history. As he powerfully demonstrates, African Americans, in the face of horrific nationwide racial violence, used every tool at their disposal to fight back and preserve both their citizenship and humanity. 1919, The Year of Racial Violence is a landmark achievement."
Chad Williams, Brandeis University, Massachusetts

"Krugler adroitly diagrams how and why African Americans fought back during attacks by whites in the watershed year of racial violence in his study covering an important chapter in race relations in the US … it is clear that Krugler understands that there are lessons to be learned from discussing and debating the country's unpleasant past. He reveals that African Americans who literally fought to safeguard their property and lives expressed their patriotism by demanding the American dream as warranted by the Constitution. African Americans fought for democracy in Europe during World War I and expected equality when they returned. Many whites in the South and North were dismayed by this threat to the racial status quo. In addition, Krugler covers the inequity African Americans received through arrests and in the courts as compared to whites involved in the 1919 riots. Students of US history who want a better understanding of race in the twentieth-century US need to read Krugler's superb examination. Summing up: essential."
R. D. Screws, Choice

"Captivating and well written, this account details the three-pronged approach of African Americans toward [the 1919] riots: 'the fighting in the streets, the battle for truth in the press, and the struggle for justice in the courts'. In other words, they fought back in the streets, pressed for accuracy in the field of public information, and sought justice in the judicial system … The conclusion provides an excellent and impressive survey of black resistance through the 1960s, including comparisons between the armed black resistance of 1919 and the 1960s … a definitive account of racial violence in 1919 and crucial reading for those interested in the tragic race riots of that year."
Elizabeth Gritter, The American Historical Review

"In detailed and lively prose, Krugler narrates the valiant and unwavering efforts of ordinary African Americans, the black press and black churches, local chapters of the NAACP, and white allies in defense of the black community - that defied racial custom and white intimidation … charts new ground, chronicling the stories of African Americans' long tradition of armed resistance. This seminal book should find a readership among specialists, and graduate and undergraduate students."
Shannon King, The Journal of American History


July 19, 1919: White Mobs in Uniform Attack African Americans — Who Fight Back — in Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, July 19, 1919 a major “race riot” broke out across Washington, D.C. as white mobs attacked the African American community and African American soldiers returning from WWI. The mob was retaliating against an alleged assault of a white woman, Elsie Stephnick, by a Black man, Charles Ralls.

Elsie’s husband was a white, civilian employee of the navy. Hundreds of white sailors, soldiers, and marines formed “a mob in uniform.”

Charles Ralls was found late Saturday evening. David Krugler writes in 1919, The Year of Racial Violence,

The mob spotted Ralls walking with his wife and began beating them. The couple broke free and bolted home, shots ringing out behind them. The mob tried to break in, but Ralls’ neighbors and friends rallied to his defense — a return fusillade scattered the mob and wounded a sailor. Servicemen fired back as Black residents locked their doors and prepared to defend their homes. [p. 73]

On Sunday, July 20, the violence continued to grow, in part because the seven-hundred-member Metropolitan Police Department failed to intervene. African Americans faced brutal beatings in the streets of Washington, at the Center Market on Seventh Street NW, and even in front of the White House. By the late hours of Sunday night, July 20, the African American community began to fight back. While there were no reported casualties that night, dozens were hospitalized. The Washington Post stoked the fires on Monday with an incendiary front-page story that included a notice about a 9 p.m. assembly for servicemen to finish what they had started, an assembly that would “cause the events of the last two evenings to pale in to insignificance.”

Black Washingtonians took the Post article seriously. They requested official protection from the government, but the state and federal government officials refused. They responded by preparing for an attack by arming themselves. When the police found out that arms dealers sold around 500 firearms that day, they shut down legal gun sales and residents turned to the black market. The violence that broke out Monday night between Black Washingtonians, armed for self-defense, and enraged white Washingtonians, many of them uniformed military men, lasted through Tuesday.

After four days of violence and lukewarm interest by the police to stop the mob, President Woodrow Wilson finally ordered nearly two thousand soldiers from nearby military bases into Washington to suppress the rioting. The violence resulted in approximately multiple deaths [we found reports from 4 to 38 on the number] and over 100 injuries suffered by individuals of both races. The riot was one of twenty “race riots” across the nation during the so-called Red Summer, but was distinguished by strong and organized Black resistance to white violence.

[Description excerpted and adapted from 1919, The Year of Racial Violence by David Krugler and from Blackpast.org]

Find a critique of textbook coverage of Red Summer, a lesson for high school on the related Tulsa Massacre, books on Red Summer, and more resources below.

Related Resources

Remembering Red Summer — Which Textbooks Seem Eager to Forget

The racist riots of 1919 happened 100 years ago this summer. Confronting a national epidemic of white mob violence, 1919 was a time when Black people defended themselves, fought back, and demanded full citizenship in thousands of acts of courage and daring, small and large, individual and collective.

Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession

Article. By Linda Christensen. If We Knew Our History Series.
Students need to learn the hidden history of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and how this links to racial wealth inequality today.

Book — Non-fiction. By Eve L. Ewing. 96 pages. 2019.
Poetic reflections on the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 — part of ‘Red Summer’ — in a history told through Ewing’s speculative and Afrofuturist lenses.

1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back

Book — Non-fiction. By David F. Krugler. 2015.
This book details the wave of racist violence that swept the United States in 1919, through the lens of Black armed resistance and freedom struggle.

Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America

Book — Non-fiction. By Cameron McWhirter. 2012. 368 pages.
A chronicle of white supremacist violence in major U.S. cities across the nation after World War I.

July 27, 1919: Red Summer in Chicago

Sparked by a white police officer’s refusal to make an arrest in the murder of a Black teenager, Chicago’s Red Summer violence lasted almost a week. At least 38 people were killed and thousands of Black homes were looted and damaged.

Sept. 28, 1919: The Omaha Courthouse Lynching and Riot

A white mob of between 5,000 to 15,000 lynched African American Will Brown. The Army arrested mob ringleaders. Even though photographs identified them, all of the suspects were eventually released.

Sept. 30, 1919: Elaine Massacre

Black farmers were massacred in Elaine, Arkansas for their efforts to fight for better pay and higher cotton prices. A white mob shot at them, and the farmers returned fire in self-defense. Estimates range from 100-800 killed, and 67 survivors were indicted for inciting violence.

Jan. 1, 1923: Rosewood Massacre

The Rosewood Massacre was the white supremacist destruction of a Black town and the murder of many of its residents.


Red Summer of 1919: How Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs - HISTORY

White mobs attacked Black neighborhoods in cities across the nation in 1919, but this time Blacks would not “turn the left cheek when smitten upon the right.”

“The war is over, negroes. Stay in your place. If you don’t, we’ll put you there.”

Some of America’s most notorious racist riots happened 100 years ago this summer. Confronting a national epidemic of white mob violence, 1919 was a time when black people in the United States defended themselves, fought back, and demanded full citizenship through thousands of acts of courage, small and large, individual and collective.

But pull a standard U.S. history textbook off the shelf and you’re unlikely to find more than a paragraph on the 1919 riots. What you do find downplays both racism and black resistance while distorting facts in a dangerous “both sides” framing. These textbooks render students stupid about white supremacy and bereft of examples from those who defied it.

At this moment of revived racist backlash, all of us need to learn the lessons of 1919.

Throughout 1919 the exercise of black agency — black veterans wearing their military uniforms in public, black children swimming in the white section of Lake Michigan, black sharecroppers in Arkansas organizing for better wages and working conditions — was met with white mob terror. A wave of anti-black collective violence usually and problematically termed “race riots” occurred in Charleston, South Carolina Longview, Texas Bisbee, Arizona Washington, D.C. Chicago Knoxville, Tennessee Omaha, Nebraska and Elaine, Arkansas. In addition, white supremacists lynched nearly 100 black people and initiated dozens of smaller racist clashes throughout the country in 1919. In Pittsburgh, the Klan made clear the goal of this bloody work in the printed notices posted around a black neighborhood: “The war is over, negroes. Stay in your place. If you don’t, we’ll put you there.”

“The exercise of black agency was met with white mob terror.”

Red Summer — so deemed by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson to capture its sheer bloodiness — is a study in what historian Carol Anderson calls white rage. In White Rage: the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Anderson writes, “The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.” According to historian David Krugler, the official death toll of 1919’s epidemic of white rage exceeded 150. ”The majority of the victims were black,” he wrote, “Yet African Americans refused to surrender.”

In Knoxville, Tennessee, armed black men organized themselves to successfully repel hundreds of white rioters who had already destroyed the county jail with a battering ram and dynamite. In Chicago, African-Americans formed self-defense units after days of white terror in their neighborhoods. Many of these defenders were veterans, among the 370,000 black men inducted into the Army during World War I who hoped fighting for democracy abroad might finally secure their first-class citizenship at home. The mob violence in Chicago convinced Harry Haywood, a veteran of the all-black 370th Infantry Regiment, he’d made a mistake. As he explained, “I had been fighting the wrong war. The Germans weren’t the enemy — the enemy was right here at home.”

“The official death toll of 1919’s epidemic of white rage exceeded 150.”

In Washington, D.C., 17-year-old Carrie Johnson opened fire on men breaking into her home while 1,000 white rioters laid siege to her neighborhood. In Anniston, Alabama, in December of 1918, a black veteran, Sergeant Edgar Caldwell, was ordered out of the white section of a streetcar. He refused. Kicked out of the car and set upon by the white motorman and conductor, Caldwell shot his pistol twice, killing one of his attackers.

Though uncoordinated, when looked at together, these hundreds of moments in and leading up to 1919 read as an awesome display of collective black agency and self-preservation.

Just as contemporary targets of anti-black violence are often blamed for their own victimization — Michael Brown was “no angel” while white supremacists in Charlottesville are deemed “very fine people” — the white media’s coverage of the 1919 riots almost always assigned blame for the violence to black people. But the black press, whose publishers and writers risked their lives in the pursuit of truth-telling, worked alongside black leaders and political organizations to establish a powerful counter-narrative. Black America’s most influential newspaper, the Chicago Defender, carefully documented the riots while striking a tone of defiance, saying, “A Race that has furnished hundreds of thousands of the best soldiers that the world has ever seen is no longer content to turn the left cheek when smitten upon the right.”

“Like today, the white media’s coverage of the 1919 riots almost always assigned blame for the violence to black people.”

But students learn little of this early-20th-century episode of sustained, collective self-defense. Two of the three U.S. textbooks used in my school, outside of Portland, Oregon, devote only a single paragraph to the riots. The third has five paragraphs, focusing mostly on the D.C. riot, which would seem generous if the account didn’t distort the history and leave students mystified about racism’s role in the violence, writing:

“Southern African Americans who had migrated to Washington, D.C., during the war had been competing for jobs in an atmosphere of mounting racial tension. Newspaper reports of rumored African American violence against whites contributed to the tension.

“Following one such newspaper story, 200 sailors and marines marched into the city, beating African American men and women. A group of whites also tried to break through military barriers to attack African Americans in their homes. Determined to fight back, a group of African Americans boarded a streetcar and attacked the motorman and the conductors. African Americans also exchanged gunfire with whites who drove or walked through their neighborhoods.

By opening its analysis of the riots with black people migrating and seeking work, this textbook structurally implies it was the actions of African-Americans — rather than the white mobs — that prompted the violence. This is the same kind of backward reasoning that makes note of Trayvon Martin’s hoodie or Tamir Rice’s airsoft pellet gun in explaining their killings. In this framing, black people always “do” something which justifies the violence that follows white violence and volition is always incidental, never fundamental.

“Black people always ‘do’ something which justifies the violence.”

The authors of the textbook also erase the magnitude and breadth of the self-defense effort. A black newspaper, the New York Age, celebrated as “splendid” the reach of the resistance, which included “poolroom hangers-on and men from the alleys and side streets, people from the most ordinary walks of life.” Neval Thomas, an active member of the Washington branch of the NAACP, counted 2,000 African-Americans — many of them armed — patrolling D.C. city blocks with the intention to “die for their race, and defy the white mob.” White people were not being targeted because they “walked or drove through” black neighborhoods, as the modern-day textbook suggests, but because thousands of white people had organized themselves into mobs, and black people were determined to protect themselves.

These textbooks peddle in the ambiguity of “racial unrest,” “racial violence,” and the most ubiquitous offender, “race riot,” to describe the events of 1919. These phrases give the impression of groups of blacks and whites in conflict with each other, responsibility shared by “both sides.” But there is little doubt about who instigated these riots. As Cameron McWhirter has written, “In almost every case, white mobs — whether sailors on leave, immigrant slaughterhouse workers, or southern farmers — initiated the violence.”

“Two-thousand 2African-Americans — many of them armed — patrolled D.C. city blocks with the intention to ‘die for their race.’”

To capture the irrefutable fact of white culpability, a more accurate term might be racist riot. But “racism” or “racist” are terms these textbooks avoid.

The absence of a full-throated naming of racism’s role in these episodes of anti-black collective violence matters. By downplaying the extent to which violent white supremacy shaped African-Americans’ 20th-century experiences, textbooks leave students without the knowledge to fully account for racism as a key force in modern social relations. No wonder the question of reparations is so seldom seriously entertained in mainstream U.S. political discourse. We cannot repair a pattern of harm that we have been taught to neither acknowledge nor understand.

One hundred years ago, black people across the United States met white mob violence with countless defiant acts of self-defense. Today’s Black Lives Matter activists fit seamlessly into this centuries-long pattern of black militant resistance to white supremacy — as they mobilize against the violent policies and militarized police that threaten their neighborhoods, as they challenge corporate media’s habit of framing victims of white racist violence as the authors of their own destruction, as they demand we confront the damage white supremacy has wrought. Our students deserve the opportunity to identify this through line of black agency, rebellion, and resistance. It is a powerful call to action for all of us: Red Summer is now.

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca is an organizer/curriculum writer for the Zinn Education Project and high school social studies teacher.

This article previously appeared inTeen Vogue.

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Racial Terrorism and the Red Summer of 1919

The start of summer 2019 signals a painful centennial. Many people have never heard of the Red Summer of 1919, but these events of 100 years ago represented one of the darkest and bloodiest moments in American history.

Stretching from the late winter through the early fall but centered on a series of riots and massacres in the summer, this epidemic of racial terrorism against African-American individuals and communities exemplified an era that historian Rayford Logan has called the “nadir” of American race relations. Yet 1919 also featured heroic acts of resistance from African-American veterans and leaders, moments of communal activism and critical patriotism that deserve a prominent place in our collective memories.

In many ways, the 1919 massacres extended and deepened half a century of racial terrorism against African Americans. Beginning immediately after the Civil War with 1866 massacres in New Orleans and Memphis, the Reconstruction era featured a number of these horrific white supremacist attacks, including one on July 4th, 1876 in Hamburg, SC that targeted parading African-American militia men. The next decades would see many more such violent events, from singular massacres like those in Wilmington, NC (1898), Atlanta (1906), and East St. Louis, IL (1917) to the ongoing communal violence of the lynching epidemic.

Yet even against this backdrop of continual violence, the Red Summer of 1919 stands out. Partly that’s due to the sheer number of riots and massacres: between the February 8 attack in Blakely, GA and the October 1-2 massacres of African-American communities in Elaine, AR and Baltimore, the year saw a total of 40 discrete such events. Nearly half of them took place in July alone, an orgy of summer violence that extended from Bisbee, AZ to Norfolk, VA, from Port Arthur, TX to Syracuse, and that was punctuated by week-long attacks on African American communities in Washington, DC (July 19-24) and Chicago (July 27-August 3).


April 13, 1919: Jenkins County Riot

In April 1919, a violent mob formed in Jenkins County, Georgia, after a Black man shot and killed a white sheriff’s deputy. Louis Ruffin, an Army veteran, pulled out his gun to defend his family during a tense altercation between his father, a wealthy community leader named Joe Ruffin, and two police officers.

Macon Daily Telegraph, April 14, 1919. Source: University of Georgia Libraries

The terror started on the Ruffin family’s way to a festival at Carswell Grove Baptist Church, where Joe Ruffin would serve as marshal. On the road, Joe saw a friend, Edmond Scott, sitting in the back seat of a police car. The automobiles stopped and Joe got out. He offered to pay his friend’s bail ($400) by check. The officers refused the check, demanding cash instead. This would not be possible on a Sunday. Then, Joe reportedly moved to collect his friend. Violence erupted at the scene when W. Clifford Brown, the deputy, pistol whipped Joe and the gun discharged. Louis acted swiftly and shot Brown. Then, the Black men moved to defend themselves against the second officer who pulled out a gun. They killed him as well, but not before Brown shot Scott.

A white mob quickly formed and went on a rampage. The mob burned the church down, then killed two of Ruffin’s sons—one of them a thirteen-year-old. Rioters threw the bodies in the flames, then spread out through the area, burning Black lodges, churches, and cars. They killed several other people no one knows how many. The wounded Joe Ruffin was saved from the lynch mob only because a white county commissioner drove him at high speed to the nearest big city, Augusta, and put him in the county jail there.

Ruffin was charged with the murder of the two white officers and for months was threatened with lynching. No one was ever charged with the killings of his sons, the destruction of the church, or other crimes against African Americans throughout the county.

Later he told a jury: “There is nobody as worried for what happened at Carswell Grove Church on that awful day as I am.”

Louis and Joe Ruffin escaped with their lives, but both died in exile. Guilty of murder, Louis fled from Georgia and went into hiding. His father died a free man in South Carolina, but was impoverished by the legal fees that kept him out of prison and separated from his three sons, his home, and their community.

The church building was rebuilt after the riots in 1919, but destroyed again by arson in 2014.

To learn more about the riot in Georgia, see the Harvard Divinity School article quoted above and the Carswell Baptist Church historic marker via the Georgia Historical Society.

Related Resources

Remembering Red Summer — Which Textbooks Seem Eager to Forget

The racist riots of 1919 happened 100 years ago this summer. Confronting a national epidemic of white mob violence, 1919 was a time when Black people defended themselves, fought back, and demanded full citizenship in thousands of acts of courage and daring, small and large, individual and collective.

Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession

Article. By Linda Christensen. If We Knew Our History Series.
Students need to learn the hidden history of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and how this links to racial wealth inequality today.

July 3, 1919: The Battle of Brewery Gulch

A battle between Black soldiers and the local white law enforcement who targeted them in Bisbee, Arizona during Red Summer.

July 10, 1919: Beating of Samuel L. Jones and the Longview Riot

The Longview Riot is one example of white mob violence during the period known as “Red Summer.” Photo: Daniel Hoskins at gun repository required by U.S. Marshall. Undermined African Americans’ ability to engage in self-defense.

July 19, 1919: White Mobs in Uniform Attack African Americans — Who Fight Back — in Washington, D.C.

White mobs, incited by the media, attacked the African American community in Washington, D.C., and African American soldiers returning from WWI. This was one of the many violent events that summer and it was distinguished by strong and organized Black resistance to the white violence.

May 10, 1919: Charleston White Mob Riot

White sailors ignited violent rioting in Charleston, South Carolina during the Red Summer of 1919. African Americans fought back, in self-defense.

July 27, 1919: Red Summer in Chicago

Sparked by a white police officer’s refusal to make an arrest in the murder of a Black teenager, Chicago’s Red Summer violence lasted almost a week. At least 38 people were killed and thousands of Black homes were looted and damaged.

Aug. 30, 1919: The Knoxville Riot

In Tennessee, a group of whites rioted after forming a mob to lynch Maurice Mays, a Black man in custody on for the alleged (with no evidence) murder of a white woman.

Sept. 1, 1919: Lynching of WWI Veteran Clinton Briggs

Decorated WWI veteran Clinton Briggs was killed in Arkansas.

Sept. 28, 1919: The Omaha Courthouse Lynching and Riot

A white mob of between 5,000 to 15,000 lynched African American Will Brown. The Army arrested mob ringleaders. Even though photographs identified them, all of the suspects were eventually released.

Sept. 30, 1919: Elaine Massacre

Black farmers were massacred in Elaine, Arkansas for their efforts to fight for better pay and higher cotton prices. A white mob shot at them, and the farmers returned fire in self-defense. Estimates range from 100-800 killed, and 67 survivors were indicted for inciting violence.

Nov. 22, 1919: Bogalusa Labor Massacre

The Bogalusa Labor Massacre was an attack on interracial labor solidarity.