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The Red Summer of 1919

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The Red Summer of 1919

African-American victim of race riots in Omaha, Neb.

Public Domain. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Red Summer of 1919:

The Red Summer of 1919 refers to a series of race riots took place between May and October of that year. Although riots occurred in more than thirty cities throughout the United States, the bloodiest events were in Chicago, Washington D.C. and Elaine, Ark.

Causes of the Red Summer:

  • Labor Shortages: Industrial cities in the North and Midwest profited greatly from World War I. Yet, the factories also encountered serious labor shortages because white men were enlisting in World War I and the United States government halted immigration from Europe.
  • The Great Migration: To fulfill these job shortages, at least 500,000 African-Americans moved from the South to Northern and Midwestern cities. African-Americans were also leaving the South to escape Jim Crow laws, segregated schools, and lack of job opportunities.
  • Racial Strife: Working class white workers in Northern and Midwestern cities resented the presence of African-Americans, who were now competition for employment.

Riots:

The first act of violence took place in Charleston, S.C. in May. For the next six months, riots occurred in small Southern towns such as Sylvester, Ga. and Hobson City, Ala. and larger northern cities such as Scranton, Pa. and Syracuse, N.Y.

The largest riots, however, took place in the following cities:

Washington D.C.:On July 19, white men initiated a riot after hearing that a black man had been accused of rape. The men beat random African-Americans, pulling them off of streetcars and beating street pedestrians. African-Americans fought back after local police refused to intervene. For four days, African-American and white residents fought. By July 23, four whites and two African-Americans were killed in the riots. In addition, an estimated 50 people were seriously injured. The Washington D.C. riots was especially significant because it was one of the only instances when African-Americans aggressively fought back against whites.

Chicago: The most violent of all the race riots began on July 27. A young black man visiting Lake Michigan beaches accidentally swam on the South Side, which was frequented by whites. As a result, he was stoned and drowned. After the police refused to arrest the young man's attackers, violence ensued. For 13 days, white rioters destroyed the homes and businesses of African-Americans. By the end of the riot, an estimated one thousand African-American families were homeless, over 500 were injured and 50 people were killed.

Elaine, Ark.:One of the last but most intense of all the race riots began on October 1 after whites tried to disband the organization efforts of African-American sharecroppers. Sharecroppers were meeting to organize a union so that they could express their concerns to local planters. However, the planters, opposed the workers organization and attacked African-American farmers. During the riot, an estimated 100 African-Americans and five whites were killed.

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