The Red Summer of 1919

Red Summer of 1919

In July 2019, one hundred years of the Chicago riot was commemorated. The riot, known as Red Summer, laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960. Race riots and mob action engulfed the country during that period.


Start of the Red Summer of 1919

The riot started when Eugene Williams inadvertently strayed across the invisible line that divided Lake Michigan into two separate beaches and bathing areas. One side was solely for the whites while the other side was for the blacks. Williams was murdered for swimming in whites-only bathing area. He was stoned, resulting in him drowning.


The death of Eugene Williams sparked one of the worst phases in the race history of the country. The police instead of arresting the perpetrators, arrest another black man, who had complained that the police were not taking action.


The Red Summer of 1919

After the demise of Eugene Williams, 26 race riots broke out across the country. In Chicago, 23 blacks and 15 whites died. From there, the race riots and mob action spread to other cities like Charleston, South Carolina; Omaha, Nebraska; Longview, Texas; Washington, D.C.; Elaine, Alaska; and Knoxville, Tennessee.


Experts and sociologists reckon that the race riots that engulfed the country were an escalation of what had started in Houston and East St. Louis in 1917, when J. Edgar Hoover, the Director General of the General Investigation Division of the Justice Department, started collating intel about black radicals. Hoover was more interested in these radicals having links with organized labor rather than concentrating on the violence white supremacists were wreaking on the black populace.


The Precursor to the Red Summer of 1919

Several African-Americans from the south were veterans of World War I. However, when they returned to their homes, they were not welcomed as heroes. So, many moved north during the Great Migration to be in cities where they would enjoy more freedom than they did in the south.


At the same time, the Bolsheviks had overtaken Soviet Union and communists and anarchists were demonstrating across the world. The blacks too were fighting for equality in the US and somehow the government began linking them to the communists.


In Chicago, things were slightly different from other parts of the US, where the African-American population not only enjoyed more freedom, but were fighting back against the violence. It was something new that had not been witnessed in the US.


In the south, the once white town suddenly saw black sharecroppers make money to invest in cars, land and homes. It was unacceptable.


All these factors contributed to race riots, which have been described as one of the worst riots, in the country. What started as a fight in the water, continued in the South Side of Chicago between rival white and black gangs, soon engulfed the country. While hundreds died in the ensuing riotsRed Summer of 1919, thousands of African-Americans lost their homes to arson.


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Oct 15, 2019

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