Red Summer of 1919

Summer is over.

The close of a decade is here.

The close of a century is as well. 1

100 years ago marks the anniversary of several historic events and incidents. The Red Summer of 1919 was a period of extreme racial terror on the Black communities all across the nation. Many self-sufficient and thriving communities became the scene for vicious mob attacks, lynchings, and arson.

Prefaced with the racist propaganda of “The Birth of a Nation (1915)”, the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan ensued. It would be delusional to assume that post World War I unification would wart bigotry. The demobilization of veterans of World War I, both black and white, and competition for jobs and housing among ethnic European Americans and African Americans.  In addition, it was a time of labor unrest in which some industrialists used black people as strikebreakers, increasing resentment.

As President Wilson had noted in a 1918 speech: from 1889–1918, more than 3,000 people had been lynched; 2,472 were black men, and 50 were black women. There are 38 documented attacks in The Haynes Report.

W. E. B. Du Bois, editor of its monthly magazine, The Crisis, stated:

By the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that the 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.

The Red Summer became an impetus for the publication of The Brownies’ Book.

In May 1919, following the first serious racial incidents, he published his essay "Returning Soldiers" states,

We return from the slavery of uniform which the world's madness demanded us to don to the freedom of civil garb. We stand again to look America squarely in the face and call a spade a spade. We sing. This country of ours, despite all its better souls, has done and dreamed, is yet a shameful land ... We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.

It is important to note that massive violence against the African American community is still present through bloodshed and systems that stymie progress. Systems such as “Stand Your Ground” and Castle “Doctrine” Laws, Voter Suppression, Redlining, Underfunded schools, School to Prison Pipeline, Stop and Frisk, Over-policing, ID Laws, and the list can go on. It is important that we become civically-minded about our agency and fight hard to maintain it. It is important we espouse the values of empowerment and justice in our children through our actions.