Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America
By Cameron McWhirter
The summer of 1919 was a bloody time; that’s why James Weldon Johnson dubbed it the Red Summer. Wall Street Journal reporter Cameron McWhirter makes his literary debut here, and boy does he hit it out of the park on this one! He provides a very detailed account of a wave of incidents of white mob violence that erupted in the summer following the Great War. The black soldiers returning from fighting for democracy in Europe came home hoping for better treatment; instead, they ran into the same old bigotry. Backlash came in the form of near-weekly race riots. 1919 was the year that black America woke up socially and politically. Led by the NAACP, blacks armed themselves and prepared to fight for equal rights. From Texas to Nebraska, Connecticut to California there was racial unrest. He starts with a riot in Jenkins County and goes through the riots in Chicago, Washingon, Knoxville and others and ends in Philips County, Arkansas.
1919 was supposed to be a peaceful time, and full of good will to all. At the end of 1918, President Wilson was in Europe trying to craft the League of Nations, forming the Versailles treaty, and giving flowery speeches about how the world had united to defeat autocracy. He thought that democracy had triumphed, that we had entered a new age of peace. But while he was doing that, there was rampant chaos at home. There was high inflation, huge labor striking, and talk by anarchists and Bolsheviks about overthrowing capitalism and instituting communism. So, all the while, racial problems that already existed at the time flared up as a result. Black soldiers had fought bravely in Europe and they were treated well by the French; they were fighting for democracy. But, when they got home, they didn’t find democracy. Also, at the same time, the Great Migration was happening. A lot of blacks were going to the North because there was better pay and...