American Pogrom:

The “Red Summer”
April–November 1919

The Great Migration had begun in the mid-19-teens. Black people were leaving the South and all its oppressions in pursuit of better jobs and living conditions. Black Americans had participated in the fight to make the world “safe for Democracy,” in the words of President Woodrow Wilson. Some had served with extraordinary distinction. But once they were home, they were expected to get back in their so-called places—second-class and subservient. Mr. Wilson’s domestic policies frequently reinforced—and enforced—this expectation. But veterans, as well as Black civil rights leaders of the time, were not so inclined—and veterans became frequent targets.

James Weldon Johnson, then a field secretary for the NAACP, coined the term “Red Summer.”

“Race riots” broke out across the country. White newspapers often fanned the flames, and in some cases, set them themselves.

In some places, such as Chicago and Washington, DC, Black people fought back.

Read more atThe History Channel, NBC News, JSTOR Daily, and the Zinn Education Project, PBS News Hour. Karen Sieber’s thesis archive contains numerous newspaper clippings covering events of that summer. A 1994 article for the Journal of American Studies by Mark Ellis examines the federal government’s response—J. Edgar Hoover’s and the Bureau of Investigation’s in particular—which included, in part, blaming Bolshviks, the IWW, and the Black press for Black Americans’ reluctance to be content “in their place.”

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