1) This year, 2019, marks an important centennial anniversary in America—but it is one that not only are we not celebrating, it’s also a significant moment most of us aren’t even aware of: the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer of 1919.
2) Warning: This is an extremely long 150-tweet thread. It contains some violent images involving lynching, generally held to a minimum. The text is horrifying. It’s a history lesson—and not one for the faint of heart. You can decide if the subject warrants the unusual length.
3) There are reasons we do not commemorate the events of those months. Nearly all of them have to do with the deep shame that lingers for one of the darkest, most violent moments in American history—not to mention the monstrousness it reveals.
4) Yet the truth is that the summer of 1919 was one of the most momentous in our history, and NEEDS to be remembered, because it forever and irrevocably altered the face of the American landscape, shaping our demographics in ways that remain with us today.
5) The American public recently received a little taste of this deliberately hidden corner of history when the debut episode of the new HBO series Watchmen opened with a flashback to a child’s-eye view of the Tulsa race riot of 1921. https://screenrant.com/watchmen-show-location-tulsa-explained-1921-massacre/
6) Many, probably a majority, of white viewers in the audience was shocked by the sequence and was unaware that it was portraying a true historical event, and doing so with horrifying accuracy. Black people, in general, were much less surprised. They knew.
7) The series’ producer, Damon Lindelof, acknowledges that the scene was inspired in large part by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ powerful description of the Tulsa riot in his persuasive essay, 'The Case for Reparations.'
8) The sociocultural context that Coates explores is what’s most relevant now. But it’s also important to understand the larger historical context in which the Tulsa riot happened, if nothing else to limn Coates’ point. Knowing about the Red Summer of 1919 is fundamental to this.
9) These events were in many ways the fevered culmination of the long campaign after the Civil War to reverse its outcome by putting the now-freed slaves into a continued state of submission by other means—violent ones. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/2/6/1832592/-Red-MAGA-hats-are-actually-the-new-Red-Shirts-and-their-defenders-the-new-Confederate-revisionists
10) The centerpiece of this campaign was lynching. As a form of terrorism intended to keep blacks from participating in the political process or from even objecting to their subjugation under Jim Crow laws, it was brutally effective. https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/
11) Between 1870 and 1930, literally thousands of black people were summarily executed by their white neighbors, most often for the crime of being somehow “uppity”—that is, a threat to their own social status in one way or another. https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/#lynching-in-america
13) The Tuskegee Institute in Alabama began keeping statistics in 1900, though the peak of the phenomenon may have been during the early 1870s, in the fight over Reconstruction. Regardless, the 20th-century numbers alone tell the story. https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/01/lynching-map-tuskegee-institute-s-data-on-lynching-from-1900-1931.html
14) The rationale for these horrific acts lay in a kind of guilty white projection, in which black males—many of whom were in fact the progeny of their mothers’ rapes by their white masters—were demonized widely as likely rapists, sexual with brutes ravenous appetites.
15) The supposed threat of black rape, and the ensuing protection of “white womanhood” by “gallant men” of determination who moved in mobs and slaughtered with extreme violence, made it all justified as necessary self-defense in the popular white view.
16) Civil-rights pioneer Ida B. Wells in the 1880s began examining the facts behind the wave of lynchings still gaining momentum in America and determined that in most cases, “rape” was merely a pretext for other reasons, usually a white woman caught with a black man.
17) Later studies have found that actual black criminality was only occasionally the actual cause of lynchings. Far more often, black people were lynched for being _too_ successful by white standards. Economic jealousy fueled many a lynching.
18) It’s also difficult to convey just how terribly barbaric these events were, especially for black people, without shocking people’s modern sensibilities. Yet part of the reason for our continuing racial divide is white people’s unwillingness to look this history in the face.
19) So let me use words instead of images—though many hundreds of them exist—to convey this history. Because they are shocking enough. And it is history that most white people are utterly, blithely, happily ignorant about. That has to end.
20) A memorial museum dedicated to the victims of lynching opened this year in Montgomery, Alabama. It is powerful and devastating, especially for people who know nothing of this history, which is frequently the case. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/25/us/lynching-memorial-alabama.html
21) White apologists for these events often demur by claiming that white people were lynched too. This is true, especially regarding the Old West and its vigilantes. Yet the numbers of these lynchings of whites were tiny compared to black lynchings.
22) Moreover, when whites were lynched, they were simply hung till dead, and that was it. They remained clothed. Their bodies weren’t desecrated. They were taken down and buried. That didn’t happen often for black people.
23) When blacks were lynched—as we shall see, not merely in the South, but throughout white America—truly horrific violence was visited upon their bodies. They were tortured and maimed during the hangings. Dying black men were fed their own penises.
24) The crowds often set large bonfires over which they would raise and lower the victim, often already dead, until he burned up. At times the mobs would deliberately prolong their suffering. And then they would all pose for photos afterwards.
25) These photos became popular postcards that were widely circulated in the early part of the 20th century. A collection of these postcards and similar photos can be found in the essential collection, 'Without Sanctuary.
26) Lynchings were hugely popular community events. Parents ensured that their children, especially their daughters, had front-row seats, so they could see what it took to preserve white maidenhood. And it was all justified in their minds.
[The horror of all this did not go unremarked at the time. This is a New Yorker cartoon by Reginald Marsh from 1934.]
27) Lynching was celebrated in popular culture. One of the bestsellers of the age was Thomas Dixon’s _The Clansman_, a 1905 encomium to the Ku Klux Klan that features the lynching of a black rapist. The book and play had audiences in the millions.
28) In 1915, filmmaker D.W. Griffith turned it into his epic _The Birth of a Nation_, which was a national sensation which millions viewed, including a White House audience. It not only made Hollywood the epicenter of filmmaking, it also revived the KKK.
29) This period has become known among historians as the nadir of American race relations, an apt if too antiseptic a term for its horrors. It began in earnest in 1890, when Republicans abandoned Reconstruction, and black Southerners with it.
30) One of the major factors the fueled the Nadir was the Great Migration—the mass movement of former slaves out of the South to the North and Midwest. The majority first moved into rural areas and took up farming, since that was what most of them knew. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Migration_(African_American)
31) The demographic shift seemed to work fine for about a generation, but eventually, non-Southern whites’ attitudes about their black neighbors began to shift, thanks in no small part to the common demonization of black males found in popular culture.
32) Likewise, the increasing celebration of lynching as a response to the presence of “threatening” black men meant that this became a common event not merely in the South, but in the Midwest and elsewhere.
33) Eventually this violence—which, like modern hate crimes, were intended as threatening messages to vulnerable minorities, telling them to “get out”—morphed into larger-scale expulsions, outright ethnic-cleansing events neutrally labeled “race riots.”
34) After ‘Birth of a Nation’ glorified lynching nationally in 1915, and the Klan became not just a small Southern phenomenon but a national organization with charters and large memberships in every state, the violence became even more intense.
35) Eventually, the presence of a violent, rampaging mob meant that not only did the singular lynchings grow into multiple-lynching events, they also turned into burning, pillaging, and mass murder. The euphemism “race riots” hid the reality: these were ethnic-cleansing events.
36) There were race riots in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi during Reconstruction, but they quickly spread broadly to places like New York (1900) and Springfield, Ohio (1904 and 1906). One of the largest mass race riots occurred in East St. Louis, Missouri, in 1917.
37) The problems in St. Louis revolved around postwar job competition and the use of black strikebreakers by meatpacking industry owners, which resulted in a tinder-box situation culminating in three days of utter lawlessness and murder.
38) One of the factors that aggravated the situation, beginning in 1917 and afterwards, was the return of black American soldiers, war veterans, to their hometowns, both in the South and elsewhere. These men were not celebrated as heroes; they were often, in fact, lynched.
39) Again, lynchings really were not directed at criminals: They far more often targeted the “uppity” blacks who were succeeding socially. And no black men were more of a threat in this regard (probably due to their perceived virility) than war vets.
40) Black vets, especially in '18, were a direct challenge to the tenets of white supremacy that held that only white men were capable of higher thought and bravery and capability. So they were targeted for lynching with a particular urgency and venom.
41) This thinking was encouraged by editorials such as this one in the St. Francisville (La.) _True Democrat_, suggesting black soldiers might have “more exalted ideas of their station in life than really exists,” such “arrogance and insolence” being intolerable in the South.
42) The lynching violence in general was reaching an incredibly savage level of bloodlust. One of the worst of all the lynchings—that of Hayes and Mary Turner in Valdosta, GA—took place in May 1918.
43) Its horror is difficult to imagine, much less describe, so I will leave it to the fine work of Philip Dray, from his definitive work on lynching, ‘At the Hands of Persons Unknown,’ pp. 245-246:
44) The bloodlust was in the air. The stage was set for the nation’s worst and most prolonged outbreak of racial violence.
45) The Red Summer actually took place over the entire year of 1919—things just intensified insanely during the summer. But there was at least one race riot in January in Bedford County, Tenn., about which little is known except a mention in the above New York Times story.
46) There was another on February 8 in Blakeley, Georgia, mentioned in the same piece, in which four people were killed. Again, nothing more is known about this event, which is not terribly unusual; in same cases, whole black communities were obliterated and forgotten.
47) The first definitively recorded event occurred March 12, when a black WWI veteran named Bud Johnson was lynched in Pace, Florida. Accused of assaulting a white woman, Johnson was chained to a stake and burnt alive, his skull split with a hatchet. https://pensacolian.com/2019/03/13/the-burning-of-bud-johnson/
48) The next “race riot” took place in Morgan County, West Virginia, where racial tensions were high because mining companies were using black workers as strikebreakers. It began, again, when a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman.
49) A mob of white men intent on lynching the man—a Martinsburg resident named Hugh Johnson—formed outside the county courthouse, forcing officials to flee with the suspect to a nearby town. When the mob followed them there, they had to flee again.
50) The first large-scale riot that year occurred on April 13, in Jenkins County, Georgia, when two white lawmen bringing in a black prisoner were stopped by a community leader named Louis Ruffin, who attempted to dissuade them from jailing the man. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/jenkins-county-riot/
51) A fight broke out, guns were drawn, and when the smoke cleared both the white men and the black prisoner were dead. Louis Ruffin went into hiding, but a white mob formed, which then attacked the local black church he oversaw, killed two of his sons, and went on a rampage.
52) Hundreds of white men arrived on the scene and roamed the county for days. Three black Masonic lodges in Millen were burned. The New York Tribune reported that seven black churches had been burnt down, and that a black man in the Millen prison was lynched.
53) In Sylvester, Ga., on April 5, black WWI veteran Daniel Mack brushed against a white man, who was offended and accused him of disrespect. Mack was arrested. A few days later, a mob took him away and lynched him. He miraculously survived.
54) On May 5, in Pickens, Mississippi, another black veteran made the mistake of hiring a black woman he knew to write a letter to a white woman that someone deemed inappropriate, the result being a mob went to their home, dragged them out and lynched them both.
55) The night of May 10 in Charleston, S.C., a group of sailors began attacking blacks randomly, so one black man fired a gun at them, and was killed. Mobs of sailors then began pouring into the streets attacking blacks. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/charleston-sc-riot
56) Five black men were killed and another seventeen were injured seriously. Businesses were destroyed, stores ransacked. Some 49 men were later arraigned on a variety of charges, including murder and riot, but all charges were dropped later.
57) In El Dorado, Ark., a black veteran named Frank Livingston was accused of murdering his employer, a man named William Clay, and the man’s wife, after a May 21 argument. Some 100 people tracked Livingston down, tied him to a tree, and burned him alive. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/frank-livingston-8283/
58) A lynching precipitated by white criminals was the pretext for ethnic cleansing in Milan, Georgia, on May 24. Early that morning, a 72-year-old black man named Berry Washington shot and killed one of two drunken white men attempting to rape two young black girls.
59) Washington surrendered himself promptly. A mob removed him the next morning, hung him from a post, and shot him until his body fell apart. Then the mob ordered all blacks out of Milan; and so the black neighborhood had emptied by that night. https://janvoogd.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/90th-anniversary-of-the-red-summer-riot-in-milan-georgia/
60) A handful of these “race riots,” as in New London, featured little lethal violence and no deaths. In Putnam County, Georgia, arsonists burned down at least six black churches and multiple community buildings in and around Eatonton in late May. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putnam_County,_Georgia,_arson_attack
61) These tensions spread locally. A few miles away in Milledgeville, Georgia white and black mobs armed themselves and roamed the town when an argument broke when the white and black schools choose the same colors. But no violence was recorded.
62) Initially, most of these “race riots” occurred in the South. But as the phenomenon spread, so did its geographical reach. One of the sites of racial rioting was New London, Connecticut, home of the Coast Guard Academy.
63) On May 30, 1919, about 20 sailors and soldiers in were arrested after "negro sailors" entered the Coast Guard Academy and attacked white sailors. On June 29, 1919, another riot erupted, requiring the presence of Marines in restoring order. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_London_riots_of_1919
64) A similar riot, but this time in Annapolis, Md., on June 27 featured gunfire from a gang of white sailors who invaded a black community, intent on violence. Realizing they were outmanned, the sailors retreated, leaving 2 with gun wounds. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annapolis_riot_of_1919
65) Some race riots had explicitly economic components, enforcing the system of indentured servitude that persisted in the South. On June 7 in Macon, MS, a white mob attacked and beat several prominent blacks for organizing to improve work conditions.
66) This event was an explicit case of ethnic cleansing. After looting stores, the mob ordered the victims to leave Macon and never return; the local paper reported that the blacks were "taken across the river." Some were first whipped by white mobs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macon,_Mississippi,_race_riot
67) The rioting even spread out West. In Bisbee, Arizona, some black Buffalo Soldiers visiting from Fort Huachuca resisted the efforts of white police to relieve them of their guns. An ensuing street battle lasted an hour, but no one died. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/brewery-gulch-battle/
68) In Philadelphia, there were similar racially divided street riots through most of the month of May, spurred mostly by black migration into once-white neighborhoods. On May 9, a large mob of whites broke open the door of a newly arrived black family. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_riots_in_Philadelphia_during_the_1919_Red_Summer
69) In Longview, Texas, the racial tensions engendered by the June 17 lynching of a black man by a white mob simmered into July. Between July 10-12, whites attacked black areas, killed a black man, and burned down properties. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/longview-texas-lynching-mob-violence
70) On July 15, another “insult to a white woman”—by another black WWI veteran, an 18-year-old named Robert Truett—in Louise, Mississippi, led to his lynching by a white mob. https://taskandpurpose.com/tragic-ignored-history-black-veterans
71) A black man’s close proximity to a white woman on a street car while smoking was an excuse for a group of white men in Port Arthur, Texas to riot July 15. Two people were seriously injured, while dozens suffered minor injuries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_riot_1919
72) Then came July 19 in Washington, D.C., and the building bloodlust hit the fan. It all began when roaming mobs of white men, many in the military—all three forces—responded violently to the rumored arrest of a black man for rape of a white woman. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/washington-d-c-race-riot-1919/
73) After randomly assaulting multiple black people and looting stores and businesses on the 19th, the mobs returned for four consecutive days, all unperturbed by police who refused to intervene. So the black community organized to fight back. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/red-summer-dc/
74) When the violence was over, between 5 and 30 black people had died, and at least 10 white people, including two police officers were dead. Fifty people were seriously injured, another 100 wounded less severely.
75) A welcome-home celebration for returning black World War I veterans in Norfolk, Virginia, on July 21 attracted a vicious mob of white sailors and Marines who were handed weapons and told to enforce the peace. Two people were killed, six wounded.
76) Then came the largest of the Red Summer riots: Chicago, July 27 to Aug. 3, a week of ethnic cleansing by mobs of rampaging whites. It began when a white man intent on keeping black kids out of a white swimming area hit one with a rock and he drowned. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/riot-in-chicago/
77) When cops not only refused to arrest the rock-tosser but arrested a black man on bogus charge instead, black people took to the streets to protest. They were met by mobs of whites who freely indulged in lethal force—for the next week.
78) The Illinois National Guard arrived on Aug. 3 and ended the riots. By then, 38 people were dead—23 black, 15 white—and over 500 injured, two-thirds of them blacks. President Wilson pronounced “the white race” the “aggressors” in both D.C. and Chicago. https://www.britannica.com/event/Chicago-Race-Riot-of-1919
79) Another black WWI veteran, Elisha Harper, 25, was accused by a 14-year-old in Newberry, S.C., of insulting her. Jailed by authorities, a mob came to lynch him. He was saved by a quick-thinking sheriff who spirited him out of town. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newberry_1919_lynching_attempt
80) “This is a free man’s country.” That retort—to a white woman angry he failed to get off a sidewalk she was walking down in Lincoln, Ark.—cost another WWI veteran, Clinton Briggs, his life on Aug. 3. A mob tied him to a tree and shot him to pieces. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/clinton-briggs-8254/
81) In Laurens County, Georgia, a mob of white men kidnapped a black man perceived to be a leader in the black community and lynched him in Ocmulgee. Then they proceeded to burn down three black churches and a community building. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurens_County,_Georgia_race_riot_of_1919
82) An Aug. 30 lynch mob—this time in Knoxville, Tenn.—inspired another race riot there. This mob came after a black man accused of killing a white woman; when it found him gone, they turned to a black neighborhood and engaged in a pitched gun battle.
83) A similar dynamic fueled the Omaha riot of Sept. 28-29. A white woman identified a 41-year-old black man named Will Brown as her rapist on dubious grounds; a mob came for him at the jail, and a pitched battle resulted. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/omaha-courthouse-lynching-riot
84) Eventually, the mob was able to overcome a determined police force that did its best to protect Brown. In the process, the mob actually took way the city’s mayor, Edward Smith, and lynched him. He was rescued, and eventually recovered.
85) The mob shot Brown to death when it cornered him inside the prison, then toyed with his corpse in its usual gruesome fashion: dangled from a telephone post, shot to pieces, then tied to the rear end of a car and dragged through the streets, then tossed onto a bonfire.
86) None of these events, however, approached the events of Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Elaine, Arkansas—in many ways the horrifying climax of the Red Summer—for sheer lethality: an estimated 100 to 237 black people, mostly poor farmers, were killed. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/elaine-massacre/
87) The Elaine Massacre was fueled by racial animus, but the ongoing system of economic oppression in the South was also key: At a Sept. 30 gathering of about 100 sharecroppers for a Progressive Farmers and Household Union event, gunfire broke out. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/elaine-massacre-of-1919-1102/#
88) Even before this gathering, whites had been fed a bizarre set of vicious smears about the Progressive Farmers organization—such as a headline in a Helena, Ark., paper describing it as “established for the purpose of banding Negroes together for the killing of white people.”
89) Two white men who had pulled up in a car were shot, one of them fatally. A posse estimated as large as 1,000 men arrived to put down the “insurrection.” Troops intervened, so the white mobs spread out and began slaughtering black people. https://patrickmurfin.blogspot.com/2019/10/the-elaine-massacre-centennialbullets.html
90) It was indiscriminate slaughter. Even the troops who had been sent to stop the rioting wound up shooting black people randomly. It only ended after troops had been there several days. Afterwards, black landowners claimed their land was stolen too.
91) One of the last Red Summer riots, fittingly, was also wholly eliminationist in nature: the expulsion of the black community from Corbin, Kentucky, on October 31. Fueled by an alleged black crime, it culminated in a mass ethnic cleansing.
92) James Loewen describes these events in his landmark book _Sundown Towns_, which describes how 200 people were rounded up and put on a train to Knoxville because a couple of white men believed they had been cheated after losing their money in poker.
93) As Loewen goes on to note, the Corbin expulsion actually inspired a copycat event in nearby Ravenna a few months later, in which black workers were similarly rounded up and put on a train out of town.
94) The last major Red Summer riot occurred November 13, 1919, in Wilmington, Delaware. It was sparked when a police raid on a trio of black men suspected of gun theft resulted in two cops being shot, one fatally. A white mob gathered to lynch the men.
95) However, their plans were frustrated by police, who spirited the men away to Philadelphia. So the mob attacked the black community, rampaging through the neighborhood, assaulting blacks at will, ending in a brief gunbattle with one black man wounded.
96) As you can see, the “Red Summer” actually lasted for the entire year. All told, there were 27 significant events that summer involving mob action, among them 16 large-scale “race riots” in which people were killed or injured. https://www.zinnedproject.org/if-we-knew-our-history/remembering-red-summer
97) Indeed, the trendline that the Red Summer of 1919 represented did not immediately change: Mob violence and race riots continued apace for the next several years. Some of these events surpassed 1919 for their horror and their damage—especially in Tulsa.
98) The events of Red Summer are important to remember in part because they are representative of the kind of horror that lies within the history of being black in America, a horror most white Americans little understand or appreciate, reinforced by their often willful ignorance.
99) However, these events all were noteworthy in another important regard: They represented the first time that black communities organized and resisted this violence, with varying degrees of success. But the pushback was just beginning, and eventually turned the tide.
100) Lynchings continued at their usual pace through the next year or two (finally beginning their decline in 1925). There were race riots, too, most notably in Ocoee, Florida, on November 2, 1920. https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/ocoee-massacre/
101) That riot was sparked by organized efforts by black people—led by successful black merchants—to claim their franchise by voting. The voting-day violence that erupted when they did so turned into a murderous ethnic-cleansing event.
102) When a white mob formed to lynch one of the leaders of the vote drive after he confronted officials at the ballot station, it turned into a rampaging tide of violence that ended up at the home of another man who was then lynched. https://eji.org/news/eji-unveils-historical-marker-recognizing-lynching-in-orlando-florida
103) White paramilitary forces surrounded the Ocoee black community and laid siege to it. After setting fire to rows of African-American houses, they waited outside them and opened fire on the residents who were forced to flee. https://www.facingsouth.org/2010/05/ocoee-florida-remembering-the-single-bloodiest-day-in-modern-us-political-history.html
104) Over 20 buildings were consumed, including every African-American church, schoolhouse, and lodge room in the vicinity. The black residents fought back in an evening-long gunfight but eventually had to retreat through the orange groves and flee. https://medium.com/florida-history/ocoee-on-fire-the-1920-election-day-massacre-38adbda9666e
105) The remaining black residents of Ocoee with homes outside the besieged area were rounded up and ordered to leave, some 500 in all. Ocoee became an all-white town and remained that way until 1981.
106) As James Loewen explains in his landmark work _Sundown Towns_, there was a kind of contagion caused by these events that spread from county to county, a kind of “envy that of a neighboring town that had already driven out its African Americans.” https://books.google.com/books/about/Sundown_Towns.html
107) So what then befell the black community in Tulsa in 1921 was preconditioned by the many riots that had preceded it. The contagion created serial ethnic-cleansing events, the net result of which drove black people out of much of rural America.
108) The Tulsa riot began, familiarly enough, with a white mob intent on lynching a black man who had threatened 'white womanhood'—in this case, 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a shoeshiner who had some kind of exchange with elevator operator Sarah Page, 17. https://timeline.com/history-tulsa-race-massacre-a92bb2356a69
109) The nature of the exchange was never clear, but police arrested Rowland the next day, and the Tulsa World front-paged the story with this headline. Its editorial page (all copies of which were subsequently destroyed) ran an editorial headlined: “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”
110) A white mob gathered outside the courthouse. A group of about 50-60 armed blacks went to meet them, intent on ensuring that Rowland was not lynched. The 1,000 or so whites already gathered went home, got their own guns, returned and began firing. https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/tulsa-race-massacre
111) A rolling gunfight ensued back into the prosperous black Greenwood neighborhood. Clusters of whites continued to exchange gunfire with blacks sporadically during the night. Around 1 a.m., the white mob began setting fire to the black neighborhood along its borders.
112) At dawn, a mob of whites descended on Greenwood and, despite being initially repelled by gunfire, soon overwhelmed the neighborhood with sheer numbers, destroying everything in their path. The surviving black residents fled. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/long-lost-manuscript-contains-searing-eyewitness-account-tulsa-race-massacre-1921-180959251/?no-ist
113) The Tulsa riot also featured one of the earliest uses of airplanes to bomb citizens: In their drive to set Greenwood aflame, the white faction flew biplanes overhead that dropped flaming turpentine balls onto the homes below. It all burned down. https://www.vox.com/2016/6/1/11827994/tulsa-race-massacre-black-wall-street?__c=1
114) Afterwards, a number of white community leaders expressed remorse for the riots in a New York Times piece. However, the participants often defended their behavior by claiming they were putting down an armed “negro uprising.”
115) Two years later, in Rosewood, Florida, in January 1923, there was another “race riot” that was another horrific massacre of blacks by their white neighbors. Once again, a black community was razed to the ground and its residents permanently exiled. https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/rosewood-massacre
116) It began, once again, with a white woman’s claim that she had been assaulted by a black man. A black chain-gain fugitive was blamed, and a white mob soon formed. It lynched a black blacksmith the vigilantes randomly encountered. https://www.ajc.com/news/national/the-rosewood-massacre-how-lie-destroyed-black-town/wTcKjELkGskePsWiwutQuO/
117) Then the mob attacked a house full of black people because someone claimed the fugitive was hiding there. The home’s proprietress, ‘Aunt Sarah’ Carrier, was killed in the fighting, along with two white men.
118) The fighting attracted thousands of white men from around the state of Florida, who flocked there to participate in “race war,” drawn by stories suggesting that black people in Rosewood had “taken up arms against the white race.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1993/05/30/rosewood/7b3a45c0-0c20-42e8-9b41-ebf5b7552518/
119) The remainder of the week was an unchecked assault on the black community, at the end of which the survivors fled through the woods. As many as 150 died. The mob then indulged an orgy of looting and burning, at the end of which the town was ash. https://timeline.com/all-black-town-rosewood-wiped-off-the-map-by-white-mob-73ca6630802b
120) By this time, there was an active and effective campaign being undertaken by the pioneering black civil-rights activists who formed the earliest iterations of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, including Ida B. Wells. https://www.proquest.com/blog/eosblog/2019/The-NAACPs-Anti-Lynching-Campaign.html
121) The violence, in fact, fueled the fight for civil rights; in its early years, nearly the entire raison d’être for the NAACP was its opposition to lynching. A 1917 NAACP anti-lynching march in New York attracted 10,000. By 1919, it had 90,000 members. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/1917-silent-parade_n_597b3c01e4b0da64e8789bff
122) One of its more memorable ways of raising public awareness about lynching was the banner that it flew outside its headquarters at in Manhattan every day following the latest news: “A man was lynched yesterday,” it read. People paid attention.
123) Over the ensuing decade, a national debate arose over lynching that gradually turned the tide of public attitudes about its moral value. A federal anti-lynching law very nearly became law, but failed due to filibustering Southern Democratic senators. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/12/28/why-it-took-century-pass-an-anti-lynching-law/
124) Eventually the civil-rights movement gained broad momentum and produced the significant changes in the law, overthrowing Jim Crow, the Klan, and the regime of bigoted white supremacy that ruled not just the South but much of America before 1960. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-now/essays/civil-rights-movement-major-events-and-legacies
125) But the changes in the American landscape wrought by the Red Summer of 1919, and the broader phenomenon of racial terrorization intended to create those changes, are still with us. White supremacy does not vanish with the wave of legal wands. https://prospect.org/justice/civil-rights-movement-politics-memory/
126) The racial divide that was at its deepest and widest in 1919 remains nonetheless with us today because the events of the Red Summer, Tulsa 1921, and the many horrors of that era in our history were intended, after all, to create a white racial cartel. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/apr/26/lynchings-memorial-us-south-montgomery-alabama
127) This cartel was created with fear and violence, leading to black dispossession and their economic disenfranchisement. So even after civil-rights laws were enacted, the underlying conditions created by the cartel remained mostly intact.
128) The mechanics of how this happened can be observed by looking at what happened to America demographically due to these “race riots.” Essentially, black Americans were driven out of rural America and forced into racially and economically segregated urban neighborhoods.
129) Loewen’s _Sundown Towns_ is an essential text for understanding how this occurred. As he noted in describing the contagious effects of mob violence, the end result of most of this ethnic cleansing was to make whole swaths of America uniformly white.
130) Once a “race riot” had cleared the area of black people, towns would pass “sundown ordinances” that outlawed the presence of any nonwhites after dark. Signs were erected on town limits: “N---er, don’t let the sun set on you here.” There were more civilized versions too.
131) These were not a Southern phenomenon particularly, though they were indeed common in the South, notably in suburbs. But there were thousands of “sundown towns” throughout America—in the Midwest, the Northeast, the far West and Pacific Coast.
132) These ordinances fell into disuse after the 1960s, though racial covenants that existed in housing districts continued to be enforced through red-lining and other mechanisms that kept black people in economically/culturally detached neighborhoods. https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2017/0327/Sundown-towns-Midwest-confronts-its-complicated-racial-legacy?cmpid=gigya-tw
133) Loewen maintains a website where you can look up your own hometown to see if it is or was a sundown town. It’s an eye-opening resource.
134) Another important text—Daria Rothmayr’s _Reproducing Racism_—provides even deeper insight into how and why it is that, sixty years after the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, the black community remains locked in a cycle of disenfranchisement. https://books.google.com/books/about/Reproducing_Racism.html
135) That racial cartel created in the depths of the Nadir and stamped into permanence by the sheer dread fear of the Red Summer and its associated violence, as Rothmayr notes, was designed (like all cartels) to maintain its underlying features even when forced to change by law.
136) Importantly, cartel behavior features what’s called “lock-in,” the model of which is used by economists and scholars to explain why an early lead for one technology can persist even when a superior alternative attempts to supersede it in the marketplace. Look at Microsoft.
137) Rothmayr’s book importantly explores “how everyday choices lock in white advantage” to this day: “Choices like whether to refer a friend … for a job, or whether to give one’s child help with college tuition turn out to play a central role in reproducing racial gaps.”
138) Reconciliation and recognition come slowly. Especially when great shame is in play. That’s why you don’t learn about the Red Summer, or Tulsa 1921, or the lynching era in high school—just as you rarely learn about the Native American genocide or Japanese American internment.
139) Black people, quite understandably, want to look away from this because it’s a painful reminder of everything bad about America in their lives. White people, on the other hand, use the ensuing silence as their own excuse to look away too. Deliberate ignorance is the result.
140) That ignorance is what prompts so many whites to react defensively to the simple plea contained in the slogan Black Lives Matter. No, you twits, they’re not saying _only_ black lives matter. They’re saying _black lives don’t matter to white people, and they need to._
141) At the sites of the Red Summer riots, there have been halting, sometimes rewarding, attempts at reviving this history so that a broader swath of America can finally come to grips with why we are where we are as a nation racially. https://www.zinnedproject.org/if-we-knew-our-history/remembering-red-summer
142) The New York Times published a centennial retrospective on the Millen, Georgia riots of 1919 earlier this year, noting that efforts to recognize the atrocity are under way within the community now, but the old scars remain. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/us/red-summer-black-church.html
143) In Tulsa, there have been multiple commissions examining the history and how to move forward with reconciliation. Most recently, there has been a concerted effort to locate the mass graves where many of the Tulsa dead we buried unceremoniously.
144) As the Equal Justice Institute argues, the legacy of lynching as a kind of extralegal form of execution also tells how closely “race riots” were connected to the mass incarceration of African Americans as part of the systematic oppression of blacks. https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/#legacy-of-lynching
145) After all, it should be obvious that black people have a multitude of reasons to believe that their lives do not matter to white people, from the depths of history to the modern record of easy police disposal of their lives. https://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/article212853714.html
146) Knowing the history of Red Summer—especially for white folks—ultimately isn’t about self-flagellation, white guilt, or political correctness. It’s about reality and truth and coming to terms with our own history.
147) As someone who’s long grappled with the consequences of my white ancestry—one of my great-grandfathers avidly participated in the plundering of former Native American reservation land in southern Idaho—I long ago realized that there’s little individuals can do to compensate.
148) Collectively, as a society, that’s another story, which is why I’ve long supported not just reconciliation but, as Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests, reparations. http://theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631
149) However, that doesn’t let individuals off the hook either. The knowledge of this history does carry an obligation: No, you can’t fix things that happened in the past, but you can—no, you must—work hard to fix things in the here and now.
150) That’s what the Red Summer should mean to American whites today. If only they knew enough to remember it.
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