‘Red Summer’ and its reverberations

Red Summer

One hundred years ago, starting on July 27 and for 13 more days, Chicago was engulfed in violence. White mobs wantonly attacked Black people, and Black people fought back. 

It started when a Black teenager swimming in segregated Lake Michigan drifted to the “wrong” side of the lake. Whites stoned him and he drowned. The Chicago police refused to take action, even though the White man who threw the fatal rock, George Stauber, was identified.

A police officer, Daniel Callahan, declined to arrest Stauber. Word of the drowning and police indifference spread quickly, and it was “on” with White supremacy and unequal justice on full display. 

Read about it 

Cameron McWhirter recounts the jarring events in his absorbing book, “Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America.” Chicago was the site of the deadliest violence, claiming 23 Black lives and 15 White ones. Whites were the aggressors who beat, killed, and burned out Black people because of their segregationist rage and economic envy. 

Chicago’s violence was but one of at least 38 deadly attacks by Whites on Black people. NAACP Secretary James Weldon Johnson dubbed the summer of 1919 the “Red Summer” because so much blood flowed. But during the summer of 1919, with recent World War I veterans on the scene, Black people weren’t having it. We fought back! 

Most of the attacks took place in the South. Chicago, with its teeming ethnic clashes and high Black population, might be considered “up South.” 

Not so liberal 

But the so-called liberal North was no stranger to the racism that gripped our nation. Black people were also attacked in New London, Connecticut, led by White Navy veterans. 

We were attacked in the cradle of democracy, Philadelphia, when a Black family moved into a White neighborhood. We were attacked in Omaha, where a Black man was accused of raping a White woman. The courthouse was burned by warped Whites, and there was more than $1 million worth of damage.

In Chicago, mobs of depraved White outlaws destroyed Black homes and businesses, leaving hundreds of Black families homeless. The White thugs who attacked Black people were rarely arrested and didn’t experienced any consequences for their lawlessness. But the Black folk who fought back were sometimes arrested, beaten, or killed. 

In Washington, D.C., the rumor that a young White woman was “attacked” started White servicemen on a rampage, pulling them from streetcars and attacking them on the street. The military often turned a blind eye to their criminal members. 

The Red Summer occurred because Black men were coming home from World War I and were not inclined to tolerate White foolishness. It occurred because we had a president, Woodrow Wilson, who was a virulent racist – much like the current occupant of the House that Enslaved People Built.   White people, brainwashed to believe in the fallacy of White supremacy, felt emboldened to attack Black people for simple acts of self-determination. 

Fast forward 

Emboldened Whites are still attacking Black people, some violently. Eric Garner lost his life because he was selling cigarettes in Brooklyn and because a police officer attacked him with an illegal chokehold. Attorney General William Barr, the acknowledged sycophant of the racist Occupant, won’t prosecute the police officer. 

Roland Martin Unfiltered features a segment, “Crazy A$$ White People” that features the microaggressions that are a natural byproduct of virulent White supremacy.

As a man attempted to propose to his fiancé at the Angry Orchard in New York, he was interrupted three times to be accused of stealing. A deranged White woman, Nancy Goodman, approached three Black women dining at a Bonefish Grill and used the n-word on them because she thought they were loud. Let’s not even get into the “BBQ Beckys” and other fools. 

Here we go again

One hundred years ago, enabled and emboldened by a racist president, White folks went buck wild on Black people. 

Red Summer has reverberations, but remember that Black folks fought back. Let’s fight with our votes, our activism, and our retaliation when necessary. The struggle continues.


Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available at www.juliannemalveaux.com.

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