Civil Rights and Protests

Race Riots

What was Red Summer?

The summer of 1919 was given the moniker Red Summer by activist and writer James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) because it ushered in one of the greatest periods of interracial discord in U.S. history. Referring to the summer and fall of 1919, race riots exploded in more than twenty-five cities across the nation, regardless of region. Some were large and others were small. All the race riots were indicative of a complete meltdown in American race relations. Incited by racism, unemployment, and inflation, indigenous terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan urged the riots on by terrorizing African Americans into submission. Competition for employment also helped to inflame relations between the races. White Americans did not want to compete for jobs with African Americans. Additionally, the rise of communism fueled racial unrest, and African Americans who saw equality as a constitutional right were branded as radicals.

Among the riots that took place in 1919, the most violent incidents occurred in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Elaine, Arkansas. The Red Summer of 1919 galvanized the NAACP and its supporters to lobby for the passage of a federal law against lynching. Although the Dyer Anti-Lynching bill ultimately failed in Congress, its supporters succeeded in bringing attention to and generating greater condemnation of lynching. On June 13, 2005, Congress officially apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation early in the twentieth century, when it passed a non-binding resolution introduced by two senators from the South: Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia.


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