Ep. 4: Red Summer of 1919
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Photo Courtesy: The Schomburg Center
The Red Summer of 1919 refers to the period between the spring and fall of that year (specifically, between April and November), during which time about 25 or so race riots, massacres and instances of mob-inspired violence exploded throughout the country. The most brutal and vicious occurred in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Elaine Arkansas. Additionally,nearly 100 lynchings of African Americans were recorded in that year. With heightened racial tension across the nation, it was against this backdrop that the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred two years later.
Part 1 of this two-part episode will do a deep dive into the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 as an example of some of factors that precipitated riots and mob violence around the country.
Listeners will hear from Cameron McWhirter, Wall Street Journal Reporter and author of Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Listeners will also hear an interview with Juanita Mitchell who is survived the Chicago Race Riots of 1919. She was 107 years old when the interview was conducted by Chicago's Newberry Library.
“They're coming with loaded guns. And all of a sudden my uncle said here they come. And I saw him go into his pocket come out with the longest gun I think I've ever seen."
~Juanita Mitchell, survivor of the Chicago Race Riots of 1919.
(Cameron McWhirter, Wall Street Journal Reporter and Author)
Connect with: Cameron McWhirter, Wall Street Journal Reporter and Author of Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America.
1. Glueworm Evening Blues (ID 994) by Lobo Loco License, disclaimer and copyrite information. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode
2. Title: Driving to the Delta (ID 923) by Lobo Loco License, disclaimer and copywite information: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Welcome/Driving_to_the_Delta_ID_923_1563 Link to music: https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Welcome/Driving_to_the_Delta_ID_923_1563 3. Spirit Inside (ID 819) by Lobo Loco License, disclaimer and copyright information: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/0) Link to music: https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Tree_of_Meditation/Spirit_Inside_ID_819 4. African Moon by John Bartmann Link to license, disclaimer and copyright information: CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ Link to Music: https://freemusicarchive.org/music/John_Bartmann/Public_Domain_Soundtrack_Music_Album_One/african-moon
Rough Episode Transcription
Yeah, well, this is doing the race ride. My uncle, his uncle Cecil is standing in the window and here, all of a sudden I hear him, you know, here they come. Yeah. When he said here they come, it meant the white people. Well coming down 35th street
and all of us, well, we'll stay at this here late. And I saw him in his pocket and . I think they only sleep and he's,
on 35th and Giles. And what did you guys do?
you just heard a clip of an interview with Juanita Mitchell, a survivor of the Chicago race riots of 1919 courtesy of Chicago's Newberry library. She was 107 years old at the time. His interview was conducted last year and was joined by her daughter, Mary mutes. In the years leading up to that period of violence, the great migration brought tens of thousands of African-Americans to Chicago, a thriving industrial hub at the time, which offered better employment opportunities for blacks, including many who fled from the Jim Crow South.
Some whites resented Chicago's growing black population and used various tactics, including violence. To call it according to the new very libraries project, Chicago 1919 confronting the race riots that June two black men were killed by white mobs in one night on July 27th, 1919. The race riots began when a black teen named Eugene Williams drowned after being hit on the head with a rock thrown by a white perpetrator at a segregated beach.
Instead of arresting the UCLA police arrested an African American man leading to the most violent week in Chicago history, which claimed 38 lives
and partnership. But the Tulsa race massacre, Centennial commission. I'm Nia Clark. And this is black wall street, 1921.
the Chicago race riots occurred during what was known as the red summer of 1919. It refers to the summer and fall of that year, between April and November, during which time about 25 or so race riots, mass occurs and instances of mobbing. Fired violence exploded throughout the country. The most brutal and vicious occurred in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Elaine Arkansas.
Additionally, nearly 100 lynchings of African Americans were reported that year with heightened racial tensions across the nation. It was against this backdrop that the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 occurred. Two years later, several years prior to the race riots of 19, 19, about 380,000 African American soldiers were serving in world war II.
Many were treated far better while serving overseas and they had ever been treated on American soil and many fully expected. That by serving their country, they would be treated with more respect when they returned home. Sadly, this was not the case. In fact, quite the opposite happened. This line of thinking was viewed as a threat by the racist and segregationist who believed that black people and particularly black male veterans should remain in a subservient station in right.
So almost immediately after black soldiers returned from the war, they found themselves on a war front of a different sort quote because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. In quote, according to a report by the equal justice initiative, these racial tensions started to really take shape during, and after the great migration, when approximately 1 million African-Americans fled the Jim Crow South and the lack of economic opportunity and headed North.
The swell of blacks in Northern cities created massive anxiety among whites. Some of who believed blacks were coming into their communities and taking their jobs and security, not to mention the KU Klux Klan was seeing a resurgence, the ones defunct organization that was shut down by the government.
Following the civil war was experiencing a surge in membership in communities across the country. As race relations reached a boiling point time. And again, black communities with find themselves under siege and time. And again, with targets on their backs, the homes of African Americans in these black communities were destroyed and the blacks themselves were slaughtered by racist moms.
Many of them lynched, but many African Americans spot back that was especially true of black veterans who recently returned from serving overseas in the war, more emboldened and less inclined just to endure the seemingly constant. Racially motivated violence.
So Cameron McWherter, you are the author of red summer and you're also a wall street journal reporter. Cameron, can you tell me how you came to be, I guess, enthralled, fascinated with this time period of 19, 19 in America and sort of how that relates to your overall work as a journalist? Good question.
Because they totally relate. Well, I've worked overseas a little bit in Bosnia, where there was a lot of ethnic strife and violence. Obviously I worked in Africa, I worked in the middle East a little bit and I, everywhere you see ethnic divisions. And when I worked in various cities around the United States, every city that I worked in, if you looked at the history of the city, there you'd find that there was racial riots of some kind at, at various points in American history.
So I became very interested in how societies can break down and have that end resort to, you know, ethnic groups attacking other ethnic groups. How does that happen? So in 2006 and 2007, I was a. Nieman fellow at Harvard. And, uh, my focus of my research, there was on race rats in American history. I'd worked in Chicago, I'd worked in New York, I'd worked in Cincinnati and all those places I've worked in Detroit.
All those places had had race riots, and I wanted to understand how they could happen. And if you start to study American history, you realize that there were race riots throughout American history from the beginning, from before the Republic was founded, but that the worst chunk of them were came in 1919.
The worst spate of, of, of these riots took place in 1919. And I think one thing I would say is a lot of people become very caught up in race. Riot means. You know, the modern perception of a race riot in a lot of people's minds, both black and white is that it is a, you know, it's kids, uh, stealing, you know, black kids breaking into shoe stores in Los Angeles or something.
And the truth is, uh, that in the breadth of American history, the overwhelming. Number of race riots were caused by white mobs. And you can define white in a million ways attacking either black communities or black individuals. So that's interesting. I also studied abroad in South Africa for about a year, and I'm also a journalist like yourself.
I don't have nearly the amount of experience as you do, but there must be something about travel and being exposed to other cultures and societies, and being able to see parallels between there as in your own. Um, that I guess perhaps is this. Common thread between journalists and writers who do this work.
I wonder if you go to South Africa. Yeah, absolutely. South Africa, you know, very quickly. I'm sure you were plugged into the different racial disparities there, the ethnic disparities and the ethnic tensions. If you go to Europe, I was just in Europe. Uh, you know, you see them very quickly and then you come back to your own city and you, you are blind to them.
And one thing you did mention is this theme of so-called race riots throughout history, right? And a lot of experts I've interviewed. They believe that at the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 was in many ways a microcosm of what was happening throughout the country. During that time period, you had black Americans.
Ascending into society, you know, building wealth at levels, they hadn't been able to do so before you had black and white people finding themselves in shared spaces, the way they hadn't done. So before that includes Greenwood district also known as black wall street, you had black men returning from world war one, right?
Pretty shocked at how much they were still disrespected and discriminated against. Even after having served their country. You had white people who didn't think a black war veterans deserved any more respect than they had before they served at. You had the Ascension of the KU Klux Klan. You had lynchings, you had PNH, all of these different things.
I mean, it's almost no wonder, right. That these so-called riots erupted across the country, given everything that was happening at the time. Right. Can you just recount I know Chicago was a big one. I know DC was a big one. Arkansas was another one. Can you just recount some of the major race riots that occurred in 1919?
Yeah. I mean, I start the book with a small church being burned down in, uh, in rural Georgia. This is a Carswell Grove Baptist church. It's in Jenkins County, Georgia, and every year, this church, which had been founded two years after the emancipation of all the slaves, that's an African American church has a sharecropper church really at the time.
Has a birthday celebration for their church and lots of people would come to it. And a prominent man comes from another church and there's an incident where two white police officers show up to this day. We don't know exactly why, but then maybe they were looking for alcohol because it was illegal to have alcohol in Georgia at that time.
And whatever happens, they arrest a man. There's a tussle. The two officers end up dead and some African-Americans end up wounded. And then it's everyone's scatters because a white mob comes and burns. The church kills several people rampages around the court, the entire County for several days and mayhem ensues.
But the racial tensions really started to sort of roll across the country. And you had major riots and lynchings all over the place. Beginning in Charleston, their first big city riot is in Charleston, South Carolina. You know, you you've, you've hit on the big reasons why this was taking place. Uh, you had.
Soldiers white soldiers returning from the war being decommissioned near Charleston at the base in Charleston. And they're roaming around in the black neighborhoods and arrive at erupts. But you have a lots of tensions in Washington. There's a major ride in Washington, DC with shooting right outside of the white house.
In fact, a lot of fighting all over the city, including near Howard university. You had. Chicago was the biggest of the riots that year, but you had a mass white mob attack, people in Omaha and a black man in Omaha, Nebraska, and basically crucify him. A African American man is accused of assaulting a white woman.
So he's arrested and he's put into the courthouse in the Douglas County courthouse in Omaha, which is a very expensive new building that they had just built. A mob forms of, you know, estimated thousands of, of white people form a mob outside of the courthouse and proceed to attack it against the white sheriffs who were there.
They try to set the building on fire. The fire department comes, they cut the fire hoses. Then use the firehose wagons to try to smash into the building. They eventually after hours and hours and hours, they smashed into the building, destroy. All the courthouse records destroy the building, run up to the stairs, find the African American they're looking for bringing him out in the street and crucify him after the mayor of the city stands up on our car and says, you can't do this.
You know, you're going to have to kill him over my dead body. And they basically say sure, and they try to hang him. And he's only saved at the last minute. Can we just name the black man on the hat? That was Willie Brown, Willie Brown it's in my book, but there's a poignant and horrific photograph of his dead body and a bunch of smiling people who had participated in his death standing next to it.
And it literally looks like a Chris he's crucified. You had an incident major incident, Knoxville, Tennessee, major incidents in, uh, obviously Arkansas, the, uh, the, the events in, in rural Arkansas, which was again by most estimations a massacre, we don't really know how many people were killed there, but that was probably the bloodiest.
It was around in and around Elaine Arkansas. It began in a very, very small community called hoops for and spur in Arkansas. In the fall of 1919, the early fall, they had been organizing a group to try to, uh, form a collective that would bargain for their cotton prices that was seen by white cotton gin, owners and others as a threat.
Because it was going to be giving a, it was an assertion of economic power. And when all you need, when you have all these tensions is one flashpoint, one incident, and then everything erupts. So in every one of these cases, there's an incident where there's an allegation of incident and then society just evolves.
A lot of what we, what I was able to piece together came from historical accounts and sometimes official investigations. But in, for example, in the Arkansas event, the government never investigated thoroughly is they didn't really want to do that. And so we don't really know how many people died there.
Was this another incident of a black community being burned or hopes for began with, well, let me go back to the three reasons you touched on at least two of them, the three reasons why tensions were at a flash point that year, I would say one is the soldiers, African American soldiers serving in, in Europe.
They had been treated very, very well there by the French people who were thrilled. People were coming over to fight the Germans that had caused a lot of tensions among white. Southern officers who made up a disproportionate number of people in the American army, in the officer Corps and the American army.
They didn't like what they were seeing when African American soldiers came home, they were often were wearing their uniforms because that's all they had and were found themselves being wildly mistreated on their way home. And then when they got home, but you also had because of the war, you know, factories in the North, Northern cities.
Which had been relying a lot on immigrant labor that labor couldn't come over, there was a war going on. So they turned. Even more to the South. And the Northern migration of African Americans became a flood. And a lot of people were pouring into places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cleveland, and that was causing a lot of tension between white workers and African Americans, white workers who were increasingly unionized.
But we're often not allowing African-Americans to join into the unions. So they were sort of inherent strike breakers and there was inherent violence as a result. And third sharecroppers. So sharecroppers who were the most downtrodden class in American history, you know, after slavery, uh, you know, just very mistreated, hardworking, constantly in debt class.
They were, they were actually doing pretty well in 1919 because the price of cotton. Had gone through the roof because cotton was in heavy demand around the world because the war was over and everybody was trying to textiles were in great demand and people needed clothes. So even if you took your cotton to get weighed at the cotton gin, you know, the white.
Owned cotton gin and they ripped you off. You still made money. So African Americans were buying a lot of land farmers. African-American farmers were buying land instead of becoming sharecroppers, they were buying cars, they were buying clothes. And that caused a lot of tension because. Who are these people they're trying to rise above their station.
It is important to note that this type of resentment. And fear, quite frankly, if upwardly mobile African-Americans was the same type of resentment and fear that led to the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, it had been present throughout the country for decades. And there was another element that was also present, leading up to, and during the massacre in Tulsa and likely in many of the communities.
Where the 25 or so other riots and incidents of mob violence occurred in 1919, which author and historian Eddie vacates describes as jealousy in a documentary. She produced several decades ago.
This gives a little synopsis of the race riot of 1921. There've been all kinds of, uh, materials written about this riot and books, graduate thesis, and so forth. What we don't know is the underlying causes that led to such a riot and they had been brewing for years. They'd been in lots of jealousy, lots of race conflict.
Um, some sources say that that was just jealousy that Charles says blocks just. Too much. I had made too many material gains. They had too much that black people love. It was felt like people should not have such elegant homes. Is this that they should not have such wealth. And the figures are varied about how many wealthy people I've heard about black millionaires.
Six 10 60, or even more, um, in this Greenwood area, but there was lots of influence. Lots of people had homes like this, and we do know that after the riot, those homes no longer existed. Um, there were millions of dollars worth of damage, 35 blocks of a family property, business homes, and so forth destroyed the deaths have been estimated, uh, all kinds of figures and from the thirties, Sixties hundreds are too unknown, but we do know the majority of the deaths were blacks.
one of the reasons I wanted to do the book that I did was, you know, the impact isn't just on this one little city or on the few people who were happened to be there, it echoes and echoes and echoes down through history. And one minor example is during that race riot in, in Omaha, when they were killing mr.
Brown, a white man brings his son to his business, which is overlooks where this is happening. And says, you know, I'm bringing you here. Cause I think you need to see this. And the young boy, who's a teenager at the time, looks down and sees a man murdered. And he says, this is what people can do to each other.
The boy cry as he's horrified by this. And that was Henry Fonda, the actor, his father brought him there. And Henry Fonda went on to make a lot of movies about racial intolerance and. Affected his life for the rest of his life.
what happened in Tulsa was that the circumstances surrounding the actual event were fabricated right for years. I mean, you know, almost immediately after the attack happened on Greenwood. There was this collective sense of shock right throughout the country. And, you know, because Tulsa was considered to be by some of the oil capital of the world, it was this thriving community.
People were coming from all over the country. There was so much economic growth happening. And then all of a sudden this terrible incident happens and it's like a black Mark on the community. And then almost immediately after that, the blame it shifts. To the black people of Greenwood who are then blamed for what happened to their community.
It was almost as if they couldn't even control that narrative. Right? Because these are people who, many of whom are so homeless, they've lost all their wealth, their life savings, if they had any to begin with. And, you know, they're just. Worried about surviving. They can't really even think of like the narrative that's being formed, but that's what's happening is that's not a, that is absolutely what occurred in 19, 19 over and over again.
So for example, in the return to Omaha, there was lots of newspaper accounts of the. Industrial workers of the world, the IWW, the wobbilies were somehow infiltrating and causing trouble among the Negroes. So that must've been what happened? How could this have happened? And that's absurd on the face because African Americans weren't in the crowd attacking the courthouse, they didn't destroy the courthouse.
There's photographs of what happened. And so that is not unusual that, I mean, to that extent, What happened in Tulsa is very similar to what occurred in many instances in 1919 East st. Louis, which occurs in 1917, that that riot, uh, that, that mob attack really was, um, was a precursor. So, you know, and, but again, to be clear, these, these race riots.
And again, uh, I would describe them as primarily African-Americans being attacked, either one person or their community go, that goes back to the beginning of the United States. And there would be these instances in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, there were a bunch of them where. You know, when we're we're we're black people would be escaping slavery, uh, and moving to cities, they would form neighborhoods and it would be, uh, And they were free and putting that in quotes, you know, it was a relative freedom, but they would have these neighborhoods and they would be attacked periodically.
There were, there were numerous instances in, in various cities, along the border, particularly there, but there was terrible riots of course, during the civil war in New York and in Detroit where African Americans were attacked, famous, the famous draft riots of 1863 in New York, where. A black orphanage is attacked even in PE you know, people have to run for their lives.
So this, this is not, uh, it's not unique to this period of American history, but there's this swell of these incidents up to 19, 19. And then, then there's Tulsa, and then they start to diminish, uh, then you have a series of them in world war two. And then they start to diminish again and then there's then there's what we, what we now all think of as a riot, which is, you know, The 1960s stuff that took place, which was, I think, um, different from what was happening prior in American history.
You mentioned East st. Louis, can you just briefly, you said that was a precursor. So 1917, there was a, there was an incident, uh, there was an eruption of violence in which, um, Whites started attacking African Americans. African rights had to flee by the thousands, uh, into st. St. Louis proper. You st. Louis is in Illinois.
Uh, and the Illinois national guard was eventually sent, sent in and they participated, they sort of joined sides with the white mobs and it became a real, real warning sign and a beginning, a worrisome sign of what was to come. So we'll, you did mention that a lot of the blame was often placed on these black communities, even though they weren't the ones doing the attacking, which is what happened in Tulsa.
Even if you look at the accounts of the trials that happened after the riot. You can see how some of the officers who testified said, even then, well, the moms, the white moms, they looked like innocent people who were just trying to defend themselves. But I wanted to know regarding 19, 19, how accurate. Is the record keeping in general, you mentioned Omaha and there's a lot of UV there, but, uh, it's for example, in Tulsa, you know, the death count is officially is in the thirties, but experts, they estimate at least 300 people were killed.
Yeah, well, it really would depend on a location. So for example, the Chicago riot, which erupted in July of 1919, Crippled the city for days and was a real disaster. In many respects, we have a very, very detailed account of what happened because. The leaders of that city and the African American community, first of all, was very large and powerful and influential and important because there were a lot of people, the African American community played a major role in the economy of the city.
So, and there were a lot of leaders who they were very proud of their city and they were very horrified by what had happened. So there was a really detailed. Race commissions set up to do this elaborate study and they produced a very detailed account of what occurred. So we have great records in terms of what happened there.
Plus you had major newspapers, multiple major newspapers, both black and white Chicago defender, which was the leading African American newspaper at that time. Was based in Chicago. And so those, we have a lot of rich information about what happened, who was killed wherever they killed, who was injured, wherever they injured, et cetera, still it's, it's a riot.
So there was a lot of mayhem. That's still in the, some areas is kind of murky, but we have a lot of detail, but what happened in Elaine Arkansas in rural Arkansas is the. White leadership, the white ruling class of the city very quickly set up a commission to arrest a whole bunch of African Americans after these, the violence that took place, the white ruling class set up a commission.
Yeah, well, but their commission determined very quickly that this had been an African American uprising in which they had planned to carry a white person in the County and they proceeded to. Convict in very rapid fashion, multiple people to death and numerous other people to other, other long lengthy sentences is this was challenged in court by the NAACP and others.
And eventually after years and years and years, the men who were put on death row, the African American men who were put on death row after being beaten to offer pseudo confessions. Were released, but their story that they offered up to the world was very quickly that this was a black, radical and incited uprising in which every white person in the County was going to be killed.
If they hadn't stepped in, it was a false narrative. It wasn't true. It was proven to not be true, but that was the initial message. And in many of the other places that, where these incidents occurred that year, there were. False narratives. There was a lot of rumor that was, you know, unintentionally people were passing on, even though it was false, but there was a lot of intentional, false, there was a lot of misinformation and there was a lot of, you have to understand that this time there was the same.
There was also this huge red scare going on. A lot of fear of the Soviet union had just been formed. There were communist parties forming in the United States. Talk of, there were a lot of anarchists, you know, delivering bonds to officials, doorsteps and other acts of violence. So there was a real fear that a, you know, communists or some other radical group was trying to overthrow the United States.
And there was a real. Linkage between African-American this violence against African Americans and this radical activity. And in a way that is that I've researched a lot. And I still find an explicable somehow that became linked with a well, you know, there's these radicals who are inciting blacks to riot.
But again, as I said, from the very beginning, these were riots, but they were not. Black people rioting. There were two instances in which large groups of African Americans sort of, I guess I would call it counter rioted. And then one of them would be in Chicago. There were large groups of African Americans attacking whites within their neighborhoods as.
The reverse was happening. And then in Washington, DC, there were large areas where African American neighborhoods were set up perimeters to defend themselves or sent groups of men to attack, uh, whites who were attacking others. You know? So there was, there was racial violence on the part of African Americans in those two cities, for sure.
But in most of the other instances, I can't think of another one. Actually. It was the other way around. It was, it was exclusively the other way around. Also prior to 1921, and even probably in 1919, you saw in Tulsa and elsewhere and Oklahoma, these sort of vigilante groups, the Knights of Liberty, the American protective league, which sort of acted with impunity.
And they were kind of deputized by law enforcement agencies and officials to become. I guess pseudo law enforcement entities themselves. And around the time you also saw, you know, the rise of the KU Klux Klan. Did you see this in other parts of the country where these riots were happening as well? This sort of vigilante ism that turned into essentially terrorism against people, including, you know, African-Americans in these communities.
Yeah, I, I guess I would stress though, that I think if you look at the clan, which at that time was on the rise, the violence, a lot of the violence was by white people who weren't in the client. You know, there were a lot of white people committing these acts of violence. Didn't even know who the Klan was.
You know, the riots in Chicago were carried out by immigrants. Who were probably, you know, Catholic immigrants or, you know, German immigrants who were probably disliked by the Klan. It was all fear and paranoia and a sense that. Nothing was secure. A lot of people would perceive, Oh, we just won world war one.
So America just defeated the central powers where this powerful world leader. Now Woodrow Wilson is over in France, cutting a deal to make the figure out peace in art. So there'll never be another war again. We'll make the world safe for democracy. But in truth, 1919 was a really panicky, panicky time, you know, influenza, which was.
Killing way more people than coronavirus has was spreading all over the world. Still, you had all these revolutions in Europe, revolutions in the Soviet union had been formed, lots of fighting everywhere. There's a riding and slaughter in India at Amritsar and all kinds of crazy things are happening and everybody's sense of what racial definitions are and what race should be.
Was in question and B influx and it really had a lot of white people freaked out. Were there other factors that were contributing to these racial tensions, other than the fear that you just mentioned? You know, for example, we also mentioned how in Tulsa and elsewhere around the country, black people were acquiring wealth in ways they hadn't done before.
And that created some resentment on the part of some white people. What other factors were contributing to this rise in riots in that year of 19, 19? Well, I do. I work in the media, so I don't like to disparage the media, but newspapers had their role to play the, uh, this was just before the rise of radio.
So we didn't really have widespread commercial radio at that time. So all information was really. Conveyed by newspapers and rumor. So you had real panic and rumor flying around all. And a lot of times ending up in the newspaper. It was a real time of people became very, it would fuel a riot because people would be anxious about it.
There was, I remember reading some accounts of. New York city, which did not have a major riot that year, but there were numerous examples of people panicking and running to the police. As they thought they had heard, there might be a riot and everybody was on edge either. Were there were examples in Atlanta that I found were at one point, the African Americans heard that, that a white mob was coming into their neighborhood and ran to the police seeking protection, but it turned out not to be true.
I mean, everyone was on edge. If you heard of Claude McKay the poet though. Well was a Caribbean born poet who was living in the United States at the time. African-American African, I guess you could call me an African American. I don't know if you know what as a citizen, but anyways, he was in the United States.
At the time he worked on the railroad. He was a railroad Porter, like a lot of black men at the time. And they were traveling from town to town and every town they came to, they were terrified that they might be walking into a race ride. Because they had to find their hotel every night. So every time the doors would open at the next town, they would run to their hotel and hunker in there hoping that there wouldn't be attacked.
And they would read the newspapers and read about all these race riots, everywhere else and wherever they spreading to next. And he, at one point started carrying a gun cause he was so afraid and he writes one day he goes into the bathroom of. Car, the railroad car that he's working on and he writes this famous sonnet called if we must die, he writes this poem.
It's about being attacked and fighting back. Let me read one stance though, far outnumbered, but us show us brave. And though their thousand blows deal one. Deathblow what though, before us lies the open grave. Like men will fight the murderous cowardly pack pressed to the wall dying, but fighting back. And this poem was published in a little socialist magazine in New York, and then everybody started publishing it.
African-American papers all over the country started publishing it. And in the poem, he never mentions race. It's never mentioned, but everybody knew what he was talking about. And to the point where I think. There was a Republican Senator stood up in Congress and said, this is seditious. His poem. This poem is proof of sedition of radical African-American intent.
And really, it was a poem saying, we're not going to take it anymore. And we're going to fight back. And to me, the interesting story of 1919, which I think carries through ultimately Tulsa is one of fighting back. You know, they fought back. African-Americans the NAACP, which I consider the heroes of 19, 19 fought back politically.
They fought back in the courts. They began lobbying in Congress and holding hearings in Congress. They were pressing for federal lynching legislation. They started really actively fighting that way. There were lots of people arguing in the press and fighting back that way. And then there were people literally picking up rocks and bricks and streets and fighting back and shooting back when they could get guns.
So it was a period where I argue. In book, that was the beginning of the modern civil rights movement because the African American community awakened as a political force and they weren't going to take this mistreatment anymore. It wasn't the end. It certainly wasn't the end. Of segregation or the end of white violence against African Americans by any means, but it was a, it was a beginning of mass African-American response to that.
And the assertion we're here. We're part of the United States. We deserve the same rights. Does everyone else in the United States and we're not going anywhere.
in the next episode. Part two of the red summer of 1919. In the meantime, check out our social media pages, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but just search for black wall street 1921. And let us know what you think and be sure to visit our website www.black wall street, hyphen 1920 one.com. There you can sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on all of our episodes.
And don't forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Apple podcasts, or your favorite podcast platform.