The Red Summer refers to nationwide riots experienced in the second quarter of the year 1919 in the US. The riots were between whites and African Americans. The US has just emerged victorious in the First World War. The disturbances were experienced in most cities in the US. However, individual cities like Chicago and Washington DC experienced high rates of violence. There were several causes to the violence experienced in the 1919 summer.
Firstly, racism was the leading cause of the violence that erupted in Chicago after a black man drowned by a white man in Lake Michigan. Ellis (40), argues that this was just a symptom of the bigger problem that had developed over time. There was already high tension between blacks and whites in the country with each camp accusing each other of the woes that were facing them in the country. Ellis (41) adds that the rampant white racism felt threatened by the blacks hence began the war with the aim of showing and restoring their supremacy. They state that the whites were protesting the increasing number of African American in their hoods after the end of the WWI.
According to Norvell and William (200), the high immigration where there was a massive influx of African Americans arriving in the US from the southern part of the continent led to riots. According to the author, the arrival of the blacks into the US posed a threat to the white residents due to competition for housing, jobs, and political power. This led tension which resulted in violence. A similar view is held by Ellis (45), who argues that the great immigration led to the scramble for the limited resources and opportunities between the blacks and the whites. The author estimates that about five hundred thousand African Americans migrated from the south to the US leading to a shortage of houses, jobs, and social amenities. The massive immigration was as a result of unfavorable laws in the south enacted by Jim Crow that led to segregation in schools and inadequate job opportunities.
The labor Shortages in the Northern and Midwest industrial cities in the US as a result of veterans returning home after WW1 and the US restrictive immigration laws against Some European countries escalate the situation. Norvell and William (200), argues that racial strife ensued due to the resentment by the white working class in the Midwestern and northern cities of the US to the soaring number of blacks in the country, which threatened their jobs.
Moreover, the reluctance by the police to act appropriately by arresting the Whiteman responsible for drowning his black counterpart painted law enforcement officers as racist. According to Ellis (44), the blacks felt that there was no law and order and decided to take the law into their hand. Norvell and William (200) state that some states such as Chicago went as far as four days without law and order. Besides, when the law enforcement officers began acting, they acted partially. For instance, Ellis, (50) reports that four black individuals were shot and killed by the police during the riots while there were no Whites who was reportedly shot by law enforcement officers.
The red summer was an eye opener for the government to realize the magnitude of racial intolerance among its citizens. The black Americans hoped that returning to the US after the end of WW1 would grant them better treatment. However, when this did not happen, they resorted to using violence to air their grievances until the government addressed their complaints.
Ellis, Mark. “J. Edgar Hoover and the “Red Summer” of 1919.” Journal of American Studies 28.1 (1994): 39-59.
Norvell, Stanley B., and William M. Tuttle Jr. “Views of a Negro during the Red Summer” of 1919.” The Journal of Negro History 51.3 (1966): 209-218.