One hundred years ago, starting on July 27 and for thirteen 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 the murderous Stauber. Word of the drowning and police indifference spread quickly, and it was “on” with white supremacy and unequal justice on full display. For example, Callahan, the racist cop who would not arrest George Stauber, arrested a black man in the crowd based on just one white man’s complaint.
Cameron McWhirter recounts the jarring events of the 13-day Chicago manifestation of white supremacy and the Black response in his absorbing book, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Chicago was the site of the deadliest violence in the Red Summer. It claimed 23 Black lives and 15 white ones, with whites being aggressors who just beat, killed, and burned out Black people because of their segregationist rage and economic envy. The deadly violence in Chicago was but one of at least thirty-eight deadly attacks by whites on Black people. NAACP Secretary James Weldon Johnson (the author, with his brother J. Rosamond, of the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice) dubbed the Summer of 1919 the “Red Summer” because so much blood flowed. And while whites were accustomed to attacking Black folk without consequence, during the summer of 1919, with recent veterans on the scene, Black people weren’t having it. We fought back!
Most of the attacks took place in the South, and Chicago, with its teeming ethnic clashes and high Black population, might be considered “up South.” 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 members. 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 a million dollars’ 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, DC, the rumor that a young white woman was “attacked” (she admitted she was merely jostled) started white servicemen on a rampage, attacking random Black people, pulling them from streetcars and attacking them on the street. The white men were primarily members of the military, and the military too often turned a blind eye to their criminal members.
The Washington Post journalist Jefferson Morley recently wrote about the father and daughter Ben and Carrie Johnson, who shot and killed a police officer who invaded their home. They were charged with murder and spent 18 months in jail, but charges were dropped against Ben, and when Carrie stood trial she was found guilty of manslaughter, not murder. Her attorneys appealed, the appeal was granted, and there was no new trial.
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 loosies (single cigarettes) in Brooklyn and because an out of control madman masquerading as a police officer Daniel Pantaleo attacked him with an illegal chokehold. While Department of Justice attorneys recommended trying Pantaleo in federal court, Attorney General William Barr, the acknowledged sycophant of the racist Occupant, declined to move ahead.
Fast forward. 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. The orchard has apologized (too little, too late) but it is yet another example of ignorance and stupidity. 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. The warped white woman says she’d use the slur again. Let’s not even get into the BBQ Beckys and other fools.
Bottom line. One hundred years ago, enabled and emboldened by a racist president, white folks went buck wild on Black people. Here we go again! Red Summer has reverberations, but please remember that during the Red Summer, Black folks fought back. Let’s do it again, fighting with our vote, with our activism, and, when necessary, with our retaliation. The struggle continues.