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Red Summer, Race Riots, and White Supremacist Terror – Sources

Red Summer, Race Massacres, and White Supremacist Terror – Sources

As the influenza pandemic of 1918 began to subside, U.S. cities in 1919 saw an explosion of racial violence frequently described as “race riots,” “Negro riots” or “race wars.”  While the White press often reported these events as resulting from Black-on-White violence or Black “insurrection” and socialism, such incidents of mob violence are better understood as white supremacist terrorism, pogroms and lynchings.  In numerous cities Black citizens defended themselves, and both Whites and Blacks were killed; however, the number of Black casualties . NAACP activist James Weldon Johnson named this bloody time “Red Summer.”

The triggering events for these racial conflicts are complex and various. The most deadly riot was likely the Elaine Massacre in Phillips County, Arkansas, with other significant mob violence in Chicago, IL, Omaha, NE, Washington, D.C., Norfolk, VA., and Longview, TX.

Today the word “riot” has complicated connotations that extend beyond a definition of violent civil disorder involving property destruction. For this reason, events such as those in Elaine, Arkansas, the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Colfax, Louisiana are now named race massacres. It should be noted that, while 1919 was particularly violent, Red Summer was not the only year of terror directed against Black neighborhoods.

In addition to newspaper accounts of the day, the following sources shed light on these episodes of violence in American history.

The First Race Riot Recorded in History

a discourse delivered by Bishop C. S. Smith
in Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church,
Detroit, Mich., Sunday, November 30, 1919



This work may also be read through

The Arkansas Race Riot

by Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Twelve Men Condemned by the Court
The Elaine Riot, by Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Frontispiece.

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.



The Negro in Chicago; a Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot

by The Chicago Commission on Race Relations


This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.


Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918. 

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People


This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States was the seminal study undertaken by the NAACP to raise awareness of the scope of lynching in the United States of America.


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For further reading:

Brockell, G. (2019 July 15). The deadly race riot ‘aided and abetted’ by The Washington Post a century ago. The Washington Post 

Krugler, D. F. (2014). 1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back. Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, J. C. (2020). Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation. Pegasus Books.

Parshina-Kottas, Y., Singhvi, A., Burch, A., Griggs, T., Gröndahl, M., Huang, L., Wallace, T., White, J. Williams, J. (2021 May 24). What the Tulsa race massacre destroyed (interactive). The New York Times.

Red Summer. The Race Riots of 1919. The National WWI Museum and Memorial

Red Summer of 1919. Equal Justice Initiative

Remembering ‘Red Summer,’ when white mobs massacred Blacks from Tulsa to D.C. National Geographic

McWhirter, Cameron (2011). Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Henry Holt and Company

Smitherman, A. J. (1921?). A descriptive poem of the Tulsa riot and massacre. Yale University Library.

Vineyard, J. (2019 Oct 21; updated 2020 July 13). The Tulsa Race Massacre Happened 99 Years Ago. Here’s What to Read About It. The New York Times. 

OU Librarians and Archivists submit proposal to change a Library of Congress Subject Heading. University Libraries, The University of Oklahoma.





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