The “Red Summer” of 1919 marked the culmination of steadily growing tensions surrounding the great migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North during World War I. Chicago was one of the northern cities that experienced violent race riots during that period.
Drawn by the city’s meatpacking houses, railway companies and steel mills, the African-American population in Chicago skyrocketed from 44,000 in 1910 to 235,000 in 1930. When the war ended in late 1918, thousands of white servicemen returned home from fighting in Europe to find that their jobs in factories, warehouses and mills had been filled by newly arrived Southern Blacks or immigrants.
On July 27, 1919, an African-American teenager drowned in Lake Michigan after he challenged the unofficial segregation of Chicago’s beaches and was stoned by a group of white youths.
His death, and the police refusal to arrest the men who caused it, sparked a week of race rioting between Black and white Chicagoans, with Black neighborhoods receiving the worst of the damage.
When the riots ended on Aug. 3, 15 whites and 23 Blacks had been killed and more than 500 people injured. An additional 1,000 Black families had lost their homes when they were torched by rioters.
President Woodrow Wilson castigated the “white race” as “the aggressor” in the Chicago uprising.
Chicago Race Riots 1919. Two white men beat this African-American man to death and didn’t bother to flee the scene as police arrived to investigate the incident. After WWI, racial tensions in several large US cities erupted into what became “The Red Summer” due to job competition, African-Americans’ newfound sense of independence from social changes during the war, and an increase in urban African-American populations due to the Great Migration.