By: JAE JONES
World War I was coming to an end, and many African-Americans wanted to know what the end of the war meant for them. So, activist and author James Weldon Johnson raised the issue that everyone was thinking: Would the African-American’s support for the war effort, on the battlefields of Europe and throughout the many factories in the United States mean improvement in the “status of the Negro as an American citizen? During this time Black people were considered second class—and many worse. It was very little that African-Americans were allowed to do during this time. Blacks could not vote, they were usually sharecropping, and not allowed access to workplaces such as their counterparts, White Americans. Black people were subject to be harassed, violently beat and left for death, and some even murdered.
There were some things that did change for Black Americans over the course of the war. Many southern Blacks had migrated to the North and found jobs in industrial workplaces. Doors that had been closed to Blacks but employed Whites, were no opened to Black workers because of labor shortages. People began talking about the “New Negro” which appeared in print, and people were discussing among themselves. Black people thought after the war they would finally get some type of respect. As much to be expected during this time, the White Americans grew weary and tired of hearing of the talk of the “New Negro.” The southern states began to crack down on any Black protest organizations.
By the summer of 1919, race riots and lynchings were taking place over the country. The Black people were angry that the White Americans were not acknowledging the fact that they had served in the military and that the White Americans were going back to the pre-war status for Blacks. From April to October, American cities were explosive in violence. There were extensive amounts of bloodshed and thus Johnson named it the “#Red Summer.” It is believed that over 25 major riots erupted during this time and at least 52 Black people were lynched. It is possible that it could have been more because there was no complete and accurate records that could be kept during the time.
Hundreds of people—most of them black—were killed and thousands more were injured. Tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes.” “In Washington, daily newspapers fanned the flames with lurid, exaggerated, or even fabricated accounts of black crime. In Chicago, postwar unemployment, labor conflicts, housing shortages, and heat provided the context for the massive violence that followed the stoning death of a young black swimmer who crossed an invisible line separating whites from blacks in Lake Michigan. Whites in Omaha, Neb., physically attacked their mayor before destroying the local courthouse to seize and then lynch a black man accused of assaulting a white woman. In Phillips County, Ark., black sharecroppers’ efforts to organize a union to secure fair end-of-year settlements precipitated what one contemporary called “a crusade of death” that left hundreds dead.” (Chicago Tribune, 2011) During this time the riots were getting a significant amount of coverage by the media, and this was just making matters extremely worse. Making no secret of their opposition to black rights, white southern politicians blamed black sharecroppers and called the NAACP “an association for the promotion of revolution.
The war had changed Black Americans who were in the war, as well as the Blacks who stayed back at home. Their mindset know was to protect their homes and families with everything they had inside them. They would fight to the finish, they thought of ways to be ready and waiting for the White Americans before they invaded their territory. Black America woke up to other things happening in the country politically, socially, and artistically as well. Read more of the Red Summer.