What happened during the Red Summer of 1919?

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When World War II ended in 1918 and many African American servicemen returned home, racial tensions skyrocketed and broke out into violence and riots that became known as the Red Summer of 1919.

Lynchings and other Ku Klux Klan terror activities were already spreading across the South in 1918, and African American veterans were tired of the oppression and discrimination they faced. They had just returned from fighting for their country, and now, they were being denied equality and even basic rights. Tensions rose.

Further, more and more African Americans were moving North looking for job opportunities, and segregation had taken hold in Northern and Midwestern cities like Chicago. It was in Chicago where the Red Summer reached a high point, when an African American teenager was killed by a group of white men simply for swimming across a barrier between the Black and white beaches. Police would not arrest the white men. Anger rose quickly, and violence soon followed, leaving many people dead and injured. Fires broke out, too, robbing people of their homes.

The violence spread across the country in the form of riots, like those in Knoxville, Tennessee, Washington DC, and dozens of other cities, that killed and injured many.

The violent summer certainly raised awareness about racial unrest, and the president at the time, Woodrow Wilson, blamed white people for much of the violence. Efforts were made by many, both through new organizations and legislation, to relieve the situation, but tensions remained high.

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