While called the Red Summer, the timeframe that most historians use when discussing these events is April through November of 1919. Some scholars now use the term to describe racial violence for the greater time period from roughly 1917-1921.
Many factors added fuel to the fire heading into 1919. The war had recently ended, and Black soldiers returning home were not seeing the increased respect that they deserved after serving their country and fighting for democracy elsewhere. Tensions were running high in cities across the U.S., especially in northern cities that had experienced a population boom in recent years during the first wave of the Great Migration, creating housing problems and territorial disputes. Popular culture like the film Birth of a Nation perpetuated racist views about the threat of Black men against white women, or rather, racial purity. Fears of Communism were also ignited as labor strikes broke out across the country. While each event during the Red Summer and the circumstances surrounding it were unique, many trends emerged that summer.
The below timeline offers a brief glimpse into the events that summer using articles and documents to highlight each city’s riot or lynching. The same documents are also available in a larger view in the archive, which can be filtered by city. *More incidents are added periodically as documentation comes to light.