The Red Summer of 1919 refers to a series of race riots that took place in dozens of cities across the United States. On this day that year, Washington, D.C. endured an ugly race riot that left dozens dead and several more injured.
As World War I was becoming a memory, many former military men, both Black and white, settled in the nation’s capital in hopes of work and a new life, but found their dreams dashed. Coupled with their frustrations were news reports that a Black man was sexually assaulting white women in the region. One Black suspect was freed on July 19, 1919, and word got back to the disgruntled white soldiers.
The soldiers, armed with crude weapons, ventured into D.C.’s mostly-Black Southwest section and began randomly beating people. At first, the mobs little opposition, but soon an organized and armed resistance of Black citizens formed and fought back. While the Red Summer riots raged in over three dozen cities, Blacks in D.C. and Chicago fought back and in D.C., there were less Black casualties. It was one of the first times in U.S. history that armed resistance led to less Black casualties than white during rioting.
In the end, 39 people died and over 150 others were injured. Another race-related riot in 1968 nearly destroyed several historic Black districts in the city that just began to be revitalized.