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From The 1919 'Red Summer' To Black Lives Matter In 2020: How Has Racial Unrest Shaped America?

Protesters raise their fist in solidarity with Black people in San Antonio and in the nation at a protest on June 8, 2020.
Kathleen Creedon | Texas Public Radio
Protesters raise their fist in solidarity with Black people in San Antonio and in the nation at a protest on June 8, 2020.

Racial unrest is not new in the United States, though in recent months, protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have garnered immense attention in the national spotlight.

Every day since the police killing of George Floyd in May, demonstrators have protested across the country. But pushback against the killing of Black people in this country is not unprecedented, either.

The U.S. has a brutal legacy of inflicting violence on Black bodies. After World War I, a wave of anti-Black riots and violence swept across the country. White mobs attacked Black communities and lynched Black men and women without cause. 

In the eight months between April and November of 1919 known as the "Red Summer," three dozen cities participated in the white supremacist rallies and racial riots. It's still unknown exactly how many were killed.

Over time, the perpetrators faced increasing resistance. How did the violence resolve? Was there ever any justice? Did this rash of violence bring about any change? 

How does civil unrest and violence in 1919 relate to Black Lives Matter and other racial injustice protests in 2020? In what ways are the two periods of unrest and uprising similar, and how do they differ?

How should the history of America's "Red Summer" be remembered and taught today?


"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call  833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org  or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Monday, August 31.

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Kathleen Creedon can be reached at kathleen@tpr.org or on Twitter at @Kath_Creedon
Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.