A narrative history of America's deadliest episode of race riots and lynchings
After World War I, black Americans fervently hoped for a new epoch of peace, prosperity, and equality. Black soldiers believed their participation in the fight to make the world safe for democracy finally earned them rights they had been promised since the close of the Civil War.
Instead, an unprecedented wave of anti-black riots and lynchings swept the country for eight months. From April to November of 1919, the racial unrest rolled across the South into the North and the Midwest, even to the nation's capital. Millions of lives were disrupted, and hundreds of lives were lost. Blacks responded by fighting back with an intensity and determination never seen before.
Red Summer is the first narrative history written about this epic encounter. Focusing on the worst riots and lynchings—including those in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Charleston, Omaha and Knoxville—Cameron McWhirter chronicles the mayhem, while also exploring the first stirrings of a civil rights movement that would transform American society forty years later.
Red Summer Talks
Praise for Red Summer
“Cameron McWhirter's comprehensive history of the terrible Red Summer of 1919 reminds us that, because our failures at democracy are also very big, we have to be even better at understanding why.”
--David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of King: A Biography and W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919
"A riveting account of the summer that transformed American race relations."
--Vanessa Bush, Booklist, starred review.
“Masterly examination of the widespread outbreak of racially motivated mob violence in the summer of 1919.”
"The author brings a journalist’s diligent digging and skillful storytelling to this historical account; behind the names of towns, he takes the reader into the lives of victims who suffered, perpetrators who destroyed, enablers who dawdled, and politicians who profited, as well as those who fought back."
"McWhirter makes clear in his carefully researched, briskly narrated account of this difficult period in our national history, African Americans were increasingly disinclined to take advice from even well-meaning whites. The NAACP, founded in 1909 by a primarily white group of Northern liberals, was transformed by the events of 1919 into America's premier civil rights organization, led by African Americans from the South."
---Wendy Smith, Los Angeles Times
“As McWhirter says, if you explore the whole story of those troubled months, you are left not thinking of America’s bald and cruel failings, but of its astounding and elastic resilience. 'The Red Summer' is a story of destruction, but it is also a story of the beginning of a freedom movement."
--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
"In unflinching, just-the-facts style bolstered with copious footnotes, McWhirter describes how the entrenched white power structure -- small-town police, elected officials, businessmen and even newspapers -- were bent on preserving the social order in uncertain economic times. But African-Americans, some of whom had fought with valor in World War I, were chafing under Jim Crow rule and discrimination in the open marketplace."
--Joseph Williams, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The book is, in my opinion, an essential history lesson for every American."
--Mike Feder, host of the Sirius XM radio show, "The Feder Files"