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tv   1919 Red Summer Racial Unrest  CSPAN  July 1, 2021 11:45pm-1:08am EDT

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a months long period of racial unrest and violence against african americans, including world war i veterans, in multiple cities and states. the national world war one museum and memorial, national archives at kansas city, and greater kansas city black history study group cohosted this event. the national world war one museum provided the video. >> this evening, we are pleased to have to distinguished speakers, scholars with us in dialogue about the red summer of 1919. we will have a discussion between our guests followed by a brief q and a, should there be time for us to do that. i'm so pleased tonight to introduce two of our friends and colleagues. the first being doctor saje mathieu. doctor mathieu is an associate professor of history at the university of minnesota.
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she's currently just finishing up a faculty fellowship at harvard university's warning center for studies in american history. she earned a joint ph.d. in history and african american studies from yale university, and specializes in 20th century american and african american history, with an emphasis on immigration, war, race, globalization, social movements and political resistance. she's the author of a number of books, one of which is available outside. i would encourage you to grab a coffee while you can. but an upcoming book as well, the glory of their deeds, a global history of black soldiers and the great war era. sage was working on that book as part of your work at the warren center. are we close the publication? she started when she was five, so it's almost done. really, saje it's a great friend of ours, and we are just so delighted to have you back here with us again. thank you.
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so please join me in welcoming doctor mathieu. [applause] >> and joining us tonight is a scholar who also has a specialized focused on the red summer of 1919, and the fight of this nation to create a just and equitable society. cameron mcwhirter is a staff reporter for the wall street journal. based in atlanta, he covers politics, economics, breaking news and other subjects, and he's worked in a variety of countries. reporting from bosnia, iraq, costa rica and other places. and for our purposes, most significantly he's the author of a compelling texts, red summer, the summer of 1919 and the awakening of black america. so please join me in welcoming cameron. [applause] >> i want to read to you just a
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portion from cameron mcwhirter's book. so if you would just listen, i really think this frames our conversation this evening. it just reminds us to silence our devices. so thank you. so, a reading from cameron's book. on june 26, 1919, as many as 10,000 whites gathered in a field just outside mississippi to watch a bound, exhausted and wounded black man named jon hadfield as he was hoisted up the branch of a giant sweet gum tree. vendors sold flags, trinkets and souvenirs photographs. local politicians delivered speeches. young boys crowded in the tree to look down at the wild side
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screaming heart field. it was a country fair, political rally, and public murder rolled into one. after world war i, black americans fervently hoped for a new epoque of peace, prosperity, and equality. but this civil rights moment was not to be. instead, the euphoria of victory evaporated to be replaced by the worst spate of anti black violence. it's labeled the red summer, the riots and lynchings would last from april to november 1919, claiming hundreds of lives. blacks responded by fighting back with an intensity and termination never seen before, introducing the first stirring 's of the civil rights movement that would change america forever. prince, please welcome our
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guests this evening. cameron mcwhirter and saje mathieu. ♪ ♪ ♪ [applause] >> well, i would like to begin by thanking you for being here on such a lovely evening. as cameron no doubt recalls, we are almost, to the day, at the centenary of the worst of the riots i would say. >> yes. >> but the riots had begun at least in the united states for at least a couple of months. there are a couple of things that are reminiscent of that summer. for me, it is always the weather. it was an incredibly hot summer. and one of the things we historians know is that when there is a spike in the weather -- in the heat, we start smacking each other around.
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>> yeah [laughs] >> and it's no surprise that most of these race riots occurred during heat waves. >> i just came in from chicago, where me and many other people were marking the centennial of the chicago riots, which was certainly the worst urban right in the united states that year. and it started because of the heat. people, there was no air conditioning at that time, and five young teenage african american men's snuck through the white neighborhoods of chicago to get to the south side beach. and they went swimming. they swam in an area that was sort of near the de facto black beach and the defective white beach. there wasn't legal segregation in chicago, but the raft they were on, and they were not very good swimmers, drifted over to the white beach.
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it was all that was needed to spark a massive race right in this incredibly tense period. >> that is a wonderful place to start actually. that is because one of the things i argue about this era at large, so not just 1919, but the 19 tens and twenties and truthfully well throughout the 20th century, what we see in this instance of these kids, we can't ever forget that they are children, playing outdoors. it's that we are reminded that the very idea of leisure is contested. the very idea of belonging is contested. right? so these children do not belong on that beach because free time is itself segregated, as is the very space where that free time should be spent. so it's not just beaches that are segregated. whether it is officially or by
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de facto practice, but so too sometimes our parks. golf courses, swimming pools, public swimming pools, so these social spaces become just as charged at the workplace neighborhoods in terms of contested terrains when it comes to belonging for african americans. especially in urban spaces. >> why don't we go farther and say that the smallest, when the situation was so charged, the smallest incident would lead to tremendous violence. and rumor and gossip played a huge role in all of this in the washington right, which occurs earlier in july of 1919. it occurs -- there was a whole frenzy of panic produced by the media unfortunately, of the belief that african american men were attacking white women. we don't know exactly what
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happened, but a white woman was walking down the street and was jostled by to african american men walking the other way. we know that happened. >> right. >> but that became, did you hear about two men raping a white woman? >> absolutely. >> that leads to mayhem. >> absolutely. so in 1921, just a few years later, in the worst of all race riots in american history, the tulsa race riots of 1921, it all begins with people bumping into each other in an elevator. so these small spaces where, again, the complicated relationship across race, racial lines and gender lines, become aggravated or amplified. of course, 1919 also reminds us that violence moves on rumor. violence moves on rumor. so it is so often the case that we hear that this happened, that that didn't happen, and before you know it, no one even
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remembers why. so kind of like a middle school brawl, right? >> as a reporter today, i can't tell you how... how constant a problem that remains in terms of trying to deal with whether something is true or whether something actually happened. it is a constant paranoia fear of journalists. we go to sleep agonizing about that all the time. >> so let's take a step back for people who might not remember or know what conditions were like at the end of the summer of 1919. a rather at the end of spring of 1919. >> that's great. >> so we have american soldiers starting to come back. >> in massive amounts. >> sometimes 100,000 a month, right? getting off great ships on coastal port cities. there are concerned about a
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return to normalcy, whatever that could mean. so whether that is a return to their jobs, a return to their families, a return to their social standing, a return to the actual physical place from once they came, and not everyone wants to go back once they came. we are talking about men who are between the ages, for the most part, of 18 to 30. not the most stable part of our citizenry. but it's true, right, it's true? >> this. >> and absolutely under studied aspect for me, and part of what i read about, is that we did not have a language. today we call it ptsd. these men had been thrown into the worst of the fighting, the most chaotic of the fighting and the last six months of the war, even though american soldiers did not see the level of destruction that other european troops had experienced
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over the course of all four years. nonetheless, you don't have to be in the trenches for four years to know how destabilizing, how devastating it is to witness your friends being torn to shreds. so we get these guys arriving in philly, in boston, new york, in charleston, and it's like thank you for coming out. off you go. that is not even yet include how african americans felt about this expectation that after having crossed the atlantic, after having hurriedly established much of the infrastructure that made it possible for the american army to fight in europe. building the camps, the barracks, the railway lines, feeding people, spending hours loading and unloading ships, only to then be treated like the gum under once shoe by their own government. >> that decommissioning was not
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as smooth as see later sometimes. sometimes they had to wait around. that led to young men, charleston is a classic example, young men milling around looking for booze mostly. which was illegal. that right begins when a bunch of men get -- give five bucks to a guy who says he's going to get them some illegal liquor, and like 1 million other hustlers before and after him, he takes off and never comes back. the soldiers right. but i do think, i mean, you are dead on everything you are saying. i think it's really important for people -- when i talk to people about 1919, they generally have the impression that america was this victoria's power and everything was great. we are about to head into the jazz age and everything is fantastic. in fact, it was a very panicky time for the world, but certainly for america. we had people, the bolsheviks
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had taken over russia, anarchists were sending bombs to politicians, there was a record number of strikes around the country, there was a high cost of living and it was rising. so people were having trouble paying their bills. soldiers were pouring back into the domestic economy and they could not get the jobs they used to have. white and black. >> right. >> and in that frothy mess, i would like to mention there was a political cartoon at the time of the globe sitting in bed just biting its nails and all these panicky things are flying around its head. like that is influenza that we sleeping the world -- sweeping the world. so it was a very nerve-racking time. and in all of that, three pretty positive things for african americans had happened. but because it happened in this frothy chaos, they were focal points for anti black violence.
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soldiers being the most prominent. >> so there is also another ingredient in this frothy mess that you described. that is that over the course of the war, it started for, but it went from trickle to flood.
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i went to bed in my family's home in greenwood neighbors of tulsa the neighborhood i felt asleep in that night was rich. not just in terms of well, but in culture the community heritage and my family had a beautiful home. we had great neighbors and i had friends to play with i felt safe. i had eveth


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