|James Weldon Johnson|
With World War I and immigration restrictions causing labor shortages, by 1919 an estimated 500,000 African Americans had moved from the South to northern urban areas to work in factories in the first wave of the Great Migration. Returning soldiers and a post-war recession led to a scarcity of jobs and increasing tension between the races.
Wartime legislation had also created a repressive national atmosphere. The Immigration Act of 1917 enabled the deportment of suspected anarchists without due process, and widened the definition of anarchy. The Sedition Act of 1918 banned the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language" about the U.S. government, flag or or armed forces. Any organized protest by African Americans about labor practices or other justice issues was assumed to be influenced by labor unions or leftist groups.
|J. Edgar Hoover|
Others also spoke out on protecting themselves. In an editorial in Crisis magazine W. E. B. DuBois wrote, "Today we raise the weapons of self-defense... When the armed lynchers gather, we too must gather armed." The summer of 1919 marked the first time that African Americans consistently fought back against oppression.
This is the first of a three-part series on the Red Summer of 1919. Further posts will detail events in cities across the country.