America's history of racial tolerance has been, at best, hesitant and at times, absolutely abominable. There were few periods after the Civil War that were worse than the summer and fall of 1919.

Beginning in the summer of that year, racial tensions, fueled by a poor post-WWI economy, stronger Jim Crow laws, lynchings in the South, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and long-standing and growing resentments between whites and blacks, began exploding into full-scale race riots in Little Rock, New York City, Baltimore, New Orleans, Houston, and a number of other American cities, in both the North and the South. It is usually considered that the worst incidents took place in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Elaine, Arkansas.

It appears that things got started in Washington, where at least 24 people were killed from July 19-24. That riot started after rumors that a black man had assaulted the wife of a white sailor convinced a mob of 400 whites to invade the black section of town, where they attacked blacks indiscriminately. Police arrested more blacks than whites, but the white mobs got a surprise they weren't expecting: the blacks fought back. When it became clear that the police would not protect them, black veterans took their service revolvers out of mothballs and local pawnshops sold a record number of guns to blacks. Some took up positions on rooftops as sentries and snipers, while others took to random shootings of whites. After the fourth day of rioting, a heavy downpour flooded the city and killed off everyone's rage.

Only a few days later, on July 27, 1919, at Chicago's 29th Street beach, a black youth accidentally swam into an area claimed by whites. This set off a bunch of rock-throwing between whites and blacks that led to the drowning of a black man named Eugene Williams. Afterwards, a white police officer refused to arrest the white men who had caused Williams' death and arrested a black man instead. This caused a larger riot, which caused another larger riot, and another larger riot after that. By the time fighting finally ended 13 days later, 23 blacks and 15 whites were dead, 537 people of both races were injured, and a thousand black families were homeless.

On September 30, 1919, In Phillips County, Arkansas, shots were exchanged between two white policemen and a group of black farmers at a rural church. One of the policemen was killed, and the county sheriff called for white men to "hunt Mr. Nigger in his lair." Several hundred whites soon showed up and began targeting blacks wherever they found them. After three days, the Army stopped the rioting (though some claimed they participated in the rioting first); the official death toll found that 25 blacks and five whites had been killed, but there are suspicions that as many as 200 blacks may have died and been dumped into the Mississippi River.

At the time of the riots, many whites were dismayed that blacks were fighting back. The New York Times said, in an editorial: "There had been no trouble with the Negro before the war when most admitted the superiority of the white race." But many blacks saw the riots as a turning point in which blacks stopped kowtowing to whites. In a letter to "The Crisis", a black woman wrote: "The Washington riot gave me a thrill that comes once in a life time ... at last our men had stood up like men. ... I stood up alone in my room ... and exclaimed aloud, 'Oh I thank God, thank God.' The pent up horror, grief and humiliation of a life time -- half a century -- was being stripped from me."

Research from articles in the "Washington Post" and from "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow", a PBS documentary.

My unhappiness with the skimpy size of this writeup knows no bounds. I eagerly look forward to this writeup being surpassed and superceded by longer, more complete writeups.

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