Red Summer Archive

September 23, 2014

By Nancy Kuhl

The Beinecke Library has recently acquired a small archive of materials documening the “Red Summer” of 1919 (Call number: JWJ MSS 126). In the summer of 1919, termed “Red Summer” by activist James Weldon Johnson, racially motivated violence, including lynchings and riots, broke out in over three dozen American cities. High numbers of fatalities occurred in Chicago, Knoxville, and Elaine, Arkansas.

The collection includes correspondence, printed material, and reports documenting the response among African American activists to the race riots of the summer of 1919, including efforts to aid victims and defend arrestees in Chicago, Knoxville, and Elaine, Arkansas. Material relating to the Chicago branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is particularly well represented. Prominent correspondents include James Weldon Johnson, John Shillady, Walter White, and the Citizens Defense Fund Commission, led by attorney Scipio A. Jones. The collection also includes press releases and reports from of the National Conference on Lynching and the Provident Hospital, documentation of the criminal proceedings against riot participants, and clippings reporting events surrouding the riots.