Shortly after the armistice between the Allied and Central powers was signed on November 11, 1918, American troops demobilized and were sent home. As the poster above indicates, many of the soldiers, along with citizens who supported the war effort, envisioned a celebratory transition from wartime to an era of peace, liberty, and prosperity.
However, one unanticipated (and unwanted) result of the soldiers’ return was the emergence of a new strain of influenza. Within months of the war’s end, over 20 million Americans contracted the disease. 675,000 of them died before the epidemic mysteriously subsided in the spring of 1919.
Between the fall of 1918 and the spring of 1919, fear of infection was prevalent throughout the United States. Americans avoided public gatherings, children wore surgical masks to school, and undertakers ran out of coffins and burial plots. Instead of welcoming soldiers with postwar celebrations, many Americans sought to avoid contact with the virus.
As Americans recovered from the flu epidemic, race riots in northern cities and other episodes of racial violence erupted. The violence was so great during the summer of 1919 that it came to be known as the “Red Summer”.
Racial violence was widespread in the U.S., but it became concentrated in several northern cities during World War I, when thousands of African Americans traveled north in search of jobs in wartime industries.
During the “Red Summer”, 25 race riots that killed over 250 people occurred in northern cities. In Chicago, on July 27th, a white mob stoned a young black boy to death because he swam too close to the “white beach” on Lake Michigan. The police at the scene did not arrest the perpetrators. The killing prompted a week-long riot. By the time the National Guard restored order, 23 blacks and 15 whites were dead, and millions of dollars’ worth of property had been damaged.
Like the Haymarket affair over 30 years earlier, news reports of the Chicago race riots shaped local and national opinion regarding racism, mob violence, and police brutality. As you read the newspaper accounts provided below, use the 5 Ws to guide your analysis. Here are some 5W questions to consider:
The Chicago Daily Tribune, which catered to white readers and often expressed distaste for the city’s black population, described the cause of the riots as follows:
A snarl of protest went up from the whites and soon a volley of rocks and stones were sent in his direction. One rock, said to have been thrown by George Stauber of 2904 Cottage Grove avenue, struck the lad and he toppled into the water.
Cop Refuses to Interfere.
Colored men who were present attempted to go to his rescue, but they were kept back by the whites, it is said. Colored men and women, it is alleged, asked Policeman Dan Callahan of the Cottage Grove station to arrest Stauber, but he is said to have refused.
Then, indignant at the conduct of the policeman, the Negroes set upon Stauber and commenced to pummel him. The whites came to his rescue and then the battle royal was on. Fists flew and rocks were hurled. Bathers from the colored Twenty-fifth street beach were attracted to the scene of the battling and aided their comrades in driving the whites into the water.
Negroes Chase Policeman.
Then they turned on Policeman Callahan and drove him down Twenty-ninth street. He ran into a drug store at Twenty-ninth street and Cottage Grove avenue and phoned the Cottage Grove avenue police station.
Two wagon loads of cops rolled to the scene, and in a scuffle that ensued here Policeman John O’Brien and three blacks were shot.”
The Chicago Defender, the city’s leading African-American newspaper, provided a more graphic and gruesome account of the riots:
The violence of “Red Summer” revealed that many whites, including returning soldiers, were committed to maintaining positions of supremacy in their neighborhoods and workplaces. Many black soldiers returned home determined to assert their rights as citizens. At the same time, African Americans continued to move northward as the 1920s began, to find work and social mobility during a time of discrimination and violence.
1919 was a year of significant labor unrest. Over four million workers participated in nearly 3,000 strikes.
An important cause of the unrest was the transition of the economy from wartime to postwar production. When World War I ended, businesses shifted production from guns, ships, and other wartime products to domestic goods. However, demand quickly outpaced production, leading to shortages of these goods. Prices skyrocketed.
During the war, many workers made a no-strike pledge, in which they agreed not to strike in support of the war effort. However, with the war over and because wages had not kept pace with rising prices, workers began to strike for better hours and increased pay.
Labor unrest was associated in the minds of many Americans with the Russian Revolution. In 1917, communist revolutionaries known as Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, toppled the regime of Tsar Nicholas II. President Wilson and the other Allied leaders viewed the Russian communists with suspicion..
As revolutionary rhetoric from Bolshevik Russia increased in 1919, a number of Americans feared that domestic labor unrest was the result of communist infiltrators who sought to overthrow the government.
Americans also remained suspicious toward non-English speaking immigrants, particularly those from southern and eastern Europe, who subscribed to radical ideas like anarchism.
The widespread intolerance toward foreigners and radical ideas in 1919 became known as the Red Scare.
When investigators discovered 36 letter bombs addressed to federal, state, and local officials, as well as to industrial leaders (e.g., John D. Rockefeller), at a New York City post office, fear of radicalism grew significantly. When eight bombs exploded simultaneously on June 2, 1919, including one that destroyed the entrance to U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s house in Washington, D.C., the country was convinced that all radicals were to blame.
Private citizens who considered themselves loyal and patriotic Americans, along with military veterans, raided the meetings of radical labor organizations in several cities.
In November of 1919, Attorney General Palmer ordered the arrest of radical labor organizers and dissenters in what came to be known as the “Palmer Raids”.
Overseen by 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, the “Palmer Raids” targeted the headquarters of radical groups and labor unions in 12 cities. At least 4.000 alleged radicals were arrested — most of them without warrants — and detained for weeks in overcrowded cells.
Almost 250 of those arrested, the majority of whom were members of the Union of Russian Workers, were deported to the Soviet Union on a ship dubbed “the Soviet Ark” (pictured below):
The “Soviet Ark” left New York City on December 21, 1919. As the photograph and caption above suggest, most Americans responded positively to the “Palmer Raids”, despite the disregard for civil liberties with which they were carried out.
The tribulations of World War I and 1919 created an atmosphere of uncertainty that led many Americans to view interventionist government and international involvement skeptically. These two principles formed part of the foundation of Progressivism, but by 1920, Americans wanted to focus on domestic progress and personal success.
Eager to regain the White House, Republicans capitalized on popular sentiment by nominating Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio for President in 1920. Before his nomination, Harding summed up the view of many Americans by stating, “America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.” Harding's words indicated that he would provide what Americans wanted: a President who would look and act "presidential", while letting them live their lives as they wished.
Harding won the 1920 election in a landslide over his Democratic challenger, James Cox of Ohio. He received over 400 electoral votes, and 60% of the popular vote. His election indicated a shift in public opinion, and marked the beginning of a politically conservative decade dominated by Republican administrations.
This tutorial curated and/or authored by Matthew Pearce, Ph.D
Source: “World peace with liberty and prosperity--1919--Happy new year,” OER Commons http://bit.ly/2nMKKtN Image of flu ward, PD, http://bit.ly/2nk3jmj The Chicago Daily Tribune Reports Chicago Race Riot, OER Commons, http://bit.ly/2nMv21R The Chicago Defender Reports Chicago Race Riot, OER Commons, http://bit.ly/2nk83YO “Step by Step” cartoon, PD http://bit.ly/2njXzsF Image of Attorney General Palmer’s house, PD http://bit.ly/2o8hdva Image of Soviet Ark, PD, http://bit.ly/2obvkR4 Derived from Openstax tutorial 23.5 & 24.4 http://bit.ly/2obH5XF Some sections edited/removed.