RED Summer Prologue (trigger warning, disturbing images of violence and murder)
White supremacy in the United States was rampant as more Black Americans migrated North in search of work. Housing shortages prevailed and segregation forced many to live in polluted and unsafe parts of Chicago, yet with perseverance Black communities continued to grow. New white European immigrants also participated in the oppression of Black people moving into Chicago, as they were seen as competitors for work. Tension in the country was exacerbated by the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, leading to the lynching of 64 people in 1918 and an additional 83 people in 1919. It is documented that they participated in riots/massacres in Washington, D.C.; Knoxville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; and Phillips county, Arkansas. Although little is actually documented about the secretive KKK in Illinois before 1920, it is important to note there was Klan activities reported in the State in 1919. In the early 1920s, Chicago Klavern headquarters was in downtown next to the courthouse and attorney Charles Palmer was eventually elected Grand Dragon of Illinois.
According to journalist for Al Jazeera, Dorceta E. Taylor, July 27, 1919 was sweltering at 96 degrees, as five young men who were not great swimmers built a raft for safety, and entered Michigan Lake on 25th street in the segregated beach area for Black people. The beaches and nearby neighborhoods were heavily patrolled by gangs of white men, who carried bricks and rocks and were often harassing and threatening the Black people in the area. The five Black teens in the incident included Eugene Williams aged 17, who worked at a grocery produce store and had graduated high school. His friends John Harris, Charles and Lawrence Williams (brothers), and Paul Williams (not related) were excited to spend time together on the lake. As they pushed their homemade raft out to a marker in the lake they were unaware that there was some altercations on the shore, nor did they realize that the segregation line extended into the lake. When a white man, George Stauber (a 24 year old baker) began lobbing rocks at them they were not too worried because it was 75 feet out and they thought they could dodge the rocks. Unluckily, Eugene had just surfaced and was struck in the head. When he went down John attempted to save him but was not able to do so. When a Black lifeguard was summoned and able to reach them, Eugene was already dead. Witnesses saw the attack and started towards Stauber, who ran to the segregated white beach for safety. He was not arrested by police for the crime at the time, and was later acquitted of all charges by a grand jury.
When the news spread to the different neighborhoods the story became distorted on both sides so the rage was fueled by the death of Eugene Williams. Crowds of people formed to confront each other and the rampant violence began. The rioting continued for five days and the state militia was summoned to stop the rioting and get the people back to their neighborhoods, furthering the racial divide. Reportedly 23 Black and 15 white citizens were killed, and 537 people were injured, with most of the injuries inflicted on Black people. Properties were ransacked by white people (including children) roaming the neighborhoods, fires were set, and Black families were driven from their homes leaving over 1,000 Black families homeless. The Great War veterans returned home to poverty and discrimination after fighting for the country that they risked their lives for and were often targeted by white supremacists. Black veterans, including decorated heroes, were making a stand for their rights as American citizens. Black veterans joined the struggle and organized themselves to defend their families and neighborhoods. This is how the book begins.