America’s Red Summer – 1919

As I continue to dig more deeply into my family’s history, I am learning more about their life and times.  Today I received more leads and resources from the National Archives and The Wake County Historical Society.  I hope these help me find my third maternal great-grandfather, Henry Ford, who was from Wake County, North Carolina.

As research would have it, though, I stumbled upon a story whose history dates back nearly 200 years to when Henry Ford’s grandson–my great-grandfather, John C. Ford,  then 55 years old, was renting a row house along the Florida Avenue Northeast Corridor at 611 Morton Place, N.E., Washington, DC.  (The next to last house in the 2014 Google Maps picture, above.  These houses were probably built around 1900 and are now selling for about $700K!)  He lived there with Susan,  his wife of 25 years, and his son, my grandfather, Robert Gideon Ford, who was 21 and single at the time.

Meanwhile–The Great Migration 1910-1970 (An Interactive Map)

In 1910, 83% of African-Americans lived in the South, about the same percentage that had lived there since at least as far back as 1790.

As the map shows, migrants from the South were particularly attracted to the North’s big cities: Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. To this day, more African Americans live in Chicago than in the state of Mississippi.

As the map shows, migrants from the South were particularly attracted to the North’s big cities: Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. To this day, more African-Americans live in Chicago than in the state of Mississippi.

When World War I ended, thousands of Americans returned to their homes in the North to find that their jobs and factories were now filled with blacks who had migrated from the south.  Radical and ethical prejudices were all over.  Adding to the tension was what very little freedom the blacks had once they returned home, being denied such basic rights as equal housing and equality under the law. During this time, the Ku Klux Klan revived its violent activities throughout the south.   During the summer of 1919, riots across the U.S. would break out in areas like Washington, DC., Knoxville, TN, Omaha, NE, and Chicago, IL, and other cities.

The Red Summer of 1919 

Fast forward within our nation’s capital to Saturday, July 19 through Wednesday, July 23, 1919, and not far at all from my family’s home there:

On Saturday night, July 19, 1919, in a downtown bar, a group of white WWI veterans sparked a rumor about the arrest, questioning, and release of a black man suspected by the Metropolitan Police Department of sexually assaulting a white woman who was a wife of a Navy man. The rumor traveled throughout the saloons and billiard parlors of downtown Washington, angering soldiers, sailors, and marines who were taking their weekend liberty–including many veterans of World War I.

Later that night, a predominantly white mob of veterans still in their uniforms and armed with clubs, lead pipes, and pieces of lumber in hand headed toward Southwest D.C. to a predominantly black, poverty-stricken neighborhood. There, they proceeded to beat any and all African-Americans that crossed their paths. The veterans took African-Americans from their cars and from the sidewalks and, while drawing little to no attention by local police.

On Sunday, July 20, the violence had continued to grow, as the Metropolitan Police Department did nothing. The African-Americans continued to face brutal beatings in the streets at the Center Market on Seventh Street NW, (which was less than two miles away from my family’s dwelling), and even in front of the United States White House (only three miles away from the Ford Family).

By late Sunday night, July 20, the African-American community began to fight back. They armed themselves and attacked whites as they entered their neighborhoods. Both black and white men fired bullets from inside moving cars. At night’s end, ten whites and five blacks were either killed or severely wounded.

After four days of violence and no police intervention, President Woodrow Wilson, (husband of my paternal third cousin Edith Bolling Galt Wilson), finally ordered nearly two thousand soldiers from nearby military bases into the district. However, it was a heavy summer’s rain that effectively helped end the riot on July 23, 1919.

By the riot’s end, several men were dead from gunshot wounds; nine were killed in the severe street fights, and about thirty or more eventually died from other riot-related wounds. In all, over 150 men, women, and children were beaten, clubbed, and shot by both African-American and white rioters. Six Metropolitan Policemen and several Marine guards also were wounded or shot–two of them fatally.

View the <4-minute video below for a more detailed United States picture of the riots of The Red Summer [from The 20th Century Time Machine].

Epilogue and Timeline of Riots in the United States in 1919

One of my intentions of this blog was to devote my posts to help my legacy family learn from lessons of the past. Yet,  here we are today, still making the same or bigger mistakes that have an even greater probability of leading mankind to its demise. Yet, as I’ve repeatedly experienced in my life, people don’t always learn or change as a result of their own pain-filled experiences or through learning about events in their history.    ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’  –  This saying comes from the writings of George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Henry, John C., Susan, and Robert Gideon Ford may you forever Rest In Peace.

Below is a timeline of race relations in America taken from

Progress: Benjamin Franklin petitions Congress to abolish slavery.

Regress: Petition ridiculed, tabled. One month later, Naturalization Act of 1790 limits citizenship to whites.

Progress: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” passionately advocates for the end of slavery…

Regress: …and advances pervasive stereotypes: mammy, pickaninny, tragic mulatto, Uncle Tom.

Progress: Mexicans in New Mexico receive full U.S. citizenship after state’s admission to Union.

Regress: Whites of Forsyth County, Georgia, violently drive out nearly 1,100 of their black neighbors.

Progress: W.E.B. Du Bois publishes “The Negro,” seminal history of African and African American people and their achievements in America.

Regress: D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation portrays black men as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women; emboldens Ku Klux Klan.

Progress: Nineteenth Amendment gives women right to vote.

Regress: Most African American women, like African American men, prevented from voting in Southern states.

Progress: National Labor Relations Act guarantees right to organize and form unions.

Regress: Act excludes farm and domestic jobs, historically held by African Americans and Latinos.

Progress: Bracero Program invites Mexican citizens to work temporarily in U.S.

Regress: President Roosevelt authorizes mass internment of more than 120,000 Japanese American citizens and documented immigrants.

Progress: In Brown v. Board of Education, Supreme Court unanimously rules segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Regress: Immigration and Naturalization Service institutes “Operation Wetback” to deport undocumented Mexicans living in U.S.

Progress: Rosa Parks keeps a seat on the bus.

Regress: Emmett Till murdered for whistling at a white woman who, decades later, will admit to false testimony.

Progress: Some 250,000 attend March on Washington, hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver “I Have a Dream” speech.

Regress: Klan members bomb 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four black girls in Sunday school.

Progress: President Johnson signs Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin.

Regress: Civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman murdered by Klansmen in Mississippi.

Progress: In Loving v. Virginia, Supreme Court rules prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional.

Regress: During “Long Hot Summer,” race riots erupt across U.S., killing dozens, injuring thousands, setting the stage for historic violence of 1968.

Progress: President Bush proposes “guest worker” plan permitting undocumented immigrants working in U.S. to apply for temporary status…

Regress: …but allows U.S. Border Patrol agents to deport them with no hearing before an immigration judge.

Progress: Sonia Sotomayor becomes first Latina Supreme Court justice.

Regress: Harvard professor, renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering—at his own home.

Progress: Federal courts halt enforcement of President Trump’s order effectively banning Muslim immigrants from seven countries.

Regress: Trump signs revised order; stays silent in face of increasing violence against mosques; moves forward on Dakota Access Pipeline, Mexican border wall….

Photos (from top): U.S. National Archives And Records Administration (2). Joseph Wright Of Derby/Art Images/Getty Images. Chris Dorney/Alamy Stock. Universal History Archive/Uig Via Getty Images. Dorothea Lange/Library Of Congress. Loc/Alamy. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images. The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images. Chase Swift/Corbis/Getty Images. Jemal Countess/Getty Images. Kena Betancur/Afp/Getty Images.

Read more:

Other Sources

Peter Perl, “Race Riot of 1919 Gave Glimpse of Future Struggles”, The Washington Post Company,; Rawn James Jr., “The Forgotten Washington Race War of 1919,” History News Network,; “Race Riots of 1919”, Global Security,

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