1919 July 19

Race Riot Breaks Out in Nation’s Capital


Racial violence erupted in Washington, D.C. on this hot Saturday night, when mobs of U.S. soldiers and sailors, home from the war in Europe, attacked African-Americans in response to rumors that an Africa-American had attempted to rape the white wife of a sailor. The police were reportedly “nowhere to be seen” as a mob of about 400 whites invaded the African-American neighborhood in southwest Washington.

The Washington violence was one of several such incidents that erupted in the violence-filled summer and fall of 1919. (See the Chicago race riot that began on July 27, 1919, and the Omaha race riot that began on September 28, 1919.) The pattern in all urban racial violence in the first half of the twentieth century involved mobs of whites attacking African-Americans and their neighborhoods.

A wave of urban racial disorders swept the U.S. between 1964 and 1968. Read the Kerner Commission report about the riots (February 29, 1968).

Learn more: Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (2011)

Read the report about the 1960s riots: National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Report (1968)

Learn more about African American history: Henry Louis Gates, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (2011)

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