By Darryl James
The so-called “Liberal Democracy” that America has been enjoying may be nearing its end. Two important signs that the current economic and political system may be breaking down are overproduction and underconsumption. I’ll deal with those in an upcoming column, but the fallout includes the widening of the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” which is signaled by the erosion of the so-called middle class.
Pay attention to the fact that there are not enough jobs and not enough demand for services that currently exist. When 600 Starbucks close, you should pay attention. At the end of the so-called “Liberal Democracy,” the “have-nots,” who outnumber the “haves” may just take it to the street when they finally realize that they are screwed beyond assistance. Especially when they are simultaneously blamed for everything bad and kept away from everything good.
America just may be headed to a Third World existence with the growing ultra rich and the growing ultra poor and few in between. When that happens, all hell will break loose, and just like in the 1960’s and the early part of the twentieth century, rioting will erupt, as the people on the bottom begin to express themselves in the only voice that can be heard without filter.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called riots the “voice of the unheard.” African Americans have been speaking with this voice since the days of slavery, even as American history pretends that we sat idly by waiting for good natured whites to come and save us. In many instances, we saved ourselves, or at least fought the good fight. It is important for us to study the history of rioting in America, so that we understand how we fought back before the 1960’s. Some of those riots will provide us with a look inside the lives of African Americans that just may return, even though some people can’t conceive of it happening in the new millennium.
While the rioting that may come to America soon will be essentially between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” it is important to realize who the majority of the “have-nots” will be. We were there before and if we return, Blacks will not only be mostly at the bottom, but blamed for the existence of others at the bottom, particularly impoverished whites.
Let’s take a look at a time in history that came to be known as The Red Summer. There were a multitude of riots in the nation in the twentieth century’s late ‘teens and early twenties that were significant in that they were “Race Riots,” or riots between whites and Blacks. The significance is that contrary to the history lessons taught in public schools, even though Blacks were often outgunned and overpowered, they were not sitting idly by while murderous mobs burned their communities to the ground.
Popular thought is that Blacks did little in this nation outside of peaceful protests prior to the turbulent 1960’s. The truth of the matter is that racial conflict was exploding all across the nation, all throughout the twentieth century and Blacks were fighting back and spilling white blood.
The race riots of the early part of that century were just that—riotous conflicts between the races. When the First World War ended, racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were revived as poor whites again blamed Blacks for lack of available jobs and perceived lust for white women.
Racial conflicts intensified as Black veterans returned from the “fight for democracy,” more militant than ever, after finding that they were still hated on the streets of the nation they defended. The summer of 1919 was referred to as the “Red Summer,” for the bloody race riots that ran through the nation in more than twenty-five cities, including Knoxville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas and Phillips County, Arkansas.
Perhaps the bloodiest of all the race riots in the Red Summer occurred in unlikely places such as Omaha, Nebraska, as well as expected cities such as Washington, DC, with the most severe in Chicago, Illinois. The conflicts were fueled by the mass migration of Blacks to northern cities where they competed for jobs with whites and felt their own frustration in overcrowded depressed urban areas.
The Washington, DC Race Riot of 1919 began, as many racial conflicts did when a Black man was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman, but later released. The white woman was married to a Navy man. The conflagration began when drunken Navy men started buzzing about revenge. That buzzing picked up momentum from whites who were already looking at Blacks with ire. Blood was spilled in the hot summer streets when the mob encountered Blacks who had frustrations of their own and were not prepared to back down.
The second riot of the Red Summer of 1919 occurred in Longview, Texas, where racial conflict arose as a result of economic progression by the Black citizens of the rural community. Samuel L. Jones and Dr. Calvin P. Davis urged Black farmers to cease doing business with white cotton brokers and sell their cotton directly to buyers.
Conflict grew to violence when a Black man was murdered by a white mob for allegedly having an affair with a white woman. The incident was written about in the Chicago Daily Defender by Jones, a local correspondent for the paper, who was subsequently beaten. When a white mob showed up at Jones’ home, they were met with gunfire, which they returned. Three of the white men were injured and escaped, but one was found and beaten severely.
The mob returned after growing into a small army, and burning of Black homes ensued. Martial law was declared by the governor and both whites and Blacks were arrested. None were ever tried or convicted.
On the South Side of Chicago, racial tension was higher than anywhere in the city, as Blacks were jammed into unfit housing, with poor services. As migration continued from the South, the Black population jumped from 44,000 in 1910, to more than 109,000 by 1920.
On July 27, 1919, a young Black man named Eugene Williams was swimming in the Black beach area, when he drifted into the area reserved for whites. A white man began throwing rocks, refusing to let the young man swim to shore. One of the rocks hit him in the head, knocking him unconscious, until the youth could no longer hold on and drowned.
The police were called, but they refused to arrest the white man, and instead arrested a Black man who was vocal about the incident. Crowds of Blacks and whites began to push and shove and the news of the conflict spread throughout the city. Mobs of Blacks and whites sparked fights across the city, which lasted for thirteen days. The fighting was so bad and spread so quickly, that local police could not squelch it and the National Guard had to be called in on day four.
At the end of the thirteen-day riot, thirty-eight people (twenty-three Blacks and fifteen whites) lay dead, more than five hundred were injured and hundreds of Black families were left homeless.
The Chicago Race Riot was significant in that, for the first time, America had to face its horrible racial issues. That riot was so bloody that even President Woodrow Wilson labeled the whites as aggressors in Chicago and Washington, DC.
Rioting occurs when people reach their boiling points and need to make their frustrations heard, particularly when they are on the bottom and feel that those above them are ignoring them and harming them.
If America’s so-called “liberal Democracy” continues it’s downward spiral, we just may see people taking it to the streets.
Darryl James won the Chicago Book Festival Non-Fiction Award for “The LA Riots, 3 Decades of Revolution,” his book on Rioting in America. James is also the author of the forthcoming powerful anthology “Notes From The Edge.” Discounted Autographed and Numbered Pre-Release copies can be ordered at www.darryljames.com. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org.