How Much Do You Know about the 1919 Race Riot in Charleston?

Posted By Bill Payer on Feb 10, 2023 | 0 comments

“Late on the night of Saturday, May 10th, young white sailors fueled by racial hatred roamed the heart of the city, smashing property and spilling blood as they went. It was an ominous beginning to what became known across the United States as the “Red Summer.”

Between February and October of 1919 (mostly May-August), there were more than three dozen outbreaks of racially-motivated riotous disturbances across the United States, in which scores of African-Americans were killed and lynched. The noted writer, James Weldon Johnson, described these months of widespread bloodshed as the “Red Summer” of racial violence. More than fifty years after the end of slavery in America, people of African descent were still struggling to gain the freedom to exercise their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Red Summer was also coincident with the demobilization of U.S. troops following the end of the Great War, or World War I, which ended on November 11th, 1918. The United States officially entered the war in April of 1917, at which time hundreds of thousands of African-American men volunteered or were drafted into the armed forces to serve both at home and abroad. Their participation in this international conflict opened doors to new rights and forms of civic engagement, which awakened new motivations for public discourse about the state of race relations in America. That discourse was welcomed by many, but large numbers of white Americans, in the Southern states and beyond, were openly hostile to any disruption the racial status quo of “Jim Crow” segregation.,”

To read the rest of this article from the Charleston Public Library CLICK HERE and to listen to CCPL’S Nic Butler’s Charleston Time Machine on the 1919 riot CLICK HERE.

In January, the Charleston Commission on History approved wording for a plaque to be placed on a downtown corner marking the 1919 race riot that killed three black Charleston residents and left dozens injured.

The Friday, February 10, 2023 Post & Courier has an extensive article about the riot and efforts to memorialize it. The article notes how few people know about the 1919 riot and what’s being done to provide more knowledge.

“The plaque is part of a broader effort to use Charleston’s Black history, both its tragedies and its triumphs, as inspiration for a better path forward. Around downtown newer signs mark sites where Black residents were gravely mistreated and also the sites of their achievements.

“Charleston is known as a beautiful, historic location. There is a lot of information about the American Revolution and the Civil War, but this just gives a more well-rounded picture,” said Barbara Pace, a member of St. Stephens who helped lead the effort to get the sign erected.

The Charleston Commission on History on Jan. 4 approved the wording of the sign marking the site of the 1919 riot. Pending a final city permit, the sign will be placed at the intersection of Archdale and Beaufain streets.” To read the entire P&C article CLICK HERE. Non-subscribers will encounter a paywall.

For more on the 1919 riot…..



The 1919 race riot in Charleston was one of many that swept the nation that year in what is called The Red Summer. For more on that phenomenon from the National Archives CLICK HERE

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