Red Summer: Migration and the 1919 Race Riots

The headline of the Chicago Defender in the aftermath of the riots. The Defender was a nationally important Black-run newspaper published in Chicago.

The summer of 1919 in Chicago is known as Red Summer because of violent race riots that broke out in the city. While the immediate spark of the violence is often described as a response to an African American violating unwritten segregation rules dividing a beach on Lake Michigan. While the incident on the beach might have been the tip of the iceberg, underneath the surface are the ways people in Chicago were responding to the demographic changes that came with the Great Migration.

The 2020 PBS film Red Chicago explores this history and its legacies.

 Teaching Ideas

This story reminds us that migration does not happen in a vacuum. Newcomers move into communities with their own histories, cultures, prejudices, and expectation. You might interrogate this idea with these questions from the Re-Imagining Migration learning arc.

What are the conditions in the new land?

  • How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
  • How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?
  • How might newcomers and the receiving community balance their identities, cultural values, and world views as they interact with one another?

What are the public stories of migration?

  • What messages about migration are people hearing through media and thought leaders?
  • How can we assess whether available public stories about migration are reliable and representative?
  • How do stories of migration influence how people think and (re)act?