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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 December 2018

Adam J. Hodges*
University of Houston–Clear Lake


As the centennial of the First Red Scare arrives, the time has come to revisit our understanding of it. This methodological article makes the case that the field still struggles with the fundamental problem that the incidents we have collected as the “Red Scare” and “Red Summer” and made national, manifested often as disparate local events that responded to immediate conditions. It argues that responding to the local events of the Red Scare/Red Summer to better understand regional history is not an inadequate response that distracts us from a more worthy attempt to synthesize national currents. Through analyzing smaller-scale strikes and incidents of racial violence, looking at the variance in form and response of local governments, and seeing the global interconnections of the Red Scare through the lens of localities, we can gain new ground toward a broader, more multifaceted understanding of this transformative era.

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Copyright © Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2018 

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1 Robert Kerlin Documents, Virginia Military Institute Archives, (accessed Aug. 22, 2018).

2 Kerlin, Robert T., ed., The Voice of the Negro: 1919 (New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1920), vxiGoogle Scholar. Quote on p. x. On the Washington riot, see Krugler, David F., 1919, The Year of Racial Violence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), ch. 3Google Scholar.

3 Kerlin, Robert T., “An Open Letter to the Governor of Arkansas,” The Nation 112 (June 15, 1921): 847–48Google Scholar; On the massacre and its long, complex legal aftermath, see Stockley, Grif, Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2001)Google Scholar; and Cortner, Richard C., A Mob Intent on Death: The NAACP and the Arkansas Riot Cases (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988)Google Scholar. The background and impact of the Kerlin letter is on pp. 109–13.

4 Robert Kerlin Documents.

5 Krugler, The Voice of the Negro: 1919, 3.

6 James Weldon Johnson, who became the first African American leader of the NAACP during the Red Scare, may have coined the term “Red Summer” in the early 1930s. It appears in his book Black Manhattan (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1930), 246, and again in the autobiography Along This Way (New York: Viking Press, 1933), 341.

7 Tuttle, William M. Jr., Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 1416Google Scholar, quote on p. 14.

8 Gerwarth, Robert, The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)Google Scholar is an important recent step forward toward a complex global view of the immediate postwar period as a major, multifaceted era of calamity in its own right.

9 Waskow, Arthur I., From Race Riot to Sit-In, 1919 and the 1960s: A Study in the Connections Between Conflict and Violence (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1966)Google Scholar. Explanation for the selection of major riots on p. 12. NAACP file summarized in Appendix A, pp. 304–7.

10 McWhirter, Cameron, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011), 13Google Scholar.

11 Voogd, Jan, Race Riots & Resistance: The Red Summer of 1919 (New York: Peter Lang, 2008)Google Scholar. List of riots in the Appendix on p. 165. Quote on p. 29.

12 Krugler, The Voice of the Negro: 1919, 3.

13 Florence Peterson, Strikes in the United States, 1880–1936, Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin No. 651, Aug. 1937 (Washington, DC, 1938), Table 1 on p. 21; David Montgomery, “The ‘New Unionism’ and the Transformation of Workers' Consciousness in America, 1909–22,” Journal of Social History 7 (Summer 1974): Table 1 on p. 513.

14 For a national view of this key wartime dynamic, which had important ramifications for the postwar Red Scare, see Eisner, Marc Allen, From Warfare State to Welfare State: World War I, Compensatory State Building, and the Limits of the Modern Order (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2000)Google Scholar. For a case study approach, see Hodges, Adam J., World War I and Urban Order: The Local Class Politics of National Mobilization (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 On the new direction of the Overman Committee, see Murray, Robert K., Red Scare: A Study of National Hysteria, 1919–1920 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964)Google Scholar.

16 On the Seattle general strike, see Friedheim, Robert L., The Seattle General Strike (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964)Google Scholar. For Ole Hanson's exploits in his own words, see his book Americanism versus Bolshevism (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920).

17 On the November raids on the Union of Russian Workers, see Murray, Red Scare, 196–97. On the “Soviet Ark” deportation, see 206–9.

18 On Berkman and Goldman, see Avrich, Paul, Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 There are two competing syntheses toward understanding the dynamics of the trade union movement in the United States in this period. For the “shop floor control” argument, see Montgomery, David, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865–1925 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For the “industrial democracy” argument, see McCartin, Joseph A., Labor's Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912–1921 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

20 Barrett, James R., William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999)Google Scholar, ch. 5 [on strike leadership] and ch. 6 [on joining the CP]; Foster, William Z., The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1920), ch. XIGoogle Scholar.

21 Brody, David, Labor in Crisis: The Steel Strike of 1919 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 179Google Scholar; The historical literature on the strike continued to stress the importance of ethnic and racial divisions. See Nelson, Bruce, Divided We Stand: American Workers and the Struggle for Black Equality (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), ch. 4Google Scholar.

22 Cohen, Lizabeth, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Gerstle, Gary, Working-Class Americanism: The Politics of Labor in a Textile City, 1914–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)Google Scholar; For a concise example of the prior (and still valuable) approach, see Brody, Labor in Crisis, ch. 6; For data on and analysis of the strike wave, see Montgomery, “The ‘New Unionism’ and the Transformation of Workers' Consciousness in America, 1909–22.” On the struggle to find continuity in interwar labor history, see Montgomery, David, “Thinking about American Workers in the 1920s,” International Labor and Working-Class History 32 (Fall 1987): 424CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 Norwood, Stephen H., “Bogalusa Burning: The War Against Biracial Unionism in the Deep South, 1919,” Journal of Southern History 63 (Aug. 1997): 596Google Scholar. On the development of a debate over interpreting interracial union solidarity in the South in this era and leading up to it, see ibid., 593–97. On New Orleans, see Arnesen, Eric, Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863–1923 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)Google Scholar.

24 Harding, Alfred, The Revolt of the Actors (New York: W. Morrow & Co., 1929)Google Scholar.

25 On the internal debate over affiliation of the AEA with the AFL, see Holmes, Sean P., Weavers of Dreams, Unite!: Actors’ Unionism in Early Twentieth-Century America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013), ch. 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Quote on p. 60.

26 “Managers’ Side of Actors’ Strike,” New York Times, Aug. 11, 1919, 2.

27 On AEA increasing membership in the 1920s, see Holmes, Weavers of Dreams, Unite!, 89. On AEA winning the union shop in 1924, see p. 101.

28 On the national political rise of Calvin Coolidge in the context of the Boston police strike and the Red Scare, see Murray, Red Scare, ch. 8.

29 On the AEA strike and the press, see Holmes, Weavers of Dreams, Unite!, 62–63.

30 Ibid., 59.


31 Ibid., 69.


32 Slater, Joseph, “Public Workers: Labor and the Boston Police Strike of 1919,Labor History 38:1 (1996): 10CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

33 Ray, Gerda W., “‘We Can Stay Until Hell Freezes Over’: Strike Control and the State Police in New York, 1919–1923,” Labor History 36:3 (1995): 403–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 Holmes, Weavers of Dreams, Unite!, 69–71.

35 First quote on ibid., 73. On the creation of the Chorus Equity Association, see 67–68; On exploitation of the chorus girls during the strike, see 71–72.

36 Harding, The Revolt of the Actors, 151–5.

37 Harding recounts the events and factors of the conflict in painstaking detail over almost two hundred pages, nearly half the length of The Revolt of the Actors, from 78–274. However, the careful scholarly analysis of Holmes's much more recent and dispassionate Weavers of Dreams, Unite!, ch. 3, is paramount, despite its comparative brevity.

38 The connection between local labor crises during the Red Scare era and the booming national leisure industry deserves further study as well—and beyond New York. For a Chicago example, see Bachin, Robin F., “At the Nexus of Labor and Leisure: Baseball, Nativism, and the 1919 Black Sox Scandal,” Journal of Social History 36 (Summer 2003): 941–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 For a brief narrative of the strike, see Flynt, Wayne, “Florida Labor and Political ‘Radicalism,’ 1919–1920,” Labor History 9:1 (1968): 7882CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 Voogd, Race Riots & Resistance, 73; On Bogalusa, see Norwood, “Bogalusa Burning,” 591–628.

41 All of the citations for the pp. 78–82 strike narrative and 88–90 election coverage in Flynt, “Florida Labor and Political ‘Radicalism,’” are from city newspapers. Quotes on pp. 82 and 87.

42 Ibid., 79–80.


43 Ibid., 86.


44 See Arnesen, Eric, Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), ch. 2Google Scholar.

45 On racial division and solidarity in Florida during the strike wave, see ibid., 85–88. Quote on p. 87; On official attempts to disarm African Americans during the Red Summer era, see Krugler, The Voice of the Negro: 1919, ch. 7.

46 “Reckless Shooting Causes Arrests at Mulberry Mine,” Kissimmee Valley Gazette, Aug. 22, 1919, 1.

47 Voogd, Race Riots & Resistance, 75.

48 The Socialists had local officials elected in eighteen towns in 1917 and in just half as many, total, over the following three years. See Weinstein, James, The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912–1925 (New York: Vintage Books, 1967)Google Scholar, Table 2 on pp. 116–18.

49 On the elite factional dispute and its political marginalization of dockworkers, see Andrews, Gregg, “Black Working-Class Political Activism and Biracial Unionism: Galveston Longshoremen in Jim Crow Texas, 1919–1921,” Journal of Southern History LXXIV (Aug. 2008): 637–39Google Scholar. On the 1903 Democratic Party ban of African American primary voters in Texas, see p. 636.

50 Ibid., 633–35.


51 On the formation of the City Party, see ibid., 639–40. On segregation in Galveston, see p. 635. On the establishment of commission government in 1901, see p. 637.

52 “Galveston City Party Holds Rally at Grand Opera House,” Galveston Daily News, May 13, 1919, 3.

53 Andrews, “Black Working-Class Political Activism and Biracial Unionism,” 640.

54 For an excellent review of the literature on the strike, as well as an understanding of why Andrews's article represents an important breakthrough with its novel focus on local politics, see ibid., 628–32.

55 On the imposition of martial law and its consequences, see Abel, Joseph, “Opening the Closed Shop: The Galveston Longshoremen's Strike of 1920–1921,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 110 (Jan. 2007): 317–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Andrews, “Black Working-Class Political Activism and Biracial Unionism,” 651–52.

57 On the arrival of the Rangers, see Abel, “Opening the Closed Shop,” 340–41. On the end of the strike and the Open Port Law, see pp. 344–46.

58 On the reelection of the City Party in May 1921, see Andrews, “Black Working-Class Political Activism and Biracial Unionism,” 657–61. Quote on p. 665.

59 On urban cross-class progressive unity in this period, see Johnston, Robert D., The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003)Google Scholar.

60 For the larger context of Briggs and his immigrant contemporaries, see James, Winston, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America (New York: Verso, 1998)Google Scholar; “NOR HISTORY, NOR MYSTERY,” The Crusader (Dec. 1920): 9, reprinted in Hill, Robert A., ed., The Crusader: A Facsimile of the Periodical (New York: Garland, 1987), 939Google Scholar.

61 Stevens, Margaret, Red International and Black Caribbean: Communists in New York City, Mexico and the West Indies, 1919–1939 (London: Pluto, 2017), 24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 Makalani, Minkah, In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917–1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 46CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

63 Robert A. Hill, “Racial and Radical: Cyril V. Briggs, THE CRUSADER Magazine, and the African Black Brotherhood, 1918–1922,” introduction to The Crusader: A Facsimile of the Periodical, vi; On the international reach of Garvey and the UNIA, see Ewing, Adam, The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement & Changed Global Black Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014)Google Scholar.

64 On the rupture between the UNIA and the ABB, see “Garvey Shows His Hand,” The Crusader (Oct. 1921): 23–24, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 1257–58.

65 Hill, “Racial and Radical,” xxvii.

66 On the formation of the parties, see Draper, Theodore, The Roots of American Communism (New York: Viking Press, 1957), ch. 11Google Scholar.

67 On this stage of the long conflict, see Hopkinson, Michael, The Irish War of Independence (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002)Google Scholar.

68 “APPROACHING IRISH SUCCESS,” The Crusader (Aug. 1919): 8, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 406.

69 Hill, “Racial and Radical,” xxxi.

70 Ibid., xxxii.


71 “The Arkansas Challenge,” The Crusader (Jan. 1920): 5, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 569.

72 Hill, “Racial and Radical,” xxxii.

73 “THE IRISH BOYCOTT ON BRITISH GOODS,” The Crusader (Mar. 1921): 9–10, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 1041–42.

74 Makalani, In the Cause of Freedom, 56.

75 “Heroic Ireland,” The Crusader (Feb. 1921): 5, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 1005.

76 On the “Irish Patriotic Strike,” see Nelson, Divided We Stand, 26–38. Quote on p. 30.

77 “A CO-ORDINATING GROUP,” The Crusader (Apr. 1921): 16, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 1080; On the complex relations between Irish Americans and other groups in New York in this period, see Barrett, James R., The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City (New York: Penguin, 2012)Google Scholar.

78 Hill, “Racial and Radical,” xxx; In addition to several broader Irish history sources, to make this comparison Hill consulted Broin, Leon O., Revolutionary Underground: The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858–1924 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1976)Google Scholar.

79 Hill, “Racial and Radical,” xxxii.

80 “Negro Heroes!,” The Crusader (Feb. 1921): 1, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 1001.

81 “A.B.B. Accused of Fomenting Tulsa Riot,” The Crusader (July 1921): 12, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 1180; “A.B.B. Activities,” 14, reprinted on p. 1182.

82 “The African Blood Brotherhood,” The Crusader (June 1920): 7, reprinted in Hill, The Crusader, 731.

83 On the radical Caribbean in international context, see Stevens, Red International and Black Caribbean; On Pancho Villa in the Red Scare era, see Katz, Friedrich, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), ch. 18Google Scholar.

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