93 years ago, a black youth decided to go swimming in Lake Michigan. The Lake, as most Chicagoans refer to it, had long been recognized as a segregated space. Although I imagine it’s nearly impossible to find a wave steady enough to place a Whites Only placard, folks were generally aware of the boundary. That day, July 27, 1919, the young black man swam into an area observed as reserved for whites. He was stoned and drowned. The police department refused to take action.
The response was a riot that lasted nearly two weeks. By the end of the violence, at least 40 people were killed, most of them black. Many black families were left homeless due to white mobs destroying black businesses and homes on the south side of the city. “Order” was not restored until the militia arrived.
This riot was one of many that occurred during the summer and fall of 1919, an epoch James Weldon Johnson referred to as Red Summer. In many cities across the United States, racial violence had erupted due to the growing number of blacks in northern cities, the tensions in the aftermath of the first world war, and job competition between blacks and white ethnics. The Chicago riot, perhaps the most notable of them all, began with the death of a black youth.
Perhaps it’s the death of Rodney King in conjunction with the slew of news items that populate this and other sites concerning the violent death, beating, or frisking of black youth that remind me of all I read about Red Summer. 100 years later, and the action or inaction of police and others in positions of power often result in young black bodies in peril. It’s hard not to question what, if anything, can be done to at the very least ameliorate the day-to-day danger our most vulnerable citizens face. Clearly. rioting, as the death of Rodney King reminds us, is not the solution. Rather rioting often serves as the most violent reminder of the ways that racism teaches a lesson of implosion and self-harm. There must be another way.
The Black Youth Project has assertively moved forward in finding those other ways.
BYP Action, a series of several on- and offline campaigns to help make the plight of black youth a national priority, launched this month. The first aspect of BYP Action, The Pledge, is a step we all can take. By taking The Pledge we not only articulate our concern about black youth, but symbolically unite our voices with others who will work to confront this crisis.
If you are as concerned as we are, feel free to make the first step towards substantive action by taking The Pledge:
Preamble: We, as Black Youth, are tired of being left out of the American Dream.
Far too many of us continue to be demonized, criminalized and murdered.
Through decades of anger and desperation, fear and complacency we will no longer wait to see what happens to dreams deferred.
At the forefront of every movement in history you will find young people.
This is our struggle. Our time is now.
Pledge: With courage and urgency I PLEDGE TO take action and work with
Black Youth to fight against the inequality and injustice that too often define
our world. By taking this pledge I agree to take action to ensure a promising
future for Black Youth.
Please continue to check the BYP for updates on the campaign, along with tools and ways you can not only make your voice heard but your actions count. It is how we can honor #Trayvon, #Cece, #Darius, and the countless other black youth whose names we do not know. There is no better time than now to get involved.
This summer, and those thereafter, do not have to be red, too.