By Trevon Logan and William Darity Jr.

September 21, 2020

Americans are learning more and more about their country’s tragic racial history — about the myriad Black lives and livelihoods that have been destroyed and stolen, from the days of slavery to the death of George Floyd. But how, as part of any effort at conciliation, can our nation place a value on what has been taken?

The example of one little-known event — the Elaine, Arkansas massacre of 1919 — offers some insight.

In the first half of the 20th Century, White mob terror against Black Americans occurred across the nation, rural and urban, north and south. In 1910 alone, there were an estimated 16 massacres. The year 1919 was so deadly it was called The Red Summer, with more than 30 separate incidents. The violence persisted for years — in Ocoee, Florida (1920), in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1921), in Rosewood, Florida (1923), among many more.

Spanning from May through October, the Red Summer represented White people’s hostile response to the demands of Black soldiers returning from World War I. Having served their country, often with distinction, Black veterans came home unwilling to accept the Jim Crow status quo. Their resistance to the “rules” of American apartheid sparked violent reprisals, including murders and the destruction or appropriation of property.