This Day in History

May 10, 1919: Charleston, S.C. Riot

Time Periods: 20th Century, World War I: 1910 - 1919
Themes: African American, Racism & Racial Identity
News article clipping from Charleston 1919 Riot

“Several Killed in Race Riot at Charleston, S.C.” article in the El Paso Herald, May 12, 1919. Source: Visualizingtheredsummer.com

White sailors ignited violent rioting in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 10, 1919 during what would become known as Red Summer.

Reports from the night pin-point a few events that helped spark the city-wide terror: One group of white sailors ran down a Black man who had not stepped off the sidewalk for them. Another group killed a Black man at a pool hall after a bootlegger reportedly took their cash but did not return with the promised alcohol.

When rumors of these incidents reached the Charleston Navy Yard, hundreds of white sailors flooded into Black Charleston to wreak havoc.

Civil rights activist Septima Clark was a young woman living in Charleston at the time. In an interview she described the scene on May 10th:

We had trolley cars then, and these sailors got on and started beating every Black [person] they could find. They killed one or two of them. That Sunday night, nobody could go out, you had to stay in. (Charleston Chronicle)

Yet many Black people did not stay indoors. In fact, many fought back. Some armed themselves.

For details, visit BlackPast.org or read the 2018 article published by the Charleston Chronicle. Find resources to learn more and teach about Red Summer below.