The war came home. For four years, nations across the seas fought. Killed. Obliterated one another. The USA remained safe. Divorced from the conflict by an ocean. They didn't fight until they had no choice. Men and women left their homes to wage war for other nations. Allies, they said.
But even in war, the burdens of each day are not lessened. Factories need workers. Farms need tending. And so, the titans of the American economy turned to those they despised most. Blacks.
Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans left their homes in the South to fill the machines and fields of industry. Their hands and backs kept the people fed and comfortable. They went to work. They made a living. They were citizens. Yes, they were lower class citizens in the eyes of most, but when daily life is not disturbed, folks didn't seem to mind . . . much.
And as the war waged on for the year and news of the brutal European conflict drifted to America's shores, something else came with it. Ideas.
The Russian Tsar was overthrown. The Bolsheviks rose to power. A power, they claimed, rested with the workers. And as these socialist idea filtered in, the black working men and women gained something that terrified the white man, something they tried to suppress for nearly three hundred years.
The War ended. The men returned. Their jobs had been taken. They wanted them back.
Confidence makes someone who would take what's theirs say, "No."
Charleston saw it first, unaware how many times they would see it again. Some white sailors killed three black men. Then murder turned to riot. And the flame was lit.
It happened again and again. Longview. Norfolk. Chicago. Washington D.C. All saw white folk kill black folk. They weren't sure how many died, but it was well over a hundred. It happened everywhere.
Even in Knoxville.
* * *
A white woman was killed. The sheriff had a suspect. He was a mixed race man - whom some thought may have been the Mayor's son. He had a gun. A witness recognized him. He claimed he was innocent. Doubt they'll ever know the truth.
They locked him up and white folks got angry. Real angry. Few hundred of them stormed the town jail. They wanted to hang the poor bastard. He wasn't there.
They let a dozen or so criminals loose from the jail to help them. They stole guns to show off their strength and stole whiskey just for the hell of it. They made their way through town.
Black families boarded up their shops and homes to stop them. It didn't. They got their own guns and decided to defend themselves and those they loved.
The National Guard came and tried to calm everyone down with two machine guns. Anyone got close and they shredded them - even if they didn't know any better, like that old black woman who was deaf. All night, they fought. All night, they killed. The sun rose red with smoke and blood.
The war came home.
This story was inspired by an article on the Race Riots of August 30-31, 1919 in Knoxville, TN, which was part of the larger "Red Summer of 1919." The article can be found here: Link