Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville's Red Summer: The Riot of 1919

On August 30, 1919, 27 year old Bertie Lindsey was assaulted and murdered in her home by what was reported to be a Black intruder. The lead investigator on the case, Police Officer Andy White, had a particular grudge to settle and arrested a handsome, young man about town, Maurice Mays.

The next 48 hours would challenge the city of Knoxville’s highly touted progressive race relations and New South marketing. The Sheriff, having relocated the accused to Chattanooga, Tennessee, would see the destruction of the jail house, mass consumption of confiscated moonshine and the would-be lynch mob’s looting of weapons from downtown shops.

Soon the rioters turned their rage to the Black business district and where they were met with armed and prepared Black military veterans. Eventually and through loss of life and property, the National Guard managed to restore order to the city, but no such relief was found by Maurice Mays. He was eventually executed by the State for a crime he did not commit.

 

KNOXVILLE'S RED SUMMER: THE RIOT OF 1919 includes rare archival footage of the city, post riot, unseen by the public since. Through a partnership with the Tennessee Archives of Moving Images and Sound, Black in Appalachia was not only able to secure this footage, but preserve this film, locally, for generations to come.

A comprehensive retelling of the events of August 1919 was written by Matthew Lakin for the East Tennessee Historical Society and can be found here.

Suggested Books

  • The Heat of a Red Summer: Race Mixing, Race Rioting in 1919 Knoxville by Robert J. Booker - ISBN: 1-58244-150-2

  • Anatomy of Four Race Riots: Racial Conflict in Knoxville, Elanie (Arkansas), Tulsa, and Chicago, 1919-1921 by Lee E. Williams and Lee E. Williams II - ISBN: 978-1-60473-190-3

  • 1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back by David F. Krugler - ISBN: 978-1-107-63961-4

  • From Race Riot to Sit-in: 1919 and the 1960's by Arthur I. Waskow

Other Associated Materials

  • Racial Violence, Lynchings, and Modernization in the Mountain South by W. Fitzhugh Brundage - Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South From Slavery to Segregation, pages 302-316 - ISBN: 0-8131-2173-6

  • Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Elliot Jaspin - ISBN: 978-0-465-03636-3

Knoxville's 8th of August

In partnership with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, East Tennessee PBS conducted a dialog with the city’s Black elders in recollection of the city's 8th of August Emancipation Day celebrations.
 
During Tennessee’s Jim Crow era, Black people of the city were only allowed entry into Chilhowee Park one day a year. That day was the  8th of August. Through this conversation, facilitated by Reverend Renee Kessler of the Beck Center, community members recalled the excitement of those days and the meaning of a freedom celebration in the midst of segregation and second-class citizenship. Participants also expressed their hopes for present generations to remember and help carry the legacy of struggle for equal treatment into the future.