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Michael Brown is killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri

August 6, 2020 in History

By Editors

On August 9, 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shoots and kills Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in the street of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Protests and riots ensue in Ferguson and soon spread across the country.

There are many different accounts of the incident, including the testimonies of Wilson and of Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time. Many details differ, but most accounts agree that Wilson saw Brown and Johnson walking in the street, demanded they get on the sidewalk, then stopped his police SUV in front of them in order to confront them. He and Brown had an altercation through the open window of the car, during which Wilson fired twice. Brown and Johnson tried to leave, Wilson exited his car to pursue them, and at some point Brown turned back around to face Wilson, who then fired 12 shots, six of which hit Brown. Wilson claimed he fired in self-defense as Brown charged him, which Johnson denied. Many have claimed that Wilson warned Brown he would open fire, and that Brown responded with “Don’t shoot!” before he was killed.

The community immediately reacted with rage at the news of 18-year-old Brown’s death. The shooting ignited long-simmering tensions between the majority-Black population of Ferguson and the local police, who were mostly white. Though public opinion was sharply divided, the protests and riots and the response by Ferguson’s heavily militarized police demonstrated the extent to which the relationship between racial minorities in America and the police had frayed.

Brown’s name, the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot” and the very mention of Ferguson quickly entered the lexicon of the growing Black Lives Matter movement.

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How Communists Became a Scapegoat for the Red Summer 'Race Riots' of 1919

August 6, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

A conspiracy theory emerged during the Red Scare, blaming “the Bolsheviki” for protests and violence.

On July 27, 1919, a white man hurled rocks at 17-year-old Eugene Williams, a Black boy who’d drifted into an unofficially “white” section of a Chicago beach. Williams was floating on a raft and the pelting caused him to slip off and drown. When police refused to make an arrest, outrage led to protests and a week of rioting as white Chicagoans responded in violence.

in order to spread anti-American messages, and he demanded the U.S. government prosecute the magazine under the 1918 Sedition Act.

Mark Ellis, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow who has written about the Red Summer, says part of what was going on was that people like Byrnes thought Black Americans “couldn’t be producing such articulate, well-produced, slick journalism as you would see in The Crisis magazine and The Messenger magazine.”

“I think deeply racist officials, who didn’t seem to believe that Black people are capable of doing this sort of thing and coming up with these ideas and these arguments on their own, simply assumed that they were being put up to it.”

There was never any proof that communists or other supposed political radicals were influencing Black publications or convincing Black Americans to riot, but the theory didn’t need proof to thrive. The conspiracy theory was similar to a previous one involving a WWI German spy scare. When the United States entered the war in 1917, many white Americans saw Black activists’ and soldiers’ campaigns for equal rights as evidence of German subversion.

“The idea of ‘pro-Germanism among the Negroes’—which is how military intelligence headed its reports—really spreads [during the war],” Ellis says. “There’s all sorts of briefings given to newspapers like The New York Times about German infiltration and various sorts of plots without any facts to back it up. I think a lot of people simply believed that it was just a straightforward fact that Germans were trying to subvert the loyalty of Black Americans, and were being quite successful.”

Paranoia about Black people resisting white rule goes back even further, to when white southerners feared slave revolts, says Cameron McWhirter, author of Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America.

“I think there was always a concern in American …read more