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Summer 1919 & Summer 2020

A Red Hot Pairing

Written by the Dávila Kafe Team

Below is a read drafted to pair with your favorite Dávila Kafe roast or blend. If you're not sure which one to pair it with, we recommend our limited edition "Summer 8:46." Enjoy the read!

The summer of 1919, which would later be coined the “Red Summer” by James Weldon Johnson to reference the bloodshed in American communities has a lot to teach us about just how precedented the days we’re living in are despite some important distinctions. In 1919, communities across the United States were reeling from the twin pandemics of racial violence against Black Americans and the third wave of the Spanish flu, which infected 500 million people–about a third of the world’s population–in a total of four successive waves resulting in 50 million deaths around the globe, 675,000 of which were American.

During the Red Summer, racial tension and violence ripped through American cities. Between April and November of 1919, there were approximately 30 riots, 97 recorded lynchings, and a three day long massacre in Elaine, Arkansas during which over 200 black men, women, and children were killed after black sharecroppers tried to organize for better working conditions.

Some of the worst multi-day violence occurred in Chicago where a Black teenager drowned after being stoned for swimming in a segregated beach. During the same time, in Washington D.C., White sailors recently home from the WWI carried out a days-long drunken rampage, assaulting, and in some cases lynching Black people on the capital’s streets. The Ku Klux Klan, which was largely shut down by the government after the Civil War, experienced a resurgence in popularity and began carrying out dozens of lynchings across the south.

As we well know, viruses don’t discriminate when it comes to their victims. However, then as now, Black communities were hit harder by the pandemic, though that wasn’t the case in the first wave of influenza. According to a 2019 report published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “The Black population had lower morbidity and mortality than the white population during the autumn of 1918. That changed as the disease continued to spread, with Black communities suffering more from the Spanish Flu in later waves than their white neighbors.

An important distinction to note is that the Spanish flu epidemic, unlike COVID-19, was inextricably linked to war, World War I to be exact. According to historian Kenneth C. Davis, the spread of the flu was “driven by propaganda, censorship and lies... People were misled, often deliberately, by officials...Newspapers were censored. The reason it is the Spanish flu is because of censorship. [During the war] Spain was a neutral country. It didn’t censor its news reports as rigorously as some of the warring countries did, so the first report of a massive epidemic comes out of Madrid in the spring of 1918 and that’s the reason it was reported by Reuters in London that Madrid was under a mass epidemic. That’s the reason it was called the Spanish flu. It certainly didn’t originate there.”

In May 2020, following a series of high-profile incidents of Black Americans being killed at the hands of police or former law enforcement, Americans watched the public execution of a Black citizen by a police officer in the vilest way while he cried for his mother saying “I can't breathe.” The summer of 2020 has been marked by large-scale protests demanding justice across all our 50 states and across the globe in over a dozen countries despite a global pandemic.

Similar to the Red Summer of 1919, the images and memories of injustices from Summer 2020 will not be easily forgotten. Neither will the demand for equal justice.

Written in the memory of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain who have yet to receive "equal justice."AZ



History of 1918 Flu Pandemic. CDC.

Mcdonald, Soraya. In 1918 and 2020, race colors America's response to epidemics.

Perl, Peter. Race Riot of 1919 Gave Glimpse of Future Struggles. Washington Post. 1999.

Fenster, Jordan. Racial unrest, disease, depression: 1919 versus 2020. Connecticut Magazine.


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