I wrote Red Summer in part because I was worried much of this important American history had been forgotten. Almost all of the key sites of bloody 1919 remain unmarked and unknown.
I started the book at Carswell Grove Baptist Church in Jenkins County, Ga., a black rural congregation founded in 1867. On April 13, 1919, black farmer Joe Ruffin was visiting a festival at the church when his prosperous life was ruined in a bloody moment. It was the first major outbreak of white mob violence in a season that historian John Hope Franklin called “the greatest period of interracial strife the nation has ever witnessed.” Riots and lynchings swept from Charleston to San Francisco to Chicago to Washington to small towns across the South.
I visited Carswell Grove several times in the course of my research and was haunted by the forlorn church, built in 1919 on the ashes of first church, which was destroyed by a white mob. Today, no monument or plaque marks the attack, and the church is in such a sorry state that the dwindled congregation has abandoned it, moving to a cinderblock building nearby. The run-down church symbolized for me how much of this history is slipping away.
So I was thrilled when church members contacted me recently and told me they were raising funds to restore the historic property. They’ve asked me to come and talk on Oct. 12 beginning at 10:30 a.m. All Welcome.
News report on the effort here.