A Bomb Blast Inspires a “Red Scare”: June 2, 1919
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Dread of the German “Hun” conquering the world gave way, after the World War, to fear of Russian Bolshevism and its stated aim to spark a worldwide proletarian revolution. Some, like A. Mitchell Palmer, whom Wilson appointed attorney general in June 1919, thought Bolshevism threatened the United States with unrest and revolution. In 1920, Palmer described the state of things as he saw them in 1919:
Like a prairie-fire, the blaze of revolution was sweeping over every American institution of law and order a year ago. It was eating its way into the homes of the American workmen, its sharp tongues of revolutionary heat were licking the altars of the churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the sacred corners of American homes, seeking to replace marriage vows with libertine laws, burning up the foundations of society.
This account perhaps did not seem so exaggerated to men whose imaginations had been stirred up by war and war propaganda and who, in the summer of 1919, had experienced a good deal of social conflict. The movement of blacks from the South to the factories and cities of the North during the war had already caused a good deal of social unrest. White workers feared that black competition would affect their wages. A riot between blacks and whites in East St. Louis in 1917 left 47 dead and hundreds wounded. Another race riot in Washington, D.C. in July of 1919 was so violent that thousands of troops had to be called in to quell it. The same month, 36 died in a three-day riot in Chicago. The same year, racial tensions made themselves felt in New York, Omaha, and in the South. (more…)