James Weldon Johnson named the summer of 1919 the "Red Summer" for the
rash of deadly riots which erupted in more than twenty-five American cities
between April and October of that year. Racial tensions were at an extreme
in Omaha that summer; the influx of African Americans from the South and
a perceived epidemic of crime created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear
that led to the lynching of William Brown.
Brown had been accused of molesting a white girl. When police arrested
him on September 28, a mob quickly formed which ignored orders from authorities
that they disperse. When Mayor Edward P. Smith appeared to plead for calm,
he was kidnapped by the mob, hung to a trolley pole, and nearly killed
before police were able to cut him down.
The rampaging mob set the courthouse prison on fire and seized Brown.
He was hung from a lamppost, mutilated, and his body riddled with bullets,
then burned. Four other people were killed and fifty wounded before troops
were able to restore order.
This photograph was acquired from a Lincoln, Nebraska, man whose grandfather
purchased it for two dollars as a souvenir while visiting Omaha in 1919.