Race riots erupted across the nation from late spring through the early fall of 1919. In dozens of incidents of racial violence, African Americans were beaten, terrorized, and murdered. The NAACP appealed to President Wilson to investigate the attacks, but federal and local governments did little to address the violence.
Democratic Party nominee Woodrow Wilson won the presidential election, beating out three other candidates: Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, Progressive Party nominee Theodore Roosevelt, and Socialist Party nominee Eugene V. Debs.
In Atlanta, unsubstantiated reports of alleged attacks on white women sparked a days-long race riot. Thousands of white men and boys formed a violent mob in downtown Atlanta and marched through the city beating and murdering African Americans and attacking black homes and business. The riot highlighted the disparity between the reality of race relations in Atlanta and the city's image as the supposedly racially harmonious center of the “New South.”
In Brownsville, Texas, black infantrymen stationed at Fort Brown were accused by local white citizens of murdering a bartender and shooting a police officer. The soldiers consistently denied taking part in the attack, and their white commanders asserted that the soldiers were in their barracks during the shooting. With no credible evidence and based only on white accusation, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the discharge of 167 black infantrymen for refusing to admit to or implicate fellow soldiers in the shooting.
A report of an alleged assault of a white woman by an African American man led to a race riot in the Illinois capital. On the second day of the riot, the Illinois National Guard was called in to put down the mobs, but black homes and businesses had already been destroyed and two black men lynched.
The National Urban League was established through the merger of the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions Among Negroes in New York, the League for the Protection of Colored Women, and the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. An interracial organization, the National Urban League was primarily concerned with helping southern black migrants adjust to life in the urban North.