Red Summer: An Interview with Wendel White

In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution, Heather joins professor and artist Wendel White in his office. They talk about his recent photography projects “Manifest” and “Red Summer”. Professor White was one of Heather’s art teachers way back when she was in college and fire was being discovered.


“Manifest” grew out of a different project Wendel was working on concerning the origins of the NAACP.  He connected with the faculty of the University of Rochester and learned they possess a lock of Fredrick Douglas’s hair and the very first book he purchased as a free man. Out of these simple artifacts, “Manifest” was born.  One collection of artifacts led to another. Professor White was particularly captivated by the abolitionist collections. The story of black life and slavery in American began to take shape for him through these objects and tell a single compelling story. He has completed 120 finished pieces so far. The photos compel the viewer with their almost otherworldly qualities. Objects appear and disappear into a creamy black background, as an allegory of them fleeting through history.

Red Summer

Red Summer was a name given to the summer of 1919. Across the country a series of racial struggles erupted. The “Red” of the name is in reference to both the amount of blood spilled as well as the ever-present irrational fear of communist influence. Wedel made the decision to explore a time period encompassing a few years before and after 1919. After decades of intense post-Civil War lynching activity, the black communities started to fight back. Newspapers fanned the flames of white hysteria, calling it the beginning of a race war and the unleashing of black rage. Job and income insecurity contributed to these tensions and created a perfect storm of violence against innocent people of color.

White Nationalism

White nationalism played another key factor in the violence. Black soldiers were returning from World War 1 and seeing them in uniform trigged white nationalists. There are stories of black soldiers in uniforms being pulled off buses and beaten for having the audacity to wear the same military uniform as white men. It is important to note this was a time period when many of the civil war monuments were being constructed.

Labor and Solidarity

Black Workers were not allowed in most unions in this time period. The capitalist class used them as strike breakers, since they couldn’t benefit from the worker solidarity of unions anyway. The IWW were referred to as outside agitators of black populations who tried to form their own kind of solidarity. In remarkable similarity to events happening now, Russia was also blamed for trying to “Incite” black anger.  The Russia scapegoat is called upon again and again to explain completely justified anger. These black workers were angry about being lynched and having their labor undervalued, they didn’t need Russian Agitators to tell them to be angry.

We Wear Our Inheritance

In his “Red Summer” project Professor White again plays with time by juxtaposing contemporary landscapes with historic articles about the massacres that played out there. This visually shows a connection to how we have progressed in some ways and how very little we have progressed in others.  Our past still haunts our future, especially concerning racial issues. This was the time when the division between working class whites and people of color was entrenched. Poor whites fought on the side of capitalist class whites for an ideal they would never be allowed to be a part. That division lasts to this day and still benefits the bourgeoisie.

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Check out Wendel White’s beautiful and deeply meaningful work here ( )

Here about other human rights violations in WW1 here ( )

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