The Longview Race Riot occurred during the Red Summer, as May to October of 1919 has been called. It was the second of twenty-five major racial conflicts that occurred throughout the United States during these months. In 1919 Longview, a rural cotton and lumbering community in Northeast Texas, had a population of 5,700; 31 percent were Black. Racial tension was especially high immediately before the riot because two locally prominent Black leaders, Samuel L. Jones and Dr. Calvin P. Davis, had urged Black farmers to avoid local White cotton brokers and sell directly to buyers in Galveston. Then an article in the July 10 issue of the Chicago Defender, a sensationalistic nationwide Black newspaper, described the death of a young Black man, Lemuel Walters, in Longview. The article reported that Walters and an unnamed White woman from Kilgore, Texas, were in love and quoted her as saying they would have married if they had lived in the North. Walters, according to the article, was safely locked in the Gregg County Jail until the sheriff willingly handed him over to a White mob that murdered him on June 17.
Jones, a teacher in the Longview school system and a local correspondent for the Chicago Defender, was held responsible for the article, and on Thursday, July 10, he was accosted and beaten, supposedly by two brothers of the Kilgore woman. News of the article and of the attack on Jones inflamed tempers of both races, and about 1:00 A.M. Friday a group of twelve to fifteen angry White men drove to Jones's house. They were surprised by gunfire as they entered his yard and returned the fire as they fled. Three of the White men suffered superficial birdshot wounds, and a fourth man, who had sought shelter under a house, was found by Blacks and beaten severely. Some of the White men went to the fire station and rang the alarm to attract more recruits; others broke into a hardware store to get guns and ammunition. An undetermined number then returned to Jones's house and found it empty. The mob set fire to this house, to the home of Calvin P. Davis, a Black physician, to other Black residences, and to a Black dance hall in which they suspected the Blacks had stored ammunition.
Early Friday, July 11, County Judge E. M. Bramlette and Sheriff D. S. Meredith telephoned Governor William P. Hobby, who ordered eight Texas Rangers to Longview and placed three Texas National Guard units in East Texas on alert. The rangers, however, could not arrive until Saturday morning, and Bramlette wanted troops in Longview before sundown Friday. Therefore, he called Hobby a second time, and the governor ordered 100 guardsmen to Longview immediately. The guard headquarters was located on the courthouse square. On Saturday evening Marion Bush, Dr. Davis's father-in-law, was killed after he fled from Sheriff Meredith, who was either offering him protective custody or attempting to arrest him. Bush's death led Mayor G. A. Bodenheim to request more aid from Hobby. Hobby responded by dispatching an additional 150 guardsmen to Longview and by placing the city and county under martial law, beginning at noon on Sunday, July 13. Hobby put Brig. Gen. R. H. McDill in command of the guardsmen and rangers. McDill ordered a curfew in Longview, prohibited groups of three or more people from gathering on streets, and ordered all Longview citizens, including county, precinct, and city peace officers, to turn in all firearms at the county courthouse. At his request local officials named a citizens' committee to work with the military officers. The committee passed resolutions expressing disapproval of the shooting and burning and pledged their support to the military authorities. The rangers arrested seventeen White men on charges of attempted murder; each was released on $1,000 bond. Twenty-one Black men were arrested, charged, and sent to Austin temporarily for their own safety. Nine White men were also charged with arson. None of the Whites or Blacks was ever tried. Tension had subsided by Thursday to such a degree that Hobby ordered an end to martial law at noon Friday, July 18, and the citizens were allowed to pick up their firearms at noon Saturday.