While conducting research for another potential project, Jesse J. Holland, Washington-based race and ethnicity reporter, read about the upcoming anniversary of the “Red Summer” of 1919 and noticed a startling fact: Few people seemed to know that more than 200 African Americans died at the hands of white rioters across the country 100 years ago.
The series of riots – a stream of violence that stretched from February to October that year – eluded history books and was largely off everyone’s radar.
Holland presented the information to the larger team, and the project took flight. With members of the AP’s beat team strategically scattered across the U.S., the project was an opportunity to leverage AP resources and capitalize on all formats.
The team looked at some the cities where the damage was so deep it left an imprint for many generations. Elaine, Arkansas, a small town nestled in the Mississippi Delta, never recovered and was in the throes of a dispute about the placement of its memorial. The Central desk dispatched Chicago video journalist Noreen Nasir, who challenged herself by not only producing the video and photo content but also writing a powerful text story from Elaine. She also took on a story about the effect that Chicago’s riot had on that city, which remains segregated and hasn’t shaken the cloud of mistrust that hangs over the police department. And in Madison, Wisconsin, Nasir tracked down 107-year-old Juanita Mitchell who shared her memories of the Chicago violence on camera.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque, New Mexico-based reporter Russell Contreras found a little-known story that served as a precursor to Red Summer: the slaughter of 5,000 Mexican Americans from 1910 to 1920 near the Texas-Mexico border. Contreras worked with AP’s research team to locate a descendant of survivors of the 1918 massacre. He teamed up with El Paso staffer Cedar Attanasio, who shot photos and video to tell Arlinda Valencia’s story. Then editors coordinated with Boston video journalist Rodrique Ngowi, who interviewed Monica Muñoz Martinez, the author of “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas,” and an American studies professor at Brown University.
The series ultimately included four text stories, some hard-to-find historical photos, freshly shot videos and a map to show the bloodshed. All content was displayed on a hub on APNews.com.
The AP was largely alone in this coverage, with several national outlets using the content, including NPR, CNN, PBS and USA Today. The initial tweet was AP’s top for the day, with 3,952 clicks and 2,236 retweets. Engagement by readers and viewers was strong throughout, and the project received a nod from Ellen McGirt in Fortune’s “raceAhead” newsletter.
For taking a little-known event and turning it into a dynamic all-formats project with powerful historic and present-day context that no other news outlet could match, Attanasio, Contreras, Holland, Nasir and Ngowi win this week’s Best of the States award.