East St. Louis Riot
The East St. Louis Riot (May and July 1917) was an outbreak of labor- and race-related violence that caused between 40 and 200 deaths and extensive property damage. East St. Louis, Illinois, is an industrial city on the east bank of the Mississippi River across from St. Louis, Missouri. It was the worst incidence of labor-related violence in 20th-century American history, and one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. The local Chamber of Commerce called for the resignation of the police chief. At the end of the month, ten thousand people marched in silent protest in New York City over the riots.
In 1917 the United States had an active economy boosted by World War I. With many would-be workers absent for active service in the war, industries were in need of labor. Seeking better work and living opportunities, as well as an escape from harsh conditions, the Great Migration out of the South toward industrial centers across the northern and midwestern United States was well underway. For example, blacks were arriving in St. Louis during Spring 1917 at the rate of 2,000 per week. When industries became embroiled in labor strikes, traditionally white unions sought to strengthen their bargaining position by hindering or excluding black workers, while industry owners utilizing blacks as replacements or strikebreakers added to the deep existing societal divisions.
Marcus Garvey while in New Orleans on lecture tour became aware that Louisiana farmers and the Board of Trade, worried about losing their labor force, had requested East St. Louis Mayor Mollman's assistance during his New Orleans visit that same week to help discourage black migration.
With many African Americans finding work at the Aluminum Ore Company and the American Steel Company in East St. Louis, some whites feared job and wage security due to this new competition; they further resented newcomers arriving from a rural and very different culture. Tensions between the groups escalated, including rumors of black men and white women fraternizing at a labor meeting on May 28.
Riot and aftermath 
In May, three thousand white men gathered in downtown East St. Louis and attacks on blacks began. With mobs destroying buildings and beating people, the Illinois governor called in National Guard to prevent further rioting. Although rumors circulated about organized retribution attacks from African Americans, conditions eased somewhat for a few weeks.
On July 2, a car occupied by white males drove through a black area of the city and fired several shots into a standing group. An hour later, Detective Sergeant Samuel Coppedge and Detective Frank Wadley were driving through the same area and black residents, assuming they were the original suspects, opened fire on their car, killing both officers. On July 2, thousands of white spectators who assembled to view the detectives' bloodstained automobile marched into the black section of town and started rioting. After cutting the hoses of the fire department, the rioters burned entire sections of the city and shot inhabitants as they escaped the flames. Claiming that "Southern negros deserve[d] a genuine lynching," they lynched several blacks. Guardsmen were called in but accounts exist that they joined in the rioting rather than stopping it. More joined in, including allegedly "ten or fifteen young girls about 18 years old, [who] chased a negro woman at the Relay Depot at about 5 o'clock. The girls were brandishing clubs and calling upon the men to kill the woman."
The police chief estimated that 200 blacks had been killed. The renowned journalist Ida B. Wells reported in The Chicago Defender that 40-150 black people were killed during July in the rioting in East St. Louis. Six thousand blacks were left homeless after their neighborhood was burned. The ferocious brutality of the attacks and the failure of the authorities to protect innocent lives contributed to the radicalization of many blacks in St. Louis and the nation.
On July 6 representatives of the Chamber of Commerce met with the mayor to demand the resignation of the Police Chief and Night Police Chief, or radical reform. They were outraged about the rioting and accused the mayor of having allowed a "reign of lawlessness." In addition to the riot's taking the lives of too many innocent people, mobs had caused extensive property damage. The Southern Railway Company's warehouse was burned, with over 100 car loads of merchandise, at a loss to the company of over $525,000; a white theatre valued at over $100,000 was also destroyed.
In New York City on July 28, ten thousand black people marched down Fifth Avenue in a Silent Parade, protesting the East St. Louis riots. They carried signs that highlighted protests about the riots. The march was organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), W. E. B. Du Bois, and groups in Harlem. Women and children were dressed in white; the men were dressed in black.
- Fitch, Solidarity for Sale, 2006, p. 120.
- Marcus Garvey Speech, 8 Jul 1917, Excerpts from Robert A. Hill, ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers', Volume I, 1826 - August 1919. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983, accessed 1 Feb 2009, PBS, American Experience
- Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia, New York: Verso, 1998, p. 95
- Rudwick, Race Riot at East St. Louis, 1964.
- Leonard, "E. St. Louis Riot", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 13, 2004.
- Buescher, John. "East St. Louis Massacre." Teachinghistory.org. Accessed 11 July 2011.
- Heaps, "Target of Prejudice: The Negro", in Riots, USA 1765-1970, p. 114.
- Gibson, The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950, 1979.
- Patrick, "The Horror of the East St. Louis Massacre", Exodus, February 22, 2000.
- "Race Rioters Fire East St. Louis and Shoot or Hang Many Negroes", New York Times, July 3, 1917.
- Wells, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, rev. ed., 1991.
- Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia, New York: Verso, 1998, p. 96
- Marcus Garvey Speech, 8 Jul 1917, Excerpts from Robert A. Hill, ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume I, 1826 - August 1919. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983, accessed 1 Feb 2009, PBS, American Experience
- Barnes, Harper. Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, New York: Walker & Company, June 24, 2008. ISBN 0-8027-1575-3.
- Fitch, Robert. Solidarity for Sale. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books Group, 2006. ISBN 1-891620-72-X
- Gibson, Robert A. The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950. New Haven: Yale University, 1979.
- Heaps, Willard A. "Target of Prejudice: The Negro", In Riots, USA 1765-1970. New York: The Seabury Press, 1970.
- Leonard, Mary Delach. "E. St. Louis Riot." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 13, 2004.
- McLaughlin, Malcolm. "Reconsidering the East St Louis Race Riot of 1917", International Review of Social History. 47:2 (August 2002).
- "Race Rioters Fire East St. Louis and Shoot or Hang Many Negroes". New York Times. July 3, 1917.
- Patrick, James. "The Horror of the East St. Louis Massacre." Exodus. February 22, 2000.
- Rudwick, Elliott M. Race Riot at East St. Louis. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964.
- Wells, Ida B. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Rev. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. ISBN 0-226-89344-8
- "Primary Sources: The Conspiracy Of The East St. Louis Riots." The American Experience. PBS.com.
- "Useful readings on the Riots compiled by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's Institute For Urban Research