1917 July 2

East St. Louis Race Riot Erupts


The East St. Louis, Illinois, race riot, which erupted on this day, was arguably one of the worst race riots of the early 20th century. At least 100 African-Americans died (some put the figure at near 200) and over 6,000 were left homeless. By comparison, eight whites died. In a pattern of urban racial violence that persisted into the 1960s, the violence involved mobs of whites attacking the African-American community, while the police either stood by or arrested African-Americans.

The racial violence provoked national outrage among both African-Americans and whites. The NAACP organized a silent protest march down Fifth Avenue in New York City on July 28, 1917. A number of prominent whites, including former president Theodore Roosevelt and former Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes, denounced the racist violence and demanded that President Woodrow Wilson take action to prevent further violence. Preoccupied with World War I, Wilson took no action on racial violence at the time and did not issue a statement condemning mob violence until a year later, on July 26, 1918.

The passions aroused by World War I inflamed racial conflict across the country, and there was a wave of racial violence in several cities in 1919. See, for example, the Chicago race riot on July 27, 1919, the Washington, D.C., riot on July 19, 1919, and the Omaha lynching and riot on September 28, 1919.

Read: Harper Barnes, Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement (2008)

Learn more: Elliott Rudwick, Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917 (1964)

Learn more about the East St. Louis Race Riot: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/east-st-louis-race-riot-july-2-1917

Learn more about African American history: Henry Louis Gates, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (2011)

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