|A mob beats a Negro man in front of a street car, while the militia charged with restoring order stands by and does nothing.|
The mobs also stopped trolleys and streetcars, pulling black passengers out and beating them on the streets and sidewalks. Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden eventually called in the National Guard to quell the violence, and the mobs slowly dispersed. The May 28th disturbances were only a prelude to the violence that erupted on July 2, 1917.
|Negros Fleeing their homes as local whites look on. East St. Louis, July 2, 1917.|
On July 2, 1917, the violence resumed. Men, women, and children were beaten and shot to death. Around six o’ clock that evening, white mobs began to set fire to the homes of black residents. Residents had to choose between burning alive in their homes, or run out of the burning houses, only to be met by gunfire. In other parts of the city, white mobs began to lynch African Americans against the backdrop of burning buildings. As darkness came and the National Guard returned, the violence began to wane, but did not come to a complete stop.
|Six blocks of Walnut Street reduced to rubble from fires started during racial motivated riots in East St. Louis, Illinois.|
The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) also responded to the violence. On July 8th, 1917, the UNIA’s President, Marcus Garvey said “This is a crime against the laws of humanity; it is a crime against the laws of the nation, it is a crime against Nature, and a crime against the God of all mankind.” He also believed that the entire riot was part of a larger conspiracy against African Americans who migrated North in search of a better life: “The whole thing, my friends, is a bloody farce, and that the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is a conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes.”
A year after the riot, a Special Committee formed by the United States House of Representatives launched an investigation into police actions during the East St. Louis Riot. Investigators found that the National Guard and also the East St. Louis police force had not acted adequately during the riots, revealing that the police often fled from the scenes of murder and arson. Some even fled from stationhouses and refused to answer calls for help. The investigation resulted in the indictment of several members of the East St. Louis police force.
KETC | East St. Louis Race Riots