Chapter I — History of The East St. Louis, Illinois, Riot
From: Wells-Barnett, Mrs. Ida B. The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century . Chicago: The Negro Fellowship Herald Press, 1917.
Northern Illinois University Libraries Digitization Projects
On Tuesday morning, July 3rd, 1917, the daily papers had big headlines announcing a riot which had been in progress in East St. Louis, Ill., for twenty-four hours previous. It stated that upwards of a hundred Negroes had been killed and that thousands had been driven from their homes; that more than sixty homes in Black Valley, the Negro district, had been burned and that nearly a half million dollars worth of property had been destroyed by fire.
The Negro Fellowship League immediately got out bills announcing a meeting to be held at the Reading Room, 3005 State Street, for that evening. Although the notice was short and the bills had been on the streets only two hours, the place was packed by 8:30 o'clock. At that meeting the following resolution was passed:
"RESOLVED, That we, the colored citizens of Chicago, in the shadow of the awful calamity at East St. Louis, hereby express our solemn conviction that the wholesale slaughter of colored men, women and children was the result of the reckless indifference of public officials, who, with the power of the police, sheriff and governor, could have prevented this massacre if they had discharged the duty which the law imposed upon them, and we call upon press, pulpit and moral forces to demand the punishment of the officials who failed to their duty.
RESOLVED, That we insist upon the right of every American citizen to work in every field of honest labor, demanding the fullest protection of the law. We protest against the published recommendation of the state defense council as the peaceful exhibition of the same vindictive spirit which was expressed by the bloodthirsty riot at East St. Louis.
RESOLVED, That the situation which has just written the darkest pages in the annals of Illinois, calls for the most intelligent, courageous and conservative co-operation of all citizens, white or black, and we recommend a conference of white and colored citizens which should consider every phase of our present wrongs and strive to find a remedy."
Signed, A. H. ROBERTS, Chairman. B. W. FITTS L. W. WASHINGTON ATTY. F. L. BARNETT, Secretary.
These men all spoke to the resolution and the daily papers gave good reports of their expressions the following morning. L. W. Washington voiced the opinion that not only ought these resolutions be sent to Governor Lowden, but that the president of the Negro Fellowship League should be the one to carry them. The idea was unanimously adopted, but as chairman of the meeting, I expressed the hope that whoever was sent, should go to East St. Louis and get the facts and then take the same to the governor, with the resolutions.
The audience agreed and quickly raised $8.65 toward paying the expenses of the trip. Wednesday evening, July 4th, the writer took the train to East St. Louis, reaching there next morning. Against the advice of both the Pullman and the train conductors, I got off at East St. Louis. They told me that the porters had been locked in the cars while the train passed through the town. But I felt that if Governor Lowden had been on the scene, also Adjutant General Dickson, together with eleven companies of militia, they certainly ought to have been able to get control of the situation in forty-eight hours time.
I found that I was correct in my surmise. No one molested me in my walk from the station to the City Hall, although I did not see a single colored person until I reached the City Hall building. I accosted the lone individual in soldier's uniform at the depot, a mere boy with a gun, and asked him if the governor was in town. When he said no, he had gone to Washington the night before, I asked how the situation was and he said, "bad." I asked what was the trouble and he said, "The Negroes won't let
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the whites alone. They killed seven yesterday and three already this morning." It was only 7 o'clock in the morning and I decided he was lying, so said nothing more on that score. I then asked him to show me where Adjutant General Dickson was, and he directed me to the City Hall.
An interview with General Dickson followed and he told me that it was perfectly safe to go about and get the information that I had come in search of, and that he would be glad to send a guard with me whenever I got ready for it. He also promised to see that I had the opportunity to be present at the ten o'clock meeting of the Chamber of Commerce and to have an interview with Mayor Mollman.
While waiting at the City Hall for General Dickson, a number of colored women came in bareheaded and their clothing dirty. Hearing it was safe to do so, they had come back from St. Louis that morning where they had gone the day of the riot to get military escort to go to their homes and get some clothing. A Red Cross man ordered one of Swift's biggest motor trucks, put a soldier with a loaded gun in front and one on the back of the truck, with thirty rounds of ammunition each, and told the women to get in and go to their homes and get what stuff they could.
I went with them and in that way went inside a dozen of their three and four room houses and saw the mob's work of destruction. In every case, the houses had been fired from the rear and as soon as the occupants came out, they were then shot at or beaten. In most of the homes in which I went, the inmates had gone before the mob got there. When these cottages were found to be empty, the mob went into them, threw the mattresses, quilts, blankets and wearing apparel that was not new, on the floor and then cut, tore and trampled these things under foot and set fire to them. Pictures, bric-a-brac, everything that they could destroy, they did.
Most of these houses had brass or iron bedsteads, and the mattresses were good, worth $4.00 or $5.00 a piece. In two of those homes, I saw a piano. In one of them the woman found a few of her records, but her victrola and most of the records had been taken away. The windows were broken and doors had been split open, evidently with an ax. One woman found her pictures and some of her wearing apparel in a white neighbor's house, and when she accused the woman of taking them, this woman said that all the others were taking things and she did so too.
We crossed the bridge into St. Louis four different times that day, taking women with trunks of their wearing apparel which they were able to find. These women told me the following stories as we rode around the town:
Mrs. Ballard's Story.
Mrs. Emma Ballard, with her husband George Ballard had lived in East St. Louis seven years. They had been married twenty-four years and came there from Jackson, Tenn. He worked in the Kansas City R. R. warehouse as freighter and trucker, loading and unloading cars and boats. He got $2.25 a day. They had a six room house, nicely furnished. In this home was a piano. They had four children. She and the children heard the first of the mob between 12 and 1 o'clock Monday night. Men and boys were in the street hollering, "Come out, niggers" as they roamed up and down in the Negro district. They shot and beat every Negro found on the streets Monday night. She saw fourteen men beaten and two killed. (In the excitement she and her children took their feather beds and pillows and some of their best wearing clothes across the alley to the barn of a white saloon keeper.) She took her children and got away with what they had on, after trying to hide some of their best things. She did not come back to East St. Louis until the morning of the 5th when I went with her to her home in the auto truck. The windows were broken, bedding and clothing thrown on the floor, all wet and much of it scorched. After getting together a few wearing clothes, she went out and closed the door, leaving furniture and mattresses which must have cost five hundred dollars. After a day of uncertainty she found her husband who had already found a home in St. Louis and they were going to stay there.
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Mrs. Lulu Thomas' Story.
Mrs. Thomas has a husband and mother. She too had a very nice home. She is a nice looking stylish woman and had some very good clothing which she left in three rooms of handsome furniture. Her husband was a boiler washer on the Illinois Central railroad. He makes $80.00 a month. They have been living in East St. Louis six years. The Illinois Central yard officials kept her husband in the fire box of one of the engines from Monday night to Wednesday morning, afraid to let him go out on the street even to go to his home. It was this woman who saw some of her good clothes on one of her white women neighbors. Mrs. Thomas' house had been set on fire, the mob had broken in the door, broken out the windows, dragged some of the mattresses out and set fire to them, and left others in the room, cut, torn and burned. Her pictures and bed clothes, wearing clothes, furniture, all broken and torn and thrown about. She too could only get a few wearing clothes together to enable her to have a change.
Mrs. Willie Flake's Story.
Mrs. Flake is a widow with three children, 11, 8 and 6 years old. She is a laundress who came to East St. Louis four year ago from Jackson, Tenn. She took care of her little family by taking in washing, and she worked from Monday morning until Saturday night at the ironing board. She too had three rooms full of nice furniture. Both of the two front rooms having nice rugs on the floor, a brass bedstead and other furniture to correspond. She had about a hundred dollars worth of furniture ruined, fifty dollars worth of clothing and about fifty dollars more of bedding, mattresses, etc. The mob had taken a phonograph for which she had paid $15.00 and twenty-five records for which she had paid 75 cents and $1.00 each. She got away with her children before the mob reached her house and she too came back that morning to get some clothes for herself and children. The mob hadn't left much, but out of the debris, she was able to pack one trunk with some clothing and quilts for herself and children. It was in this house that I picked up one child's new shoe and although we looked the house over, we couldn't find the other. In its spasm of wanton destruction, the mob had doubtless carried it away. Mrs. Flake also had life insurance policies for herself and children, but she couldn't find any of the books. She too had already found a flat in St. Louis and was only too anxious to get away from the town where such awful things were transpiring, and where not even widows and children were safe from the fury of the mob bent on killing everything with black skins.
Mrs. Dolly Bruton, another widow, came to East St. Louis from Mississippi, December 8th, 1915. She had left two trunks full of clothes at 513 Collinsville Ave., because she had been told that the worst of the riot was over and it was alright for her to stay in East St. Louis. But on this very morning of July 5th, a soldier had come into this house and began to search for weapons. He found nobody there but Mrs. Mary Howard and three other women, one of whom was ill. When he could find no gun, he arrested everyone of those women and brought them to the City Hall. They were bare headed and in the soiled clothing they had worn about their work at home. Mrs. Howard said, that she had lived in East St. Louis eighteen years. Her husband, Douglass Howard, was a grader, making $19.35 a week. They owned four houses and lots in East St. Louis. She had seen a good part of the rioting Tuesday, but had not been disturbed herself. She thought it was because her house was right between the homes and stores of some of the white people. Just as she had thought the whole thing was over, it both frightened and humiliated her to be subjected to this outrage at the hands of the soldiers at the time that General Dickson was in charge of the situation and everybody had been assured that the danger was over.
That was the last straw with her. She too wanted protection to go out to her home and get her things so she could leave town. She said that during the riot a young fellow whom she had sent to the grocery to get a chicken, was knocked off his wheel by the mob. Then the mob took his
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wheel and struck him on the side of his head with a brick and knocked a hole in it. His name was Jimmie Eckford, eighteen years old and roomed at her house. He ran into the nearest yard which happened to be that of white people. When the mob said they would burn this house down if they didn't make Eckford come out, the tenants picked him up and threw him out in the street to the mob where he was kicked and stamped on and beaten till they knocked his teeth from his head and killed him.
The street cars ran right along in front of her house, and she saw white women stop the street cars and pull colored women off and beat them. One woman's clothes they tore off entirely, and then took off their shoes and beat her over the face and head with their shoe heels. Another woman who got away, ran down the street with every stitch of clothes torn off her back, leaving her with only her shoes and stockings on. Mrs. Howard saw two men beaten to death. She had escaped all excepting having rocks thrown at the house, until this soldier humiliated her by coming into her house and arresting her and the other women there, because they couldn't find any guns concealed. This happened on the morning of the 5th.
Mrs. Lizzie Holmes was another women who was run out of her home by the mob and her household goods destroyed. She had six children, the youngest a sixteen months old baby. She too gathered up what she could save from the wreck and took it over to St. Louis where she had already placed her children. She said her husband C. A. Holmes is living at 1951 West Lake street, Chicago, and that she had not heard from him during all this trouble. I promised to write him for her and give him her St. Louis address and tell him how badly she needed help for the care of those children. I have done so over two weeks ago and have had no word from him in response. As the letter did not come back, I am hoping that he has written to her or still better, has gone to look after his family.
Mrs. Ella Moss and husband John came from Pensacola, Florida, in March. He had been employed at once by the M. & O. Railroad Company, washing engines at $60.00 a month. Every bit of Mrs. Moss' furniture was brand new, and I was very glad to be able to help her save a brand new ice box, which she had stuffed full of clothes, two brand new mattresses, beside a trunk full of wearing apparel. This was on our last trip on the truck. As we had already carried two loads before, there was more room for Mrs. Moss' things than there would have been if there had been other women to look after. She too went over into St. Louis, Mo., and found a home there, because she felt more secure from mob violence there than she did in the state of Abraham Lincoln.
Clarrissa Lockett's Story.
Mrs. Lockett lived in the house with her brother where she had been ever since both he and she came from Mississippi. Her brother worked nights, so that all during the rioting Monday night she was alone. They didn't get to set fire to her house that night, but she sat up all night long waiting. She was unwilling to leave her household goods until she had to. She went to work at the packing house Tuesday morning early, but quit at 9 A. M. The soldiers who were guarding the plant took her and the other colored women home. Tuesday night the mob came to her number, 48 Third street, rear. After they had set fire to it and run her out, she ran into a Polish saloon not far away and the saloonkeeper and his wife agreed to let her stay there that night, although they knew the risk they ran in so doing. They told her to crouch down behind the piano and to stay there quietly all night. This she did, glad of the chance. She had been able only to bring her dog and her gun when she ran out of her home. After the saloonkeeper and his wife had gone upstairs to bed about 1 o'clock in the morning, the barkeeper and a man friend of his came back behind the piano and attempted to assault her. She drew her pistol and drove them off. When they found she had a gun, they left her in peace until morning. Early Wednesday morning, the day of our national independence, she found a man who hauled her trunk containing her own and her brother's clothes over into St. Louis, Missouri. She left two rooms filled with new furniture. She saw soldiers take guns and knives from colored men, and then the mob would set on them and beat or murder them.
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When I saw her at St. Louis, Missouri, she had not yet recovered from the shock. Her brother had come straight out of the packing plant for which he was working and went straight to the train in his working clothes and went to Meridan, Mississippi, his former home. She was very anxious until she got a card letting her know where he was.
Mrs. Josie Nixon whose husband Samuel and daughter Pearl had lived in their home in East St. Louis thirteen years. The family is well known and respected. Her husband is a carpenter and contractor. Her daughter has finished her third year in high school and she had been working at Swift's for nine months. The mob did not harm her or her husband at her home, but the excitement was so great, she was still suffering from the nervous strain. She said, that although they knew about the excitement and the burning of homes the night before, that on Tuesday morning at 5:30 o'clock, she and a man and his wife started to work that early, thinking that they would avoid the mob. They met a young fellow about nineteen or twenty years old, walking down the street with a soldier who had a gun. "This young fellow held up the man who was with us and searched him, and asked him where he was going, told him not to come back this way and that he had better be out of town by night, if not, he, the white man, would get him if he had to set his house afire." All this while the soldier in Uncle Sam's uniform was standing by with his gun, and he said too, "Yes, you'd better get out of town."
She went back home and she and her daughter sat there nearly all day, fearing attack at any moment. She had not seen or heard of her husband since the day before. Fearing that some harm had come to him and having not a nickel in the house, she borrowed carfare from the druggist across from her home and leaving her comfortable home, went over into St. Louis. Late that evening, her husband came home and finding them gone, he hunted all over town, but nobody could tell him about her. He stayed in his house Tuesday night and saw two sons of a white neighbor of his set fire to his house. He ran and put out the fire himself, thus saving his home.
Mrs. Nixon saw a woman whose tongue was shot off when she was shot through the mouth, being taken to the hospital. She begged the police to go back for her son who was in the house. They found him lying behind a trunk shot dead. She said that woman was still in the hospital.
The mob went into one house near her, beat the man who was at home until he fainted. He begged them to spare him on account of his wife and new born baby who were in a rear room. When he revived he found both wife and baby dead in the bed where the mob had killed them.
They only left him because they thought he was dead. She knew of another case, where as the mother came rushing out of the flames of her home, with her baby in her arms, the baby was shot through the head and thrown back into the fire. Many children were killed in this way.
Mrs. Nixon had three gardens planted besides having this nice home and she felt that the mob would not harm her because she was so well and she felt that the mob would not harm her because she was so well known. After they told her that the excitement was all over, she went back to East St. Louis on Thursday morning and went again to her job. While she was at work that morning, a white man standing talking to a bunch of other men said, loud enough for her to hear, "If I have to leave here and give my place to a nigger, I'll certainly kill me a lot of niggers before I go, to pay for it." All the white men in the crowd turned and glared at her in so menacing a fashion that she lost her nerve completely, threw up her job, went back to St. Louis, Missouri, and had rented her a house for the purpose of living over there.
Many of the women complained that the soldiers would not let them go into their homes except to get a few clothes. These and many other such stories all testify to the same thing, that the soldiers did not offer any protection to colored people, but did search them and take their fire arms from them and then stand aside and left them helpless before the mob.
When we made the last trip it was 5 o'clock in the afternoon. I had been so engrossed in the work of helping these poor women, that I had had neither a drink of water nor a bite of food all day. The Red Cross
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man who was in charge seemed very glad to have my help. When I came back to the City Hall, the two colored men janitors whom I found there, told me that there was no place in East St. Louis where I could sleep that night, as all the colored people who lived there had gone in the country or over to St. Louis. With my bag in hand, after the men brought me a couple of sandwiches I went over the river, as so many thousands had done that day, to find a bed in St. Louis.
When I got over on the Missouri side, a policeman at the bridge told me to step into the room that the Red Cross people had established. I found that it was for the purpose of having me vaccinated. This was because of two cases of smallpox that had developed in the municipal lodging house that had been housing thousands of the unfortunates ever since Monday night. I was loaded into the patrol wagon with all the others who had been waiting in this room for the wagon to come, and ridden through the streets of St. Louis to the municipal lodging house about three or four miles away. While sitting there, I saw hundreds of men, women and children marched into the municipal lodging house and the physicians and the nurses working overtime vaccinating them. In spite of my objection to being vaccinated in this wholesale way, they said I couldn't leave the building until this had been done, but later on I did leave without having my arm scratched.
Every which way we turned there were women and children and men, dazed over the thing that had come to them and unable to tell what is was all about. Most of them had left clothes and homes behind, thankful to have saved their lives and those of their families. Some of them had not located relatives and did not know whether the mob or fire had taken them. They lined the streets or were standing out on the grassy banks of the lawns that surround the City Hall, or stood in groups discussing their experiences. Red Cross and charitable workers gave them food to eat, and the city the place to sleep in the city lodging house, and some of them had clothing which they were issuing to these people who had suddenly been robbed of everything except what they stood in.
The invariable story was, that the rioting started on the morning of July 2nd, when the workers were coming off the 11 o'clock shift at the factories and packing plants. The cause was alleged to be the killing of two white police officers who had been shot by colored men when they went into the Negro district on the Denver side to quell a supposed riot. These colored men said that an automobile had gone through the neighborhood firing right and left into the windows of the houses and of the church. A bell was rung and the men rapidly came together at the church to plan for resisting other attacks of similar character. When a second automobile came on the scene very soon after, they thought it were the same parties, and fired into it after a parley, wounding two officers who afterwards died.
This seems to have been the signal for starting the blaze which had been smoldering ever since May 28th. At that time, members of the labor unions began to beat up colored men coming from the Aluminum Ore Packing Co. plant. At that time, one or two companies of militia were sent at the request of the sheriff, and the rioting seemed to have stopped. The colored people understood that the labor unions that had gone on strike because of the employment of colored men, had made up their minds to drive out colored laborers who had come there in such large numbers from the south. Accordingly these Negro laborers made up their minds to sell their lives as dearly as possible, and to hold their ground in the effort to make a living for themselves and their families.
When the officers were killed in the unfortunate mixup of July 1st, it gave excuse for the breaking out of the mob composed largely of union workers and the Negro haters who gathered from small towns surrounding, and even from the South. Horrible stories were given both by eye witnesses as well as by others, the saddest part of them all being, that in every instance, as the mob set upon men coming from their work at 11 o'clock in the day, the soldiers or the police held up the black men, searched them and even took their pocket knives, then left them at the mercy of the mob. In all that disgraceful twenty-four hours of rioting, murder and arson, not a shot was
Indeed, according to General Dickson, the state militia were given orders not to shoot white men and women, and they stood by and saw the most brutal savagery perpetrated without lifting a finger for protection or punishment for those who did murder, committed arson or burned up little children and old people. "Five hundred rioters, the ring leaders of the biggest mob, I am informed, are now under arrest," said General Dickson. "This was accomplished by surrounding the rioters and forcing them to submit without shooting or employing the bayonet." General Dickson said, after the 500 were taken into custody, the disturbance at once took on a less serious aspect. "Eleven companies of Illinois troops are here with three more on the way. The troops already here are: Company I of Vandalia, G of Effingham, D of Newton, F of Benton, H of Shelbyville, L of Carbondale, all of the Fourth Illinois Infantry, and Company A of Casey, C of Sullivan, L of Olney, also of the Fourth. There were two companies encamped in the city previous to the riot. Company F of Pontiac, numbering fifty-five men, and Company L of Kankakee, 110 strong, both of the Third Infantry, and Company L of Paris, Fourth Infantry, fifty strong, are on the way here."
Col. Tripp could easily give orders to fire on Negro rescuers. "A report came to Col. Tripp that Negro inhabitants at Brooklyn, Ill., a city entirely populated by Negroes, were moving on East St. Louis, and he sent a commandeered truck full of guardsmen to the "black" bridge to meet any attack that might be attempted."
What White Newspapers Said About the Riot.
From the Chicago Herald, July 4th, 1917.
"Nobody seems able or willing to say when an inquest will be held, or over what or whom — any of the three that could be used as evidence for murder could have been picked up this evening across the street from the public library, where three bodies were still being roasted in hot ashes of a completely devastated square block. * * * * Meanwhile three more victims of savage assaults died in the hospitals, and twenty-eight bodies in all had been recovered.
The guards were lax and cruelly good-natured. In one instance a corpulent Negress brought up in the rear of such a procession and for several blocks a boy, one of the gang of stone-throwing mischief-makers, who followed every squad, was beating her with an iron bar at intervals of a few yards. She did not dare to protest or to resist. She was even too frightened to scream. At last a white man, probably a nonresident of East St. Louis, called the attention of a guardsman to the outrage, and he laughingly drove the boy off.
The results so far have been almost unqualifiedly uncomplimentary to our Illinois state guard, or at least the portion of it that represented it in the first contingent sent here.
Hundreds of episodes are jocundly retailed here by spectators to the slaughter and rioting of Monday evening to evidence that the soldiers were toys in the hands of the determined and desperate mobs when they were not actually co-operating with them.
The square block from Broadway and Eighth streets was burned to an ash heap. On that corner stood a Negro commercial building, containing a grocery and barber shop. The vanguard of the rioters invaded these stores and found a Negro crouching timorously in each. The armed invaders drove the two blacks out through the back doors and there they were shot down and left to be buried alive. The shots were fired from militia rifles by khaki-uniformed men. Dozens of men who saw it done today loudly proclaimed it so, slapped their thighs and said the Illinois National Guard was alright.
When the newly fired buildings were fired this morning the militia men helped get property out of the homes of whites near by, but had done nothing to prevent the torching, for which they had been assigned. When the tardy fire department vehicles came and two streams of water of the force of garden hose were turned, spurting wheezing, toward the
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rising flames, the mob yelled: "Let 'em burn!" And at each fireman who tried to do his duty. "Nigger lover!"
Another newspaper says: "Saint Bartholomew's day did not outdo this massacre, when once it started. Indescribable barbarity was born on the moment and perpetrated with malicious deliberation not typical of the most depraved inhabitants of a western nation. Boys of 13, 14, 15 and 16 were in the forefront of every felonious butchery: girls and women, wielding bloody knives and clawing at the eyes of dying victims, sprang from the ranks of the mad thousands.
There was no attempt at avenging specific misdeeds upon selected individuals. A black skin was a death warrant. Wherever a Negro appeared he was stoned, beaten, shot, strung up — more than a dozen suffered all of these forms of savage onslaught. Fire came as an inspiration. A woman set the first blaze and was triumphantly carried on the shoulders of her brethren for it.
The outlying colored folks were shot and thrown into the river, the creek, down manholes — anywhere. Among them was a little girl, 2 years old, shot through the heart and flung into midroad.
Each man slain was frightfully abused, as a lesson to all others of his color. A murdered man wasn't allowed to die after he had been fatally pierced. He was kicked and beaten with fists, feet and clubs, hanged, shot some more, kicked and beaten again.
And his martyrdom was notice to the world, written in flame and blood, that East St. Louis would not tolerate a black man."
From the Daily News, Chicago, July 10th, 1917.
Springfield, Ill., July 10. — "There is to be no passing of the buck and no evasion of responsibility on the part of officials in St. Clair county in this race riot investigation," Attorney General Brundage declared this morning before departing for East St. Louis to make a personal survey of the situation. It was intimated that the St. Clair county grand jury, sitting at Belleville, did not take up the riot cases at once because the proper officials had not prepared evidence on the basis of which indictment might be issued.
Mr. Brundage said lawless conditions had existed long enough in St. Clair county and that officials there would be forced either to correct the evils or get out.
"How could undesirable officials be eliminated?" the attorney general was asked.
"Disbarment proceedings can be instituted against any attorney who is remiss or who fails to perform his duty," he replied.
Mr. Brundage had been asked by the chamber of commerce of East St. Louis to take personal charge of the investigation and to direct the grand jury inquisition.
Mrs. Ida Wells Barnett of Chicago headed a delegation of colored residents of Chicago which waited upon Governor Lowden to ask relief for the large number of colored persons who were driven out of East St. Louis in the recent riots. Mrs. Barnett declared that it is the duty of the state to aid the colored persons who are now public charges of St. Louis. The delegation was named at a mass meeting held at Bethel Church, Chicago.
Following the conference with Governor Lowden, Mrs. Barnett departed for St. Louis to aid the Negroes now in public lodging houses in that city.
From the St. Louis Post Dispatch, July 3rd, 1917.
By Carlos F. Hurd, Staff Reporter.
For an hour and a half last evening I saw the massacre of helpless Negroes at Broadway and Fourth street, in downtown East St. Louis, where a black skin was a death warrant.
I have read of St. Bartholomew's night. I have heard stories of the latter-day crimes of the Turks in Armenia, and I have learned to loathe the German army for its barbarity in Belgium. But I do not believe that Moslem fanatism or Prussian frightfulness could perpetrate murders of more deliberate brutality than those which I saw committed in daylight by citizens of the State of Abraham Lincoln.
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I saw man after man, with hands raised, pleading for his life, surrounded by groups of men — men who had never seen him before and knew nothing about him except that he was black — and saw them administer the historic sentence of intolerance, death by stoning. I saw one of these men, almost dead from a savage shower of stones, hanged with a clothes line, and when it broke, hanged with a rope which held. Within a few spaces of the pole from which he was suspended, four other Negroes lay dead or dying, another had been removed, dead, a short time before. I saw the pockets of two of these Negroes searched, without the finding of any weapon.
I saw one of these men, covered with blood and half conscious, raise himself on his elbow, and look feebly about, when a young man, standing directly behind, lifted a flat stone and hurled it directly upon his neck. This young man was much better dressed than most of the others. He walked away unmolested.
I saw Negro women begging for mercy and pleading that they had harmed no one, set upon by white women of the baser sort, who laughed and answered the course sallies of men as they beat the Negresses' faces and breasts with fists, stones and sticks. I saw one of these furies fling herself at a militiaman who was trying to protect a Negress, and wrestle with him for his bayonetted gun, while other women attacked the refugee.
What I saw, in the 90 minutes between 6:30 P. M. and the lurid coming of darkness, was but one local scene of the drama of death. I am satisfied that, in spirit and method, it typified the whole. And I cannot somehow speak of what I saw as mob violence. It was not my idea of a mob.
A mob is passionate, a mob follows one man or a few men blindly; a mob sometimes take chances. The East St. Louis affair, as I saw it, was a man hunt, conducted on a sporting basis, though with anything but the fair play which is the principle of the sport. The East St. Louis men took no chances, except the chance from stray shots, which every spectator of their acts took. They went in small groups, there was little leadership, and there was a horribly cool deliberateness and a spirit of fun about it. I cannot allow even the doubtful excuse of drink. No man whom I saw showed the effect of liquor. It was no crowd of hot-headed youths. Young men were in the greater number, but there were the middle-aged, no less active in the task of destroying the life of every discoverable black man. It was a shirtsleeve gathering, and the men were mostly workingmen, except for some who had the aspect of mere loafers. I have mentioned the peculiarly brutal crime committed by the only man there who had the appearance of being a business or professional man of any standing.
I would be more pessimistic about my fellow-Americans than I am today, if I could not say that there were other workingmen who protested against the senseless slaughter. I would be ashamed of myself if I could not say that I forgot my place as a professional observer and joined in such protests. But I do not think any verbal objection had the slightest effect. Only a volley of lead would have stopped those murderers.
"Get a nigger," was the slogan, and it was varied by the recurrent cry, "Get another!" It was like nothing so much as the holiday crowd, with thumbs turned down, in the Roman Coliseum, except that here the shouters were their own gladiators, and their own wild beasts.
When I got off a State street car on Broadway at 6:30, a fire apparatus was on its way to the blaze in the rear of Fourth street, south from Broadway. A moment's survey showed why this fire had been set, and what it was meant to accomplish.
The sheds in the rear of Negroes' houses, which were themselves in the rear of the main buildings on Fourth street, had been ignited to drive out the Negro occupants of the houses. And the slayers were waiting for them to come out.
It was stay in and be roasted, or come out and be slaughtered. A moment before I arrived, one Negro had taken the desperate chance of coming out, and the rattle of revolver shots, which I heard as I approached the corner, was followed by the cry, "They've got him!"
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And they had. He lay on the pavement, a bullet wound in his head and his skull bare in two places. At every movement of pain which showed that life still remained, there came a terrific kick in the jaw or the nose, or a crashing stone, from some of the men who stood over him.
At the corner, a few steps away, were a Sergeant and several guardsmen. The Sergeant approached the ring of men around the prostrate Negro.
"This man is done for," he said. "You'd better get him away from here. No one made a move to lift the blood-covered form, and the Sergeant walked away, remarking, when I questioned him about an ambulance, that the ambulances had quit coming. However, an undertaker's ambulance did come 15 minutes later, and took away the lifeless Negro, who had in the meantime been further kicked and stoned.
By that time, the fire in the rear of the Negro houses had grown hotter, and men were standing in all the narrow spaces through which the Negroes might come to the street. There was talk of a Negro, in one of the houses, who had a Winchester, and the opinion was expressed that he had no ammunition left, but no one went too near, and the fire was depended on to drive him out. The firemen were at work on Broadway, some distance east, but the flames immediately in the rear of the Negro houses burned without hindrance.
A half-block to the south, there was a hue and a cry at a railroad crossing, and a fusilade of shots were heard. More militiamen than I have seen elsewhere, up to that time, were standing on a platform and near a string of freight cars, trying to keep back men who had started to pursue Negroes along the track.
As I turned back toward Broadway, there was a shout at the alley, and a Negro ran out, apparently hoping to find protection. He paid no attention to missiles thrown from behind, none of which had hurt him much, but he was stopped in the middle of the street by a smashing blow in the jaw, struck by a man he had not seen.
"Don't do that," he appealed. "I haven't hurt nobody." The answer was a blow from one side, a piece of curbstone from the other side, and a push which sent him on the brick pavement. He did not rise again, and the battering and the kicking of his skull continued until he lay still, his blood flowing half way across the street. Before he had been booted to the opposite curb, another Negro appeared, and the same deeds were repeated. I did not see any revolver shots fired at these men. Bullets and ammunition were used for use at longer range. It was the last Negro I have mentioned who was apparently finished by the stone hurled upon his neck by the noticeably well-dressed young man.
The butchering of the fire-trapped Negroes went on so rapidly that, when I walked back to the alley a few minutes later, one was lying dead in the alley on the west side of Fourth street and another on the east side.
And now women began to appear. One frightened black girl probably 20 years old, got as far as Broadway with not worse treatment than jeers and thrusts. At Broadway, in view of militiamen, the white women, several of whom had been watching the massacre of the Negro men, pounced on the Negress. I do not wish to be understood as saying that these women were representatives of the womanhood of East St. Louis. Their faces showed, all too plainly, exactly who and what they were. But they were the heroines of the moment with that gathering of men, and when one man, sick of the brutality he had seen, seized one of the women by the arm to stop an impending blow, he was hustled away with fists under his nose, and with more show of actual anger than had been bestowed upon any of the Negroes. He was a stocky, nervy chap, and he stood his ground until a diversion elsewhere drew the menacing ring of men away.
"Let the girls have her," was the shout as the women attacked the young Negress. The victim's cry, "Please, please, I ain't done nothing," was stopped by a blow in the mouth with a broomstick, which one of the women swung like a base ball bat. Another women seized the Negress' hands and the blow was repeated as she struggled helplessly. Finger nails clawed her hair, and the sleeves were torn from her waist, when some of the men called, "Now let her see how fast she can run." The women did not readily leave off beating
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her, but they stopped short of murder, and the crying, hysterical girl ran down the street.
An older Negress a few moments later came along with two or three militiamen, and the same women made for her. When one of the soldiers held his gun as a barrier, the woman with the broomstick seized it with both hands and struggled to wrest it from him, while the others, striking at the Negress, in spite of the other militiamen, frightened her thoroughly and hurt her somewhat.
From Negress baiting, the well-pleased procession turned to see a lynching. A Negro had his head laid open by a great stone-cut, had been dragged to the mouth of the alley on 4th street and a small rope was being tied about his neck. It broke when it was pulled over a projecting cable, letting the Negro fall. A stouter rope was secured.
Right here I saw the most sickening sight of the evening. To put the rope around the Negro's neck, one of the lynchers stuck his fingers inside the gaping scalp and lifted the Negro's head by it, literally bathing his hand in the man's blood. "Get hold and pull for East St. Louis," called a man with a black coat and a new straw hat on as he seized the other end of the rope, and helped lift the body seven feet from the ground, and left hanging there.
A mob of white men formed and burned all the Negro houses on Bond Avenue between Tenth and Twelfth Streets, 43 houses being destroyed.
In the fire zone at Sixth and Broadway, two Negroes are reported to have burned to death. At Fifth and Railroad, another death by fire was reported. One of the mid-afternoon killings was at 4 o'clock, at Broadway and Main Street. A Negro was shot down. One of those firing on him being a boy in short trousers. The driver of the first ambulance that came was not permitted to remove this body, and it lay for an hour beside the street car tracks seen by the passengers in every passing car.
At 9:30 this morning a Negro, still living, but in a critical condition, was found in a sewer manhole at Sixth Street and Broadway. He was beaten by the mob with paving bricks 13 hours before and thrown in.
The 2-year old Negro child who was killed was the daughter of William Forest of 1118 Division Ave. A bullet fired into the house entered the body near the heart.
City Attorney Fekete is credited with having saved the life of a young Negro who was running from a crowd which had fired a number of shots at him while the Negro was plainly visible in the glare of the burning buildings. Fekete placed the Negro in his own automobile, and after arguing for several minutes with the group of men succeeded getting away with the rescued man.
On Sunday, July 8th, I returned to Chicago and made my report to the Negro Fellowship League that evening. This meeting passed resolutions which recommended:
1st, That a committee be sent to Governor Lowden, with the facts that i had collected, asking,
a) That a searching investigation be made into the reasons why not a single shot was fired by the militia for the protection of black men and women in all that forty-eight hours of rioting.
b) That in many instances, the soldiers combined with the police in searching black men, thus making it safe for the mob to beat and kill them.
c) Demanding that a court martial be instigated to find out the cause of this neglect of duty and to punish the offenders.
2nd, That the state of Illinois be requested to make provision for the care of the thousands of men, women and children who have been driven from their homes and were now being taken care of by the people of St. Louis, together with the Red Cross workers and the assistance of the colored citizens of St. Louis.
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3rd, To inquire what action, if any, the state would take to restore order in East St. Louis to such an extent that the people might go back to their homes and their work, and demanding protection for those who do.
Acting on these recommendations, the Negro Fellowship League voted a committee of five persons to wait upon the governor. The following committee was appointed. I. B. W. Barnett, chairman; Rev. J. W. Robinson, pastor St. Marks's M. E. Church; Professor R. T. Greener; B. W. Fitts and Mrs. William Farrow who had raised upwards of $6.00 in her effort to contribute toward the expense of this trip.
At the meeting held at Bethel A. M. E. Church, Monday night, July 9th, through the courtesy of the pastor, Rev. W. D. Cooke and the trustees of Bethel, this committee was enlarged by the addition of two persons; Rev. W. D. Cooke, who was made chairman, and H. A. Watkins. The meeting gave $52.00 to pay the expenses of this committee to Springfield. They left on the midnight train, and had an interview with Governor Lowden Tuesday, July 10th, at which meeting were present besides the governor, Adjutant General Frank Dickson and Col. John R. Marshall, as well as our own committee.
The Governor listened attentively, and said the State would do everything it could to reestablish law and order, and that a court martial had been ordered to investigate the conduct of the state militia. He said that the state had no emergency fund from which to do anything for the refugees in St. Louis, Missouri, but he called up the Red Cross chairman, Mr. O'Connor, and asked him to take the matter up and see what might be done.
The interview was very satisfactory with the exception of the fact that Governor Lowden took occasion to advise us against incendiary talk. The writer told him that if he had seen women whose husbands had been beaten to death, whose children had been thrown into the flames and in the river, whose women had been burned to death, he would not say it was incendiary talk to denounce such outrages. In response to my statement that fifty persons whom I had interviewed, told me that the invariable custom of the soldier was to search the men and take from them even their pocket knives, thus leaving them at the mercy of the mob, or they would stand by and see the work well done, he told me to get him the names of persons who would testify to that effect and see that they were placed in his hands. This terminated the interview.
Mrs. Farrow and I took the train at once for St. Louis and went immediately to the municipal lodging house. The papers had announced that this lodging house would be closed on Wednesday, and the statement had also been made that Hon. Charles Nagel had made a complaint about Missouri taking care of Illinois' people. We expected to find the hundreds that we saw the Friday before, but in four days the thousands that were there had dispersed! Some had gone back South. Others had accepted the invitations of the Chamber of Commerce and gone back to the industrial plants to work by the day, but they came back every night to St. Louis to sleep. Hundreds had gone up into Pennsylvania and other centers of labor where they needed help. There were only 25 persons in the municipal lodging house and these 25 had already secured places to go. For this reason the lodging house was closing its doors; these people who had been beaten, persecuted, run out of their homes and robbed even of their wearing apparel, were taking up new courage, and utilizing the only capital they had, the labor of their hands.
Having been asked by Governor Lowden to get the names and addresses of people who made charges against the state militia for failure to do their duty or for assisting the mob, both Mrs. Farrow and I began as soon as we returned to St. Louis, to collect such stories.
The first person I talked with was a man named John Avant whose foot was so swollen he could not wear his shoes. He says he hurt his foot running; that he worked at the C., B. & Q. He was with about twenty-five others who came out from their work on Tuesday morning. They were sitting or standing around the restaurant where they usually ate, when six soldiers and four or five policeman came upon them suddenly and shot into the crowd, wounding six. One of the number has since died. They also were
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searched and even their pocket knives taken from them.
One of the shots fired took off an arm of a woman who was working in this restaurant. A half dozen others told me that they went back over into East St. Louis to work, but that they came back to the Missouri side to sleep at night. The railroad companies for which they worked, gave carfare together with two meals a day, and paid them $3.00 and $4.00 a day, where previously they had only paid $2.00 and $2.50. They said they would do this as long as the soldiers remained.
One of the half dozen men standing around, told me that he saw a woman and two children killed, also her husband. That they were going across the bridge and the mob seized the baby out of her arms and threw it into the river.
Charles Perry, 19 years old, had been a year in East St. Louis from Jackson, Mississippi. He worked at Laden's Baking Powder Factory. On Tuesday, about 4:30 P. M., he saw a mob of about 50 on the bridge. He too has gone back to work, but he stays nights on the Missouri side.
Frank Brown has been in East St. Louis about a year, having come there from Salt Lake City, Utah. He saw a man hit a colored man with a piece of iron and shoot him four times in the stomach.
Story of Mrs. Mary Lewis.
Saw the mob kill man a few doors away. Became frightened and told husband she would have to leave. Man at house named Hugh McMurry told her she could come to his house in St. Louis, as she knew no one in St. Louis. "I put on my suit and clean dresses on four small children and then got on the car with them. The mob yelled, "There she goes," but did not fire, so she got away. While the house was still in sight, the mob had broken windows and set it on fire, shooting into it. Sister was in the house, but escaped, being shot, and was badly stoned. Husband, though shot, got up and ran about 40 feet before they finished him. Was heard to beg Mr. Warren not to let them kill him.
William Lues, an employee of the Wabash R. R. Co., was on his way home from work, sitting between his employer and his employer's son in the street car, when the mob grabbed him, shot him to pieces and then put a rope around his neck and dragged him in the streets.
James Frizzar, age 53 years, address where he worked. Lived in St. Louis since he was a child, having come there from Montgomery, Ala. When he was leaving his work Monday afternoon, July 2nd, five men attacked him, beat him and shot him through the chest. While he was helpless, some soldiers came and took him to St. Mary's hospital in East St. Louis. He stayed there three days, then left and went to the County hospital, St. Louis. Bullet had not been extracted. Was married. Had no children. Wife lives in Cairo, Illinois.
Story of William Gould.
Does not know the place of his birth. Has been in East St. Louis since he was a babe. Is 34 years old and a teamster. Worked for the Hill Thomas Lime and Cement Company at Sixth and Walnut. Riot started near City Hall July 2nd. The mob came to the plant and took all the horses up some place on Broadway, then came back and set the place on fire. There were six other Negro men in the place besides himself. The mob was composed of about 75 men, women and children. 50 feet away, the men in the burning building ran out, and the mob fired volleys, but none of the men were injured except Mr. Gould, who was shot in the right leg. He was being cared for in the City Hospital of St. Louis. Had no children. Was married. Wife escaped harm. Mr. Gould sought refuge from the mob by hiding in some large weeds near the old rolling mill. The next day the soldiers came and took him to the County hospital in St. Louis.
Story of James Taylor.
The mob started at 2:05 A. M. At 4:15 they hanged two Negroes who were coming from work, to a telegraph pole and shot them to pieces. Saw
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them rush to cars and pull women off and beat them to death, and before they were quite dead, stalwart men jumped on their stomachs and finished them by tramping them to death. This was at the corner of Broadway and Collinville. The cars were crowded and moving, yet they jumped on and pulled them off. Others they stuck to death with hat pins, sometimes picking out their eyes with them before they were quite dead.
An old woman between 70 and 80 years old, who had returned to her house to get some things, was struck almost to death by women, then men stamped her to death.
A colored store keeper at 8th and Broadway with his family was shot and wounded. The store was set on fire and they burned to death.
George Launders and Robert Mosely were burned to death at the Library Flats at 8th and Walnut.
Rev. James Taylor's wife fled to the Broadway theatre with her five children, but left there in safety before it was burned. She said when she left there were about twenty-five white women in the basement of the theatre where they had sought safety.
There were 10 or 12 men with Rev. Taylor when he made a dash for safety, several of them armed. Doesn't know if any of them escaped.
He saw a soldier hand his gun to one of the mob.
Had narrow escape as there were men in autos and on motor cycles who shot into the grass and bushes everywhere they thought anyone might be hiding. Came across woman also hiding, who were frightened almost to death. Swam the Cahokia River with her.
Men had fingers cut off by mob, then heads split open with axes.
Colored people acted bravely in spite of handicaps.
Mr. Taylor said, he was searched 29 times for fire arms.
Colored men were frequently beaten while enroute to and from packing houses, with no protest from companies or police.
"The first and last shot fired at me was by a soldier in uniform."
Continued in part 2...