Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Logo
Apply to SIUE
Insitutue of Urban Research Header

Wells, Ida B. History of The East St. Louis, Illinois, Riot Part 2


Will Morgan, employed at the B. & O. roundhouse, saw the mob make the Negroes swim into the Cahokia River, then shoot them, one being killed instantly. The other managed to struggle back to shore, only to be stoned to death by children.

Soldiers surrounded the home of William Bass. One of them went inside and drove husband, wife and 9 children out. Asked Mr. Bass if they had any guns. He replied, that he had one, but that it was no good. "Have you any money?" he asked. Receiving a negative reply, he cursed and walked out.

Mr. Buchanan's Story.

Mr. Buchanan says: He did not see a single soldier, excepting Col. Tripp, do anything to protect the Negroes. He formed a hollow square and made the first arrest of about 200, composed of women and men. He also took a rope from the neck of a Negro whom the mob had attempted to bang. Mr. Buchanan saw them beat men down with revolvers and clubs; white men knock Negro women down and then the white women would finish by beating them to death or nearly so.

Every Negro man that he saw get out of Black Valley alive, the soldiers would march them to the police station, badly beaten though they were, and scarcely able to walk, with their hands raised in front of them and afraid to turn their heads. The mob threw bricks at their heads and bodies, because the soldiers had their bayonets pointed at either side of them. They did the women the same way, excepting their hands were not raised in front of them. They were dodging around the soldiers to keep the mob from hitting them with bricks, stones and sticks. Their clothing was badly torn.

A man who worked for the Hill Thomas Lime & Cement Co. on 6th and Walnut streets, after the building had caught fire and was surrounded by the mob, called the manager up and said, "The whole place is on fire, and if I stay it is death and if I leave it is death. I am going to stay. Good-bye."

Mr. Buchanan escaped death by hiding in the Southern Illinois National Bank where he was employed as a messenger. C. Reeb, president of the bank, procured an automobile and took Mr. Buchanan and family,

-- 17 --

escorted by soldiers, to St. Louis. Mr. Buchanan still works at the bank but is undecided about the future. He said, they were almost sure one of the employees of the bank, a clerk, was one of the rioters and that the president was doing all in his power to obtain the facts about it, and had told him, if he was guilty he would see to it that his punishment fit the crime.

Story of Rachel Frances Ingraham.

Has lived in town 17 years and owned the home in which she lived. During that time there had never been an arrest. The soldiers came to her house Monday, July 2nd, or thereabouts, and asked the whites about the reputation of the Negroes in that same block. Then the soldiers came to Mrs. Inghram and asked her about the white people across the street. She began by saying, "You have asked me about them and I will answer you. They disturb my peace; they curse and use indecent, vile language, and I saw one white woman take a pitch fork and run in front of a woman to kill her, and she slammed the door in her face. The white woman who had the pitch fork said the woman she was attacking said, "These houses where these niggers are living ought to be burned and the niggers killed."

The soldiers then told Mrs. Inghram that the white woman living across the street gave her a good name. On the fourth, some cans were thrown back of her toilet off of thrifty garden. The white woman who lives just above Mrs. Inghram on the same side of the street said, "Just look at that old s.. of b.... standing over there daring us. We are going to kill him if it is the last thing we do."

Dan Sullivan, owner of the Banner Ice Plant, Pennsylvania avenue, said, if it had not been for him, they would have burned that corner up.

Mrs. Inghram's husband had started down town to attend to some business, and some one came and told him not to go; that they were killing people, Tuesday, July 3rd, so he returned. Later, Mrs. Inghram tried to take a street car to go over to St. Louis. At the same time, another Negro, named Maggie Love, attempted to get a Collinsville car with five or six children, all small. The conductor pushed all the colored people back and said they couldn't get on. "You're not allowed on here." Then Mrs. Love went back home with her children. She left for St. Louis. Her place is for sale and white people are occupying it. Mrs. Ingraham and lots of other colored women tried to get on another car, and the conductor told them, "You can't get on this car, and I don't want to take you down town to get killed." Then all the women returned to their homes.

The next day Mrs. Inghram got a wagon and went to St. Louis and was housed in the Municipal Lodging place for two days and one night. Mr. Inghram never left East St. Louis.

Tuesday about 7 A. M., two soldiers and another citizen came to their home and asked if he had any guns. Her husband said, "No." One said with an oath, "Now * * * * if you've got any guns in here, you know where you'll go." The next day, Wednesday, soldiers came just about dark, broke the fasteners off screen door and came in. The occupants, seven families in all, had gone. Two families remained. Mr. Inghram broke the door open and left them open. When they were leaving in their wagon, containing Mr. and Mrs. Tally and their children, on 10th street, as they passed, they were jeered at, saying, "Here comes some niggers. We'll get 'em." They were carrying car pins, strung on a rope, about 10 or 20 men and children, and the soldiers saw them and circled around their wagon and kept the mob from attacking them. The soldiers guarded until they got off the bridge.

A huckster, David Lambart, white, told her, "There is a lot of these Red Cross women in here getting testimony. Governor Lowden was also present. As soon as the soldiers leave, they will kill them all up."

On the next day we made a visit to East St. Louis. We found that some of the citizens who had left their homes a week ago, had gone back and were again trying to take up the thread of life. Dr. M. B. Hunter, one of the leading physicians, was also one of the county physicians, had left his home with the intention of not returning. His office had been burned up. His operating table, his surgical instruments and his handsome office furniture had all gone up in smoke. He owned a handsome two-story residence, but had decided for the present to leave his home. The Board of Supervisors,

-- 18 --

which had six colored men on it, met the week previous and had taken his county office from him. They had met two weeks before that and deposed N. W. Parden as Assistant State's Attorney. They were said to be searching for Dr. N. A. Bundy, a prominent Negro dentist, who was said to have encouraged colored men to purchase guns for the protection of their homes. Dr. Bundy was nowhere to be found. His wife had also left town. Mr. Parden, who had been a prominent feature in politics, had also disappeared.

Dr. W. A. Wallace, editor of the Western Star and a general officer of the Zion Church, had had his entire printing plant burned. He has a beautiful home and six lovely children. He had come back to his home, and his wife said she felt secure, because a company of soldiers were encamped in the church across the street from her home.

The feeling seems general that there is no safety or security for the colored people. That the people who figured in the mob were only held in abeyance by the presence of the soldiers, and that when they were gone, the colored people would be no longer safe. Many having openly stated on the railroad trains, the street cars and the industrial plants, that if Negroes took their jobs, they had already done some killing and they expected to do more. An Associated Press dispatch of July 10th, 1917, from East St. Louis had the following:

"A man arrested by Capt. O. C. Smith, F Company, 4th Illinois Infantry, was released by the police, ostensibly "on order of the state's attorney." Captain Smith asserted that he heard the man say:

"I've killed my share of Negroes today. I have killed so many I am tired and somebody else can finish them."

When Capt. Smith went to the police station yesterday to prefer a formal charge he found that the prisoner had been released."

Chapter IV.

Such is the present state of unrest at this writing. No one has any feeling of certainty that anything will be done, either to punish the rioters or to make the lives and property of Negroes more secure permanently. For this reason, on our second return, at the meeting held at Quinn Chapel, Tuesday evening, July 14th, the following resolution was passed, accompanied by a memorial to the federal government:


We, the undersigned Citizens Committee, chosen at the Mass Meetings held under the auspices of the Negro Fellowship League and Bethel A. M. E. Church and directed to confer with Governor Lowden over the situation caused by the riot at East St. Louis and to continue the investigation previously begun, beg leave to make the following report:

Your Committee arrived in Springfield July 10th, the morning following the Mass Meeting at Bethel Church, and by appointment met Governor Lowden in the Capitol Building where our conference was held at eleven o'clock. There were present also Adj. Gen. Dickson who participated in the conference, also Col. John R. Marshall who had spent some time in East St. Louis soon after the riot.

The express purpose of the committee was:

First, to call the attention of the Governor to the fact that thousands of citizens of East St. Louis were exiled from their homes and were the beneficiaries of charity in St. Louis, Missouri, and to request that some provision be made by the Illinois authorities for their protection and maintenance. Governor Lowden took prompt action upon this matter. In our presence he called up the Red Cross officials at East St. Louis and directed that immediate attention be given to this situation and then assured the committee that the city of St. Louis would not be required further to take care of citizens of Illinois.

Second, to call to the attention of the Governor the manifest inefficiency and indifference of the Illinois militia during the time of the mob - the possible connivance of members of the militia with the mob and to request that investigation be made of the work done by the militia to the end that a court martial be ordered if justified by the facts.

-- 19 --

Upon these serious charges which the committee supported by newspaper reports and experiences related to members of the committee by victims of the mob the conference was frank and earnest; both sides desiring to determine upon the best way to fix responsibility upon all who aided and abetted the mob. So far as the militia was concerned the Governor gave his assurance that the charges would be fully investigated and if proper, a court martial would be ordered. Since the conference a court martial has been ordered, although we regret that no member of the Eight Regiment was named thereon.

Third, to demand for the victims of East St. Louis, many of them refugees from home and work, the full protection of the law in the enjoyment of their lives, the protection of their property and the right to earn their living by honest toil. To the justice of this demand Governor Lowden gave his hearty assent and declared that all citizens of Illinois should have the fullest protection of the law if it required the exercise of all the power of the State. But your committee from the investigation believes that the same bitter vindictive spirit which manifests itself in the awful deeds of July 3rd still exists in a dangerous degree in East St. Louis today and that no earnest and effective measures will be taken by public officials to curb that spirit or prosecute known murderers who took part in the mob. Our belief is that security for life and property will come only through action of Federal authority by Congressional investigation and a Federal Grand Jury at East St. Louis. Believing this, your committee has prepared a Memorial which we respectfully submit for your consideration.




The undersigned, a Citizens Committee, chosen at three Mass Meetings held by Chicago Colored Citizens interested in the protection of life and property of colored citizens of the State of Illinois, beg leave to submit this Memorial, praying for action on the part of the Federal Government in our behalf.

We plead for thousands of Colored Citizens of East St. Louis, who for more than six weeks prior to July 3rd last not only lived in immediate danger of mob violence, destruction of property and lynching, but later - many of them became the victims of the most deliberate, wanton and barbarous massacre that has blotted the pages of American history. It was a very orgy of inhuman butchery during which more than fifty colored men, women and children were beaten with bludgeons, stoned, shot, drowned, hanged or burned to death - all without any effective interference on the part of the police, sheriff or military authorities.

The riot was no sudden outburst of passion. It was a combination of a publicly declared determination on the part of white laborers to drive colored laborers from work or kill them. There was no provocation by acts of lawless blacks, no drunkenness on the part of the whites - nothing but the deadly vindictiveness of labor trouble accentuated by hatred toward the Negro.

The dangerous situation was well known to the Mayor and chief of police of East St. Louis; to the sheriff of St. Claire County, and on two separate occasions the impending danger was called to the attention of the Governor of the State. A brief outburst of fury on the 28th day of May was quelled, but the fires of race hatred smoldered and grew in intensity until July 3rd when mob frenzy sated itself by the burning of hundreds of humble homes and the unspeakable butchery of scores of victims whose only offense was their effort to earn their bread by honest toil. White men, white women and white children made the mob - laughing, jesting and gloating as they beat, tortured and burned their pleading victims to death.
An eye witness, Mr. Carlos F. Hurd of St. Louis, Mo., wrote and published a part of what he saw in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch; an excerpt from

-- 20 --

which account is appended hereto.

The victims of the mob in whose behalf Chicago Colored Citizens plead and for whom all humane people must plead - were citizens of the United States. Because Germany put to death American citizens upon the high seas - fewer in number than the mob killed in East St. Louis - the Nation entered into a world war that will cost billions of treasure and perhaps a million lives. Shall not the Stars and Stripes protect American citizens at home as well as upon the high seas?

We appeal through Congress to the Nation. The indifference and inefficiency of City, County and military authorities and their apparent connivance with the mob which made this awful tragedy possible, forbid our reliance upon our local authorities for security of life and property. One hundred and twenty-seven members of the mob, arrested while rioting, when brought into court were discharged, the State's Attorney publicly declaring there could be no successful prosecution. Justice can be meted out to the guilty and protection for the innocent can come only through a Federal Grand Jury impaneled by a Judge who knows his duty and dares to do it.

As American Citizens our lives are subject to the Nation's call, and at no call have we faltered or failed. As American Citizens we call to the Nation to save our lives; to that call will the Nation falter or fail?

In memory of the slaughtered dead and their bereaved ones - in behalf of the thousands made homeless and penniless by fire, and for the security of life and property - to exiled thousands of East St. Louis citizens we plead for Congressional investigation and appropriate action on the part of the Federal Government, and we bespeak for this Memorial the earnest consideration of the Congress of the United States.

This memorial was sent to Senators Lawrence Y. Sherman and James Hamilton Lewis, also to Congressman Martin B. Madden. As a result of which steps have already been taken to have the Department of Justice act.

Chapter V.

East St. Louis, after the mischief had been done, thro its Chamber of Commerce and committee of business men, took steps to bring back the thousands of Negro workmen who had been driven away by the brutalities described in these pages. Orders were given to let no more pass over the bridge and men had to get permits to go to their own homes or move their effects on Friday, the fourth day after the riot.

"All except five of the twelve thousands refugees on the Missouri side declined today to accept the invitation of the East St. Louis Chamber of Commerce to return to work in the packing and manufacturing plants."

The Chicago Herald, July 6th, 1917, had the following article from the pen of Jack Lait, its well known correspondent:

East St. Louis, Ill., July 6. Mrs. Ida Wells Barnett of Chicago, one of the foremost colored women in America, left here tonight for her home.

"The Negroes and the law-abiding Whites are in the hands of a conspiracy, unquestionably well financed and closely organized, a coalition of the labor unions of the North and the manufacturers and planters of the South," she declared.

"The South is almost bankrupt because the Negroes are leaving. In the North the control of labor unions is being torn away by the coming of competing, unorganized colored labor."
"Money is being spent like water to drive the Negro back where he came from and murder, arson, intimidation propaganda and scandal are being stirred up as the weapons of this infamous plot."

Will Not Return.

Mrs. Barnett said that the Negroes would not return to East St. Louis, in spite of the sugar-coated invitation of the employers and the sincere promise of safety from the state authorities.

-- 21 --

"When they hang at least one of the men who butchered our babies and strung up our decent men and bludgeoned our women and burned our homes and threw our wounded into the flames, then the Negroes might come back. But until some such symbol of lasting efficiency and sincerity on the part of the whites is revealed, our people will not return to this hotbed of hatred and crime."

Today's results verified her statement. Exactly five Negroes answered the call to return. Out of about 12,000 not half a dozen accepted the homecoming appeal.

Arms by Armful.

The work of disarming the remaining blacks went on. One after another the militia autos pulled up at the city hall and the soldiers lugged in armfuls of muskets, carbines, sixshooters, razors and bowie knives.

All the afternoon the Chamber of Commerce and Associated Merchants met in a mass at the council chambers and at the end signed a remarkable statement and set of resolutions, which Mayor Mollman was ordered to sign first.

He meekly drew his signature to the open, and thereby official, confession to the world of the city's shame, the guilt of its police, the inefficiency, inactivity and hostility of the first contingent of state troops.

The demand was incorporated that the police system be reorganized and that the guilty be fully punished.

All day long a star chamber inquest from which newspaper men and the public were rigidly barred went on.

Its purpose is not as secret as its methods - it is piling up an alibi for the white race as it is typified here, a record to back up the comfortable theory that the Negroes started the trouble willfully and are responsible for all the ghastly consequences.

Five white men and ten Negroes were fined $200 today on charges of carrying concealed weapons. Unable to pay the fines, they were locked up in the County jail."

East St. Louis has not been entirely idle in the effort to convince the public that there is a desire to punish the criminals.

Since this horrible thing took place, the Grand Jury of St. Clair county has brought indictments against 105 persons. It reported in the daily papers as follows:

Cornelius Hickey, lieutenant of police of East St. Louis, who was acting as chief the night of the massacre, is held on a charge of conspiracy.

Richard Brockway, an investigator for the Belleville and East St. Louis railroad, is indicted for conspiracy, riot and assault to kill.

Clark C. Fancher, known as "Tobe" Fancher, former policeman of East St. Louis, is held for assault with intent to kill. The indictment against him recites that he deliberately drew his revolver and fired four shots at a helpless Negro who was severely wounded and was thought to have only a few hours to live. The Negro is convalescing.

One Woman Is Named.

One woman is indicted for assaulted with intent to kill. Her name is withheld for the present. The indictment charges that one of her favorite stunts that terrible night was stamping the heels of her French slippers in the faces of prostrate Negroes.

Several of those indicted are included in many different indictments, a few of the ringleaders, it is understood, being held for nearly all the crimes alleged to have been committed during the riots.

One man is held for burning with the purpose to defraud, and out of this attempt to collect fire insurance he also is caught for arson.

Summary of Jury Work.

Summed up, the work of the Grand Jury follows:
Nine indictments for conspiracy naming thirty-three persons.
Eleven indictments for conspiracy, naming sixty-four persons.

-- 22 --

Five indictments for arson, naming twenty-seven persons.
Thirteen indictments for rioting, naming sixty-nine persons.
Twenty-six indictments for assault to murder, naming sixty-three persons.
One indictment for malicious mischief, naming four persons.
Two indictments for burglary, naming four persons.
One indictment for burning for purpose of defrauding, naming one person.
One man has also been convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment and it is asserted that all who are indicted will be punished.
Mayor Mollman has also been indicted on two counts. The test will come when these men are put on trial.

But up to date no punishment has been meted out to the militia who are responsible for the mob because they did not quell it. Carlos Hurd's account states that he found a corporal's guard of them who had just come from where the firemen were working and he told them of the lynching of the Negro. "I do not know that they could have done anything, but I do know they did not try. Most of the men in uniform were frankly fraternizing with the men in the street."
Thursday, July 5th, the following editorial appeared in the Post-Dispatch of St. Louis.

The East Side Atrocities.

Gov. Lowden need not go far to find evidence of the utter failure of the major part of the forces of the Illinois National Guard to do their duty in stopping wholesale murder and arson in East St. Louis last Monday.

Carlos Hurd of the Post-Dispatch staff, who was an eyewitness of the atrocities on the East Side, told a plain circumstantial story of the outrages he witnessed. The assaults and murders were cold-blooded, deliberate and incredibly brutal. They were not the mob infuriated against particular offenders. They were the work of groups of men and women who sought out and burned out the Negroes and then shot, beat, kicked and hanged them. The work was done in a spirit of flippant, relentless barbarism. Mr. Hurd described it as a man-hunt.

Others who corroborated this testimony called it rabbit-hunting and rat-catching. Nothing like it in unmitigated cruelty has occurred before on American soil. It can be likened only to the fiendish atrocities of Turks in Armenia or the pogroms against the Jews incited by the Russian Black Hundred, in which helpless Jews were smoked or dragged from their homes to be beaten, outraged or murdered on the streets. The black skin, without regard to age, sex or innocence, was the mark for slaughter.

All the impartial witnesses agree that the police were either indifferent or encouraged the barbarities, and that the major part of the National Guard was indifferent or inactive. No organized effort was made to protect the Negroes or disperse the murdering groups. The lack of frenzy and of a large infuriated mob made the task easy. Ten determined officers could have prevented most of the outrages. One hundred men acting with authority and vigor might have prevented any outrage.

The stain cannot be wiped from the record of Illinois, but the State may be vindicated by punishment of the officers responsible for the conduct of the guardsmen; and by the vigorous prosecution of the murder leaders.

East St. Louisans have a duty to perform in looking into the conduct of their own city government which permitted the trouble to culminate in these atrocities. They should find out the cause of the fatal weakness which encouraged the race riots and paralyzed the police while innocent men, women and children were shot, burned and tortured. The future of the city which in point of growth and prosperity is a marvel, should prompt thorough action by law-abiding citizens.

Chapter VI.

Such is the history in part of one of the most dastardly crimes ever committed in the name of civilization, on defenseless black men, women

-- 23 --

and children. That the State of Lincoln, Logan and Grant - three names made famous by their fight to give liberty to the black man - should furnish this black page for history, is the shame of all true American citizens. The world is at war because the race prejudice of one nation tries to dominate other nations. The race prejudice of the United States asks Americans of black skins to keep an inferior place and when these Negroes ask an equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they are lynched, burned alive, disfranchised and massacred! Whenever a black man turns in this land of the free and home of the brave, - in industry, in civic endeavor, in political councils in the ranks of Christians (?) - this hydra headed monster confronts him; dominates, oppresses and murders him!

This time it was done in the name of labor! The Negro accepted the opportunity made by the scarcity of labor in the North to leave the South, which has fattened on his labor and yet kept him in serfdom for his fifty years of freedom. He was glad of the chance to get better wages, but even more glad to come where he could educate his children and be a man. But the labor unions which have this country by the throat, which paralyze its industries, dynamite its buildings and murder men at their own sweet will - refuse to let Negroes work with them and murder them if they work anyway, in what they call "white men's jobs."

In East St. Louis these labor forces had the aid of the civil authorities, the police and the state militia, in the work of murdering over two hundreds Negroes and destroying three million dollars worth of property. Unless this outrage is punished, no American citizen's life, liberty or property is safe in any state.

In the present state of our National development, the only remedy, for the lynching and rioting evil of the American nation is to make it a federal crime. Public sentiment which has encouraged lynchings by silence or by sensational newspapers accounts must be aroused to see the evil to the whole American Nation. It is an awful commentary on our country's brand of Democracy - that aside from a few newspaper editorials - no persons in this country have spoken out against this black stain save Theodore Roosevelt and a minister of the gospel in a sermon preached in St. Louis, Mo., the Sunday following the massacre.

It rests then with the Negroes everywhere to stand their ground and sell their lives as dearly as possible when attacked; to work as a unit, demanding punishment for rioters; protection for workers, and liberty for all the citizens in our country. It is for the Negro to say whether they will unite their forces to make this country safe for the residence of any Negro anywhere he desires to live in it. It is for them to show whether we can bring sufficient influence to bear to see that the militia of Illinois, for whose wanton murder of hundreds of innocent men, women and children of our race, whom they failed to protect in that awful orgy of human butchery, which took place in East St. Louis, Illinois, on Monday, July 2nd, 1917.

facebookoff twitteroff vineoff linkedinoff flickeroff instagramoff googleplusoff tumblroff foursquareoff socialoff