Just maybe the remnants of pain and loss linger in St. Louis. The worst race riots in our country’s history took place in southern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. The loss of life and property isn’t easy to forget.
The New York Times’ chilling headline, “Race Rioters Fire East St. Louis and Shoot or Hang Many Negroes”. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the violence stemmed from the hiring of black workers for factory work. Whites feared the competition for jobs even though many men had joined the military to participate in the conflict in Europe, World War I.
According to the PBS special, between 10,000 and 12, 000 African-Americans traveled from parts of the south in 1916 and 1917 to job opportunities in the East St. Louis area. In May of 1917, three thousand white men gathered in downtown East St. Louis and attacked blacks. Reports ranged from 40 to 150 black people being killed, in the worst racial rioting the nation had ever seen. The NAACP estimated that the death toll was between 100-200. Six thousand black were left homeless after the neighborhoods were burned. The fire department cut off water sources to the black neighborhood. With nothing to do but flee black residents were shot when trying to escape the flames.
Black leaders of the day delivered powerful speeches and wrote accounts in newspapers of the day. Some feel, to this day, the wounds have never healed. Then too was the National Guard called by the governor to quell the violence. Unfortunately, there were accounts of many guard members joining the rioters.
The New York Times further reporting that by the end of the month, 10,000 people marched in silent protest in New York in condemnation of the riot. There is no record of the Black community ever recuperating from the financial loss or dealing with the difficult horrific loss of life.
There could very well be tensions brought on by the shooting death by police of an unarmed black youth. Ferguson, Missouri is just 14 miles from downtown East St. Louis. just a 20 minute drive.