THE MIGRATION AND NORTHERN RACE RIOTS
In Afro-American folklore the North represented the fabled “Promised Land” where blacks would be free from an oppressive social system and steady work would bring economic relief from poverty. The Great Migration of Negroes from southern plantation to northern ghetto is one of the most significant developments of twentieth-century America. The dream of improvement, however, frequently dissolved into a nightmare when the influx of blacks stirred whites into action to protect themselves from this perceived threat. Before the migration, whites in cities such as East St. Louis and Chicago were accustomed to a highly structured interaction with the few blacks with whom they might have contact. Although Illinois was “Lincoln country,” whites in the lower portion of the state were more southern than northern in their racial attitudes. Blacks had to learn to adapt themselves to a rigidly segregated status in such cities as East St. Louis. There, factory employees used segregated washrooms, worked in segregated departments, and ate in segregated lunchrooms. The same conditions existed in health care, education, recreation, theaters, restaurants, and hotels. Even though segregation was informal in East St. Louis, it was a reality, and the heavy growth of 100 per cent in the black population between 1900 and 1920 seriously undermined the continued viability of these informal control mechanisms.
While the causes of riots are always complex, hostilities among white residents were almost always fanned into a flaming passion by fears of job competition. The East St. Louis Riot of 1917 and the Chicago Riot of 1919 are classic illustrations. The East St. Louis Riot (Doc. 1–11) was one of the worst of the twentieth century, taking the lives of at least forty-eight people, and hundreds more injured. The first of two riotous outbreaks within a month occurred after a meeting with the mayor in which a union delegation protested the importation of southern black workers. With tensions high already, a rumor spread that a Negro had murdered a white man, but sporadic violence was quickly controlled by the militia. A month later an auto sped through the black quarter shooting indiscriminately into Negro homes. When an unmarked police car drove through the same neighborhood, Negroes fired into it and killed two police officers. Thus unleashed the second outburst, an orgy of white brutality against blacks which resulted in the permanent exodus of ten thousand Afro-Americans from the city. The fury unleashed had its source in labor friction, however. In 1916, 2,500 white packinghouse employees struck and their places were permanently lost to Negro scabs. Many whites, therefore, had old scores to settle.65
Similar circumstances prevailed in the Chicago Riot of 1919, when thirty-eight people were killed, 537 injured, and about 1,000 rendered homeless. The precipitating incident involved the stoning death of a black youth at a city beach. Within two hours the violence was at full fury. As in the East St. Louis affair, tensions were fired to the boiling point by the heavy influx of black migrants and the long-standing racial discord stemming from job competition. The seeds of conflict were sown in several earlier labor disputes, such as the 1894 strike of slaughterhouse workers which was broken by imported Negro scabs. The blacks stayed on afterward and became part of a new union. In 1904, however, black and white packers struck and, immediately, 10,000 poverty-stricken Negroes replaced them. Several more strikes, particularly the 1904 teamsters’ strike, and the 1916 strike of railroad car cleaners, resulted in even more whites being replaced by blacks. For racially-prejudiced white workers the distinction between black strikers and scabs was lost. These underlying sores festered again in July 1919 when two white strikers were killed during a strike and 600 others lost their jobs to imported Negroes. Even though blacks were discriminated against by the Chicago unions, and came from a culture which had not prepared them for unionism, whites simply did not appreciate the imperatives of poverty which operated upon black workers. Thus, the friction generated in the job market increased until it reached the point of combustion. Documents 12–21 examine the complexity of the riot and its economic roots.66
REPORT OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE AUTHORIZED BY CONGRESS TO INVESTIGATE THE EAST ST. LOUIS RIOTS
MR. JOHNSON of Kentucky, Mr. Speaker:67
Your committee appointed under House resolution No. 128 for the purpose of making investigation of the East St. Louis riots which occurred on May 28 and July 2, 1917, reports that as a result of unlawful conditions existing at that place, interstate commerce was not only openly and violently interrupted but was virtually suspended for a week or 10 days during and following the riot of last July. For months after the July riot interstate commerce was interfered with and hindered, not, however, by open acts of violence, but by a subtle and effective intimidation of colored men who had been employed by the railroads to handle freight consigned from one State to another. So many of these men were driven out of East St. Louis as the result of the July riot that the railroads could not secure necessary help. After the worst effects of the riot had passed this class of labor remained so frightened and intimidated that it would not live in East St. Louis. Some of them took up their residences across the river in St. Louis, and would go over to East St. Louis in the morning to work and would return to that place before nightfall. In order to get out of East St. Louis and back to St. Louis before night came on the length of the day’s work was reduced. The fright of these laborers went to such an extent—and it was fully justified by existing conditions—that special means of transportation had to be provided for them back and forth between St. Louis and East St. Louis in order to get them to work at all. Besides the killing of a number of these negro laborers, a very large number, indeed, fled from the work and never returned to it. In addition to this 44 freight cars were burned and serious damage done to the railroad tracks, all of which will be referred to further along in this report.
Your committee made an earnest, nonpartisan effort to determine the basic cause of the riot. We endeavored to pursue every avenue of information to its source, searched the hearts and consciences of all witnesses, and sought the opinions of men in every walk of life. The officers of the mills and factories placed the blame at the door of organized labor; but the overwhelming weight of testimony, to which is added the convictions of the committee, ascribes the mob spirit and its murderous manifestations to the bitter race feeling that had grown up between the whites and the blacks.
The natural racial aversion, which finds expression in mob violence in the North as in the South, was augmented in East St. Louis by hundreds of petty conflicts between the whites and the blacks. During the year 1917 between 10,000 and 12,000 negroes came from the Southern States to seek work at promised high wages in the industries of St. Clair County. They swarmed into the railroad stations on every train, to be met by their friends who formed reception committees and welcomed them to the financial, political and social liberty which they had been led to believe Illinois guaranteed. They seldom had more than enough money to exactly defray their transportation, and they arrived dirty and hungry. They stood around the street corners in homesick huddles, seeking shelter and hunting work.
How to deal with them soon became a municipal problem. Morning found them gathered at the gates of the manufactories, where often they were chosen in preference to the white men who also sought employment. But as rapidly as employment was found for those already there fresh swarms arrived from the South, until the great number without employment menaced the prosperity and safety of the community.
The Aluminum Ore Co. brought hundreds and hundreds of them to the city as strike breakers, to defeat organized labor, a precedent which aroused intense hatred and antagonism and caused countless tragedies as its aftermath. The feeling of resentment grew with each succeeding day. White men walked the streets in idleness, their families suffering for food and warmth and clothes, while their places as laborers were taken by strange negroes who were compelled to live in hovels and who were used to keep down wages.
It was proven conclusively that the various industries in St. Clair County were directly responsible for the importation of these negroes from the South. Advertisements were printed in various Southern newspapers urging the negroes to come to East St. Louis and promising them big wages. In many instances agents were sent through the South to urge the negroes to abandon profitable employment there and come to East St. Louis, where work was said to be plentiful and wages high.
One of the local railroads sent an agent to the Southern States, and on some trips he brought back with him as many as 30 or 40 negro men, all of them employed at their southern homes, making from $2 to $2.50 a day. A number of these men testified before the committee that they were promised $2.40 a day “and board” if they would come to East St. Louis; but when they did come they were paid only $1.40 a day, with an allowance of 60 cents a day for board, and were fed on coffee, bread and “lasses” and made to sleep on sacks in box cars, where they suffered keenly from the cold.
Responsibility for this influx of 10,000 or more negroes into East St. Louis rests on the railroads and the manufacturing establishments, and they must bear their share of the responsibility for the ensuing arson and murder that followed this unfortunate invasion.
It is a lamentable fact that the employers of labor paid too little heed to the comfort or welfare of their men. They saw them crowded into wretched cabins, without water or any of the conveniences of life; their wives and children condemned to live in the disreputable quarters of the town, and made no effort to lift them out of the mire.
The negroes gravitated to the unsanitary sections, existed in the squalor of filthy cabins, and made no complaint; but the white workmen had a higher outlook, and the failure to provide them with better homes added to their bitter dissatisfaction with the burdens placed upon them by having to complete with black labor. This resentment spread until it included thousands who did not have to work with their hands.
Ten thousand and more strange negroes added to the already large colored population soon made East St. Louis a center of lawlessness. Within less than a year before the riot over 800 “holdups” were committed in the city. More than 80 per cent of the murders were committed by negroes. Highway robberies were nightly occurrences; rape was frequent; while a host of petty offenses kept the law-abiding citizens in a state of terror.
White women were afraid to walk the streets at night; negroes sat in their laps on street cars; black women crowded them from their seats; they were openly insulted by drunken negroes. The low saloons and gambling houses were crowded with idle vagabonds; the dance halls in the negro section were filled with prostitutes, half clad, in some instances naked, performing lewd dances.
Negroes were induced to buy homes in white districts by unscrupulous real estate agents; and, as a consequence, the white people sold their homes at a sacrifice and moved elsewhere.
Owners of cheap property preferred negroes as tenants, charging them $15 a month rent for houses for which white workmen had paid only $10.
Corrupt politicians found the negro vote fitted to their foul purpose, and not only bought them on election day, but in the interval protected them in their dens of vice, their low saloons and barrel houses. They had immunity in the courts; crooked lawyers kept them out of jail; and a disorganized, grafting police force saw to it that they were not molested.
East St. Louis wallowed in a mire of lawlessness and unashamed corruption. Criminals from every quarter of the country gathered there, unmolested and safe from detection.
This was the condition of affairs on the night of July 1, 1917, when an automobile—some witnesses say there were two—went through a negro section of the city and fired promiscuously into their homes. No one was injured, but the act aroused a fierce spirit in the breasts of the negroes.
The ringing of a church bell at midnight, which was a prearranged signal, drew a crowd of negroes from that immediate section armed with guns and pistols. They marched through the streets ready to avenge the attack on their homes. They had not gone far until an automobile containing several policemen and a newspaper reporter crossed their path, having been notified by telephone that there was danger of an outbreak. The negroes cursed them and told them to drive on, although one of the detectives flashed his police badge and assured them that they had come to protect them.
For answer the negro mob fired a volley into the machine which, at the first shot, drove rapidly away. The negroes continued to empty their guns and pistols, with the result that one of the officers was instantly killed and another so badly wounded that he died later.
The police automobile, riddled with bullets, stood in front of police headquarters next morning and thousands viewed it. The early editions of the papers gave full details of the tragedy of the night before. And, on July 2, East St. Louis awoke to a realization of the awful fact that the dread which had knocked at every heart for months could no longer be denied. Years of lawlessness had at last borne bloody fruit. As the day wore on negro mobs killed other white men, and shot at men and women who were offering them no wrong.
Dr. McQuillan, a well-known physician, and his wife were dragged from their machine and shamefully abused. The doctor was shot, his ribs broken, and both he and his wife were badly beaten. One of his assailants remarked, “Boys, this is Dr. McQuillan, the Aluminum Ore Co. doctor,” and pleaded for his life. The would-be murders, some of whom must have been employed by the Ore Co., helped the doctor and his wife into their machine and, cranking it for them, sent them on their way.
The news of these murders and fresh outrages spread rapidly, and the streets soon filled with excited people. Men and boys, girls and women of the town began to attack every negro in sight. All fared alike, young and old, women and children; none was spared. The crowd soon grew to riotous proportions, and for hours the man hunt continued, stabbing, clubbing and shooting, not the guilty but unoffending negroes. One was hanged from a telephone pole and another had a rope tied around his neck and was dragged through the streets, the maddened crowd kicking and beating him as he lay prostrate and helpless.
The negroes were pursued into their homes, and the torch completed the work of destruction. As they fled from the flames they were shot down, although many of them came out with uplifted hands, pleading to be spared.
It was a day and night given over to arson and murder. Scenes of horror that would have shocked a savage were viewed with placid unconcern by hundreds, whose hearts knew no pity, and who seemed to revel in the feast of blood and cruelty.
It is not possible to give accurately the number of dead. At least 39 negroes and 8 white people were killed outright, and hundreds of negroes were wounded and maimed. “The bodies of the dead negroes,” testified an eyewitness, “were thrown into a morgue like so many dead hogs.”
There were 312 buildings and 44 railroad freight cars and their contents destroyed by fire; a total loss of $393,600. Your committee can not go into all the harrowing details of how the negroes—men, women and children—were killed and burned during the riot, but there were so many flagrantly cruel cases that a bare recital of the facts concerning some of them will be given.
At Collinsville and Illinois Avenues a negro and his wife and 14-year-old boy were assaulted. The man was beaten to death; his head was crushed in as if a blow from a stone, and the boy was shot and killed. The woman was very badly injured; her hair was torn out by the roots and her scalp was partly torn off by some one who took hold of the ragged edges of a wound and scalped her. After a time an ambulance drove up and the bodies of these three negroes were loaded into it. The father and the son were dead, and when the woman regained consciousness she found herself lying on the dead bodies of her husband and child. This family lived across the Mississippi River in St. Louis and were on their way home after having been on a fishing trip north of East St. Louis. They were innocent of any connection with the race feeling that brought about the riot and were victims of the savage brutality of the mob, who spared neither age or sex in their blind lust for blood.
Another negro who was trying to escape from a mob of 30 or 40 men was knocked down, kicked in the face, beaten into insensibility; and then a man stood over him and shot him five times as he lay helpless in the street.
A white man shot at a negro and killed another white man, his bad aim infuriating the mob that pursued the unoffending negro.
Two negroes were taken from a street car at Illinois and Collinsville Avenues. They were on their way to St. Louis to escape the fury of the mob. Both were killed.
Near the stock yards a white man knocked a negro senseless from a wagon, and when two reporters offered to take the wounded man to the hospital another white man threatened their lives and forced them to drive away and leave him.
At Collinsville and Division Avenues a mob of about 100 men drove a negro into the street, knocked him down, stamped on his face, and one of the crowd drew a pistol and shot him through the head, the bullet coming out between his eyes.
An old negro, about 70 years old, stepped off a street car, having come from St. Louis on his way home. The mob immediately attacked him with such fury that he was left senseless after being stoned and beaten. A witness who described this particular case to your committee said: “This old man, his dinner bucket lying on the ground beside him, apparently was dead, although he had his arm arched up over his face as if to protect himself from blows. About that time an ambulance driver came up and started to pick him up to put him into the ambulance. A white man standing over him said, ‘If you pick up this negro, you’ll get what he got.’ I saw that same negro in the undertaking establishment the next day, dead, with his arm still arched over his face.”
Around Third and Brady Avenue the mob was firing promiscuously into houses and sheds where the negroes had taken shelter. Every time one of them ran from these houses he was shot and killed.
The rioting continued all along Broadway, between Collinsville Avenue and Eighth Street; houses were burned and the poor wretches were driven from their homes or shot as they were trying to escape the flames. Two of them, with hands above their heads, were shot and killed.
A negro child 2 years old was shot and thrown into the doorway of a burning building, and nothing ever was found of the remains.
There was a crippled negro who took care of the horses and mules for the Hill-Thomas Lime & Cement Co. He was a faithful, hard-working, loyal fellow. The day of the riot his employer’s stable was in the path of the flames. He called up Mr. Thomas, his boss, on the telephone and said: “I just called you up to tell you good-bye. I’m here in the barn, and I ain’t goin’ to leave; I’ve turned all the stock out; I’m going to say here; I’m not going outside to be shot.”
This faithful negro must have been consumed in the flames as no trace of him ever was found.
It is impossible to say how many people perished in the 312 houses that were burned by the mob, but many negroes who lived in those houses still are missing, and it is not possible to get an accurate report as to just how many found death in the flames.
East St. Louis for many years has been a plague spot; within its borders and throughout its environs every offense in the calendar of crime and every lapse in morals and public decency has been openly committed, each day increasing the terrors of the law-abiding. No terms of condemnation, applied to the men who were responsible for the appalling conditions revealed before your committee, can be too severe. No punishment that outraged justice may visit upon them will be adequate. In many cases they deserve the extreme penalty; in every case they merit the execration of a despoiled and disgraced community.
The purpose of the politicians of both political parties, who found East St. Louis respected and prosperous and in a few years robbed its treasury, gave away valuable franchises, sank it in the mire of pollution, and brought upon it national censure and disgrace, was deliberate. They united to elect men to high office who would further their schemes of spoliation even when they feared to share their plunder. It was a conspiracy as shameless as it was confident. They left nothing to chance. It took account of the executive; it provided for an unscrupulous legislative board; it made certain of police commissioners who would take orders and deliver the goods; it embraced the courts high and low; it went into partnership with every vile business; it protected every lawless saloon; it encouraged houses of prostitution in the very shadow of the city hall; it gave protection to gamblers, immunity to thieves and murderers.
The good people of this sorely afflicted community were powerless. The chamber of commerce, which should have had the courage to rally the law-abiding and drive out the lawless, was ineffective. They actually “laid upon the table” a resolution of inquiry to investigate the conditions that made property unsafe and life perilous.
The owners of the great corporations whose plants were in and about East St. Louis lived in other cities. They pocketed their dividends without concern for the municipal dishonesty that wasted the taxes, and without a thought for the thousands of their own workmen, black and white, who lived in hovels, the victims of poverty and disease, of long hours and incessant labor.
The greed that made crooks of the politicians made money grabbers of the manufacturers, who pitted white labor against black, drove organized labor from their plants, brought thousands of inefficient negroes from the South, crowding the white men from their positions. All this stirred the fires of race hatred until it finally culminated in bloody, pitiless riot, arson and wanton murder.
Mayor Mollman surrounded himself with advisers who were familiar with the game of politics. They were not interested in securing an honest and economical administration. Their business first was to elect a man who would be subservient; one who possibly might not put his own hand into the public treasury, but would look the other way if a friend were so engaged. They needed a man who would stand between them and the indignant taxpayer; a fair promiser but a poor performer; personally honest, maybe, but so weak, so feeble, and so easily influenced that the conspirators were able to dictate his policies, and in the shadow of his stupidity loot the municipality. This was not the result of corruption in only one political party. It was brought about by a combination between the leaders of the worst elements in both parties. They pooled issues in the city election and declared regular dividends on their investment at the expense of honest people.
In the history of corrupt politics in this country there never has been a more shameless debauchery of the electorate nor a more vicious alliance between the agencies and beneficiaries of crime than for years existed in East St. Louis. It is a disgraceful chapter. It puts an ineffaceable brand on every man engaged in the conspiracy. Its contamination, spreading from a reservoir of corruption in the city hall, filtered through carefully laid conduits into every street and alley; into the hotels where girls, mere children of 15 years of age, were violated; into the low dance halls where schoolgirls listened to lewd songs and engaged in lascivious dances, and in the interval retired to assignation rooms with the drunken brutes who frequented these resorts; into the gambling houses where poorly paid workmen were robbed of their daily earnings; into the 350 saloons which kept open on Sunday, many of them running without license; into the barrel houses, where the vilest whisky was sold in bottles, the resort of vagrants and drunkards, rendezvous of criminals and schools of crime.
This corruption palsied the hands of prominent officials whose duty it was to enforce the law. Lawyers became protectors of criminals; the courts were shields for the highwayman, the prostitute, the gambler, the sneak thief and the murderer. The higher courts were not free from this baneful influence, which invaded all ranks and brought them to its low level.
Local judges were found who would take straw bonds that the worst criminals might escape; exacting only costs, two-thirds going into the pockets of the judge and one-third into the waiting palm of the chief of police.
A police force is never better than the police commissioners; and the police commissioners, in turn, reflect the character and wishes of the mayor. If a city has a mayor of courage and ability, who is not the weak and willing prey of political crooks and grafters, he is certain to appoint a board of police commissioners who will name policemen intelligent enough to know the law and brave and honest enough to enforce it.
East St. Louis was doubly unfortunate. In the person of Mayor Mollman it had an executive who obeyed orders from a gang of conscienceless politicians of both political parties, who were exploiting the city for their own aggrandizement, careless alike of its good name, its security or its prosperity. They were harpies who closed their eyes to the corruption that saturated every department of the public service and fattened on its festering carcass. Without conscience and without shame they led the mayor into devious paths, tempted him with assurances of political support for his future ambitions, packed the police force with men whose incompetency was only surpassed by their venality, and so circumscribed him with flattery and encouraged his cupidity that they were able to take the reins of government from his feeble hands and guide it to suit their own foul and selfish purposes.
The great majority of the police force appointed by Mayor Mollman’s board of police commissioners had served an apprenticeship as connivers at corrupt elections; as protectors of lawless saloons, and hotels run openly as assignation houses. They turned criminals loose at the dictation of politicians, and divided with grafting justices of the peace the fines that should have gone into the treasury.
This was the general character of the police force of the city of East St. Louis on July 1, 1917, when the spirit of lawlessness, long smoldering burst into flame.
When acts of violence were frequent on the night of May 28, after a largely attended public meeting in the city hall, at which Attorney Alexander Flannigan, by unmistakable implication, suggested mob violence, the police department failed to cope with the incipient mob.
When the lawlessness began to assume serious proportions on July 2, the police instantly could have quelled and dispersed the crowds, then made up of small groups; but they either fled into the safety of a cowardly seclusion, or listlessly watched the depredations of the mob, passively and in many instances actively sharing in its work.
The testimony of every witness who was free to tell the truth agreed in condemnation of the police for failure to even halfway do their duty. They fled the scene where murder and arson held full sway. They deserted the station house and could not be found when calls for help came from every quarter of the city. The organization broke down completely; and so great was the indifference of the few policemen who remained on duty that the conclusion is inevitable that they shared the lust of the mob for negro blood, and encouraged the rioters by their conduct, which was sympathetic when it was not cowardly.
Some specific instances will be given in proof of the above conclusions:
After a number of rioters had been taken to the jail by the soldiers under Col. Clayton, the police deliberately turned hundreds of them loose without bond, failing to secure their names or to make any effort to identify them.
In one instance the mob jammed policemen against a building and held them there while other members of the gang were assaulting unoffending negroes. The police made no effort to free themselves, and seemed to regard the performance as highly humorous.
The police shot into a crowd of negroes who were huddled together, making no resistance. It was a particularly cowardly exhibition of savagery.
When the newspaper reporters were taking pictures of the mob, policemen charged them with their billies, broke their machines, destroyed the negatives, and threatened them with arrest if any further attempt was made to photograph the rioters who were making the streets run red with innocent blood, applying the torch to reach their victims who were cowering in their wretched homes.
A negro was brutally clubbed by a policeman who found him guilty of the heinous offense of hiding in an ice box to save his life.
Two policemen and three soldiers were involved in the shooting of Minneola McGee under circumstances of extreme brutality. This occurred, not at the scene of the riots, but as she was going from an outhouse to the kitchen of the residence where she was employed, when the police and the soldiers who accompanied them fired at her deliberately, without even the slightest provocation, and shot off her arm near the shoulder.
Minneola McGee is a negro girl about 20 years old. She was induced to leave one of the Southern States and go to East St. Louis by the many enticing but misleading advertisements scattered among southern negroes. It is apparent that even before her injury she was a frail and rather delicate girl. When she appeared before your committee, with one arm off just below the shoulder, she was a physical wreck. She has no education whatever. It is not possible for her to earn a living in any other way than by manual labor. Now, as the result of as fiendish a piece of work as was ever perpetrated, she must, at least to some extent, be an object of charity. Because of her youth this sort of a life is before her. She was interrogated by your committee to ascertain whether it was possible for her to have been shot by accident. Her simple story removed all doubt upon that score, as she satisfied everyone who heard her that she was purposely and deliberately shot. In answer to questions put to her by your committee she said:
I wuz in a outhouse in de garden. I hea’d de shootin’ an’ started fo’ de house. When I got put’y nigh de house a soljer histed his gun and pinted it right at me and shot my arm off. Dar wuzn’t nobody twixt me and de soljer fo’ him to be shootin’ at, an’ dar wuzn’t nobody on de udder side of me for him to be shootin’ at. He just histed his gun and pinted it at me an’ shot my arm off when I hadn’t done nothin’. When he shot me I fell on de ground an’ didn’t know nothin’.
Her pitiful recital of this piece of brutality toward her had the effect of stirring the indignation of everybody in the room where the hearing was being conducted, and at the same time to arouse the utmost sympathy for her.
Many other cases of police complicity in the riots could be cited. Instead of being guardians of the peace they became a part of the mob by countenancing the assaulting and shooting down of defenseless negroes and adding to the terrifying scenes of rapine and slaughter.
Their disgraceful conduct was the logical fruit of the notorious alliance between the city hall and the criminal elements, aided by saloons, gambling houses and houses of prostitution. The city administration owed its election to their support and rewarded them for their fealty by permitting them to debauch the innocent, rob drunken victims, make assignation houses of the hotels, protect the gambler and the thief, and commit any act by which they might profit.
Mayor Mollman appointed the police commissioners. He was responsible for their failure to divorce the police from its partnership with crooked lawyers, corrupt justices of the peace and notorious criminals. He knew full well what the conditions in the police department were. Prominent citizens had warned him repeatedly and had supplied convincing proof of their charges against the department. He paid no attention to their warnings and appeals. By his failure to remove the police commissioners he acquiesced in their misfeasance, and equally is responsible with them for the heartless crimes committed by an unrestrained mob, and for the lawlessness that was encouraged and fostered by his failure to enforce the law and to hold his subordinates responsible for the proper conduct of the police department.
Much of the energy, some of the brains, and nearly all of the audacity of the gang that in recent years has held East St. Louis in its merciless grasp were centered in Locke Tarlton, president of the East Side Levee Board. It was his cunning mind that helped devise the schemes by which he and his associates were enriched. It was his practiced hand that carried them out. He made Mayor Mollman believe he was his creator; that he had elevated him to high station; and that his blind obedience to orders would mean rich political rewards in the future.
As president of the levee board, Tarlton deposited millions in a local bank and exacted no interest from it. The taxpayers suffered, while the bank lent the money and pocketed the proceeds. In further proof of the close relationship that existed between the levee board and the bank, Thomas Gillespie, brother of the bank’s president, was elected attorney for the levee board.
Locke Tarlton knew how to handle the negro vote. He had an unanswerable argument to use with “floaters.” He told them for whom he wanted them to vote, agreed on the price they were to get for casting their ballots, or rather having them marked for them by corrupt election officers, and always paid them promptly. Locke Tarlton was man of honor when dealing with crooked voters. He always kept his word; he was sure pay. One of the picturesque sights in East St. Louis was to see Locke Tarlton with a stack of $5 bills in his hands publicly paying the negroes who helped him win an election.
When the levee board needed a right of way over certain land that was owned by a widow, Dr. R. X. McCracken, the health commissioner appointed by Mayor Mollman, bought the land from the widow for $5,000 and sold it a few weeks later to his friends, the levee board, for $20,000. The widow did not know when she sold the land that the levee board wanted it. McCracken’s wife also sold land in the same locality to the levee board for $600 an acre, while adjoining land was purchased for $300 an acre.
When an organized effort was made to close the houses of prostitution the mayor would not give a definite answer until he had sent for Tarlton, who rented property in which the low saloon with assignation and dance-hall attachments were featured. In the presence of Rev. George W. Allison, who was conducting this crusade, Tarlton was purposely profane and vulgar; betrayed his interest by his anxiety; showed no sympathy with the movement; said in the presence of the mayor that the “town was full of jailbirds and crooks and always would be.”
Whenever profitable vice was imperiled Tarlton was always found ready to defend. The criminal element believed, as publicly expressed by them, “that he owned the mayor body and breeches;” and they looked to Tarlton to save them from interference by the police and from prosecution by the courts. He kept his compact faithfully. They never called for help in vain; and on election days the ranks of crime and its immediate beneficiaries, the saloon, the gambling den and the house of prostitution, paid him back with compound interest.
Locke Tarlton was aided in his work by Tom Canavan, superintendent of public improvements. They were partners in many enterprises. Their desires ran along the same lines; their minds met in countless devious plans for personal gain and political advantage. Canavan was not as bold an operator as Tarlton, but he was more subtle. Possibly he lacked the resistless energy that carried Tarlton over obstacles that would have deterred a more cautious man; but he was shrewd and resourceful, and found ways and means to accomplish his -ends, and one of his principal agencies was Locke Tarlton. The mayor was another.
Tarlton and Canavan were “the men higher up.” They knew how far to go without taking a personal risk. They knew, too, who could be depended upon to put things over; and the courts and the police force were so organized that no real friend of the “gang” ever suffered.
After the riots Canavan is reported to have said: “Something had to be done to the ‘niggers,’ or they would have taken the town.”
Jerry Sullivan, the corporation counsel, who profited by the job which made the county drain a swamp which he and his friends very recently had bought, evidently with the knowledge that it would soon be drained at public expense, was either an understudy for Tarlton and Canavan, or he was further back of the curtain. He tried to do in a lesser way what they did wholesale. So far as he could help the combination along in his official capacity, Jerry was willing and ready to serve.
Alexander Flannigan, an attorney of some ability and no character, appears often in the record of the investigation. His speech to an excited crowd of workingmen in the auditorium of the city hall on the night of May 28 virtually advised them to kill and burn the houses of the negroes. He was not authorized to speak for those who went there to protest against the lawlessness which disgraced the city and the presence of thousands of negroes who, it is claimed, were taking the place of the white workmen, but his inflammatory speech caused many of his hearers to rush into the street and resort to acts of violence.
Flannigan has long been a menace to decency and order in East St. Louis. He has made a specialty of defending the worst criminals; and, by a corrupt partnership with certain justices of the peace, whose decisions he directed, he was able to secure the release of scores of guilty gamblers, thieves, thugs and prostitutes. If the case required a jury, by connivance with the constables, he always secured a jury that would acquit.
When efforts were made to indict him for complicity in naturalization frauds, his friend and associate, Hubert Schaumleffel, States Attorney, pleaded with the Federal authorities not to push the charge against him.
Flannigan ought to be indicted for his incendiary speech to the workingmen. He was in full sympathy with the action of the mob. They followed his advice, and the scenes of murder and arson that ensued were the logical result of his utterances.
It is the duty of the respectable members of the bar in East St. Louis to institute the necessary proceedings to deprive him of his license to practice law. Such as he make a mockery of justice and bring reproach on an honorable profession.
Hubert Schaumleffel is the States Attorney for St. Clair County, his authority extending over East St. Louis. It was his duty to prosecute the criminals that made an interstate playground of that city. No disorderly saloon, no gambling house, no house of prostitution could have existed if he had raised a threatening finger. He held in his hand the moral destiny of this city of 90,000 people. Had he been a man of average moral courage, prompted by high motives and responsive to his oath of office, East St. Louis and its border towns would have escaped the maelstrom of vice that all but engulfed them.
But Schaumleffel had no civic pride; he was devoid of character; he was the boon companion of the low and dissolute; the ready servant of scheming politicians; at heart a sympathizer with criminals whom he should have prosecuted relentlessly. A member of the Tarlton-Canavan corrupt machine, he rendered menial service to his masters. It is in evidence that before the city election, when Mollman was a candidate for mayor, with all the hopes and prospects of the gang centered on him, Schaumleffel called together the leaders among the negroes, those who controlled the vicious elements of their race, and were permitted to violate the law whenever they rendered proper service to his administration. He told them plainly that they had to vote for Mollman for mayor, and if they failed to support him he would close the gambling dens and the dance halls, the policy shops and the dice games, and the lid would be securely placed on an absolutely “tight town.”
Many other instances could be given of Schaumleffel’s alliance with the worst elements. Alexander Flannigan relied on and was emboldened by his friendship. The lottery sharks in St. Clair County escaped indictment by his inaction; countless criminals went unwhipped of justice, either because he neglected his duty, was blind to offenses committed by his political supporters, or was so benumbed by drink that he did not have the intelligence to realize the enormity of his official omissions.
Rev. Father Christopher Goelz testified that he went to see Schaumleffel in order to protest against the existence of a cockpit at Woodland Park, with its attendant scenes of beastly drunkenness and debauchery. He found the States Attorney as he was on his way to St. Louis to attend a prize fight, so drunk that he could not talk to him intelligently.
The day of the riot, with the mob rushing through the streets, hundreds of houses in flames, and men, women and children victims of the rifle, pistol and the bludgeon, States Attorney Hubert Schaumleffel staggered drunken along the way, heedless of the crimes that were being committed in his presence and callous to the cries of the injured and the dying.
It is his habit to drink to excess. His infirmity is known to all. His love for liquor seems to have stripped him of all moral courage and manhood, and left him naked and unashamed.
When will the authorities confront him with his official derelictions and his personal delinquencies, and take from him the high place which he has disgraced?
Dan McGlynn is a leading lawyer of East St. Louis. He should not be linked too closely with the malodorous Alexander Flannigan, but he must have learned his code of ethics in the same school from which Flannigan graduated. As a member of the so-called “Committee of One Hundred” McGlynn pretendedly was an indignant citizen, protesting vigourously against lawlessness, cooperating with the attorney general in the prosecution of the rioters and condemning every form of vice. He was so earnest (?) that he was named as a member of the executive committee of the “Committee of One Hundred,” and the attorney general of the State accepted his assistance, took him into his confidence and consulted freely with him because of his conceded legal ability and his knowledge of local conditions.
But a change came over Dan McGlynn and he saw another light—not from above as Paul saw it, but from below—a red and sulphurous light that led him into devious paths. The two policemen, Cornelius Meehan and James O’Brien, who, with three of Col. Tripp’s soldiers, shot off Minneola McGee’s arm and murdered two innocent negroes the morning after the riot, asked Dan McGlynn to defend them. On one side was his membership on the executive committee of the “Committee of One Hundred” and his possession of important secrets of the prosecution disclosed to him by officials of the attorny general’s office, and on the other was his desire to save Meehan and O’Brien from the punishment which they so justly deserved. All his talents and influence were placed at the service of these assassins, forgetting his duty as a citizen and regard for the ethics of his profession.
He attempted to justify his conduct by the statement that the policemen were “old clients” and he felt bound to defend them. Dan McGlynn, powerful, resourceful and respected; and Alexander Flannigan, corrupt and comdemned, really are brothers under the skin.
The case of a young woman, whose name for obvious reasons should not become a part of this report, brought from St. Louis to East St. Louis as a “white slave” and held a prisoner in a saloon and rooming house run by Steve Unk and his wife, illustrates to what depths of depravity human beings can descend for money. This girl was but 17 years old. She met a man in St. Louis whose name she did not know, but from her description was a “pimp” whose business it was to secure “white slaves” for the East St. Louis market. He told this girl that she was to get employment at the Star Hotel. He took her to Steve Unk’s dive, where the first duty imposed upon her was to sit in the saloon and drink with low characters who frequented it. Unk next explained to her that it was her duty to go “upstairs” with them, and whatever money she received as a prostitute would be divided, half to her and half to Mrs. Unk.
In the course of time she became “enciente,” and Mrs. Unk herself took her to a midwife in St. Louis, who performed an abortion on her. She was taken back to Unk’s place that afternoon, was so ill and weak she could not leave her room. Racked with pain and suffering tortures from the crude operation, she was forced to submit to Unk, who broke into her room and spent half the night with her.
Day by day she sat in the back room of this low saloon, and far into the night, drinking with the mill hands and roustabouts who were drawn there by her advertised presence. She testified that she often drank as many as a dozen bottles of beer in a night, because Unk made her drink with all who asked her. Unk would not permit her to talk with anyone who spoke English, fearful that she would tell her story and appeal to them for help. Unk and his wife made it a rule that she could not have breakfast, not even a drink of water, until after she had made some money in the morning.
When she finally got away from Unk’s place to go to her home in St. Louis, they kept her clothes and her money, and refused to give her even the pitiful share which she had earned by prostitution with the motley gang that crowded this low saloon and assignation house.
Mrs. Yent, who took the girl into her home at the request of the United States attorney until such time as a “white-slave” charge against Unk could be prosecuted, was hounded by the police, and finally arrested on a trumped-up charge of running a house of prostitution, because this unfortunate girls, sick almost unto death, and an attending nurse were in the house. She not only sheltered this poor girl, but nursed her tenderly, and for her act of charity was dragged into court and prosecuted; but, after a full investigation, the judge dismissed the charge against Mrs. Yent as without foundation.
Since your committee left East St. Louis Steve Unk has been convicted and sent to the penitentiary for two years for his treatment of this girl. Mrs. Unk is yet to be tried.
Joseph B. Messick is the county judge of St. Clair County. As judge he appoints two members of the board of review which has power to increase or reduce all assessments made by the city assessor and county officials. He also appoints the election board, and that board made his son its secretary. This young man is a lawyer of limited capacity, with an earning power of perhaps a hundred dollars a month, but his profound (?) knowledge of the law appealed to some of the great corporations of St. Clair County, and they at once employed him as attorney to appear before his father’s board of review to secure for them a reduction in their assessments. Young Messick rapidly developed an insight into assessment values, and proved conclusively that from their standpoint his selection was wise.
The board of review was composed of William A. Swartztrauber, Frank M. Miller, with powerful political connections, and Charles F. Krebs.
It did not take the son of the county judge long to convince this board, appointed by his father, that the assessments made by the city assessor and increased by the county assessor were an unjust burden on some of these rich corporations.
Here are the assessments and reductions of the leading corporations:
The Aluminum Co. of America was assessed by Assessor O’Day at $699,990. Assessor Warning raised it to $799,990, and the board of review, perhaps after an eloquent appeal by young Messick, cut it to $200,000.
Ninety-four lots owned by the Wiggins Ferry Co. were assessed at $1,518–470. This assessment was cut by the board to $803,245. The assessment of these lots were cut virtually in half by the board; and in some other instances the board reduced the Wiggins properties, but left unchanged the assessments on adjacent lots owned by others.
The plant of the Malleable Iron Co. was assessed at $465,000. It was raised by Warning, the county assessor, to $519,000 and was cut by the board to $132,000.
The American Steel Foundries’ assessment was reduced about $38,000.
The Republic Iron & Steel Co.’s assessment was reduced from $63,990 to $16,788.
The Elliott Frog & Switch Co. was reduced from $24,420 to $9,000.
Lots owned by the Water Co. assessed at $9,660, were reduced by the board to $2,220.
These assessments held for four years, and during that period the St. Louis Bridge Co. would save in taxes $116,654, the Wiggins Ferry Co. $84,140, the Aluminum Co. of America $69,952, and the Malleable Iron Co. $45,148.
Although the assessment of virtually every big corporation in and around East St. Louis was reduced, assessments of very many of the small householders were increased.
Your committee is not informed just what fee was paid to young Messick for appearing as attorney before the board appointed by his father.
The strike in the plant of the Aluminum Ore Co. was caused by a demand on the part of organized labor for an adjustment of wages, a reduction in hours and an improvement of conditions under which the men worked. The company refused to meet any of these demands, declined to discuss the matter with the workmen’s committee and added insult to injury by importing negro strike breakers and giving them the places of the white men.
It is not the purpose of your committee to discuss the merits of this controversy, although the bringing of negroes to break a strike which was being peaceably conducted by organized labor sowed the dragon’s teeth of race hatred that afterwards grew into the riot which plunged East St. Louis into blood and flame.
But there grew out of this strike a violation of the law of such a reckless and defiant nature that it calls for the severest condemnation.
One E. M. Sorrels was secretary of an alleged rifle club which never had maintained more than a desultory organization. The members virtually had ceased to use a temporary range; and there were stored in the club house a number of rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, the property of the United States. Sorrels, either on his own initiative or at the suggestion of an officer of the Aluminum Ore Co., entered the storeroom of the rifle club at midnight and secretly transferred to the plant of the Aluminum Co. between 30 and 40 rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition; the purpose being to arm the strike breakers and turn guns of the United States against the forces of organized labor and shoot down the strikers should this be necessary to break the strike.
Sorrel violated the law by burglarizing the house containing these rifles; but the Aluminum Ore Co. recognized the risk he had taken; and, grateful for the unlawful service he had rendered, promptly took him into its employ at a salary of $175 a month.
The War Department should not be blamed when United States rifles and ammunition are stolen and turned over to a private corporation to be put to unlawful uses; but the attention of the Secretary of War is invited to Sorrell’s criminal act, and he should request the United States district attorney to have him indicted and prosecuted to conviction.
The character of the police force and its utter demoralization was strikingly shown in the murder of H. B. Trafton, head of the “morality squad” of the police force, by Assistant Chief of Detectives Frank Florence. The murder grew out of the fact that Trafton, acting under orders and in the line of his duty, raided a house of prostitution which, to the astonishment of the community, turned out to be owned by Florence. When they met Florence drew his weapon; Trafton threw both hands up above his head; but nevertheless, Florence shot and killed him in cold blood. Florence was indicted and tried, but being one of the “gang” was, of course acquitted.
One of the worst crimes ever committed in St. Clair County was the abduction and murder of Alphonso Magarian, 3-year-old son of an Armenian baker. The father of the child complained to the police that a house of prostitution was being conducted next door to his home. Soon thereafter his child disappeared, no trace of it being found until nine days later, when the little headless body was discovered 100 yards away in a dump heap. The head was found a week later in another dump heap. Several pimps and two prostitutes from the house next door were arrested, and one of the women confessed to having assisted in abducting the child. Many threats had been made against her by friends of the accused. Before the trial her mangled corpse was found on a railroad track. A coroner’s verdict of suicide was rendered, but it is believed she was first murdered and then placed on the track.
Strong “gang” influence was used to save the indicted men, one of whom was a relative of Health Commissioner McCracken. State’s Attorney Schaumleffel conducted the prosecution, and again, as a matter of course, there was a verdict of acquittal. The house of prostitution complained of by the father of the murdered child was in a building owned by Thomas Canavan, president of the board of local improvements, and Locke Tarlton, president of the levee board.
The offenses committed against law, order and decency in East St. Louis and St. Clair County include every known act in the catalogue of crime. We have selected some of the high lights that luridly illumine the landscape of crime.
One-third of all the stealing from freight cars engaged in interstate commerce, as reported from 27 States, was done in East St.Louis and St. Clair County. It was not only a fertile field for the car thief, but he found a ready sale for his plunder through agencies that were protected by the police and other officials.
Thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen goods were found in the stable of a notorious saloon keeper, who took a prominent part in politics, and he was indicted. There was conclusive evidence of his guilt; but, as was to be expected in that community, many leading officials went to his rescue and testified to his good character. Again, there was a verdict of acquittal.
The politicians and the police force of East St. Louis and St. Clair Count divided among themselves at least $60,000 a year in graft which they exacted from the gamblers and prostitutes for protection.
Constables and deputy sheriffs picked up some easy money in the vile dance halls that were open on Sunday in the various saloons in St. Clair County. They were each paid $5 a day by proprietors of these places under the pretense of maintaining order, but under their oaths they should have arrested and prosecuted the keepers and all those present for violating the law.
Records show that more than 300 girls between the ages of 13 and 16 years visited the dance halls run in connection with saloons and so-called hotels, which were in reality assignation houses. These children, their hair hanging down their backs, and in short dresses, publicly engaged in lascivious dances with a motley crew of drunken toughs. The police took no notice of these offenses, nor did the mayor make any effort to close these joints notoriously violating the law.
A poor widow who had three daughters appealed to Rev. George W. Allison to prosecute the men responsible for their downfall. All of them were ruined in these dance halls. The youngest, 15 years old, visited a saloon one night and was taken to a room in the building and outraged, and nine different men satisfied their lust before a well-known saloon keeper arrived on the scene, when he locked the door and spent the remainder of the night with the despoiled child. There were no indictments, no prosecutions, and no attempts on the part of the police or mayor to arrest the offenders, notwithstanding that officers of the law were eyewitnesses.
The knowledge of this horrible assault became so widespread that a former State’s Attorney finally secured an affidavit from the victim; but he went out of office, and the remaining authorities paid no attention to it. Finally, however, some of those involved in the outrage sent the 15-year-old child to California where she gave birth to a boy baby. The name of the saloon keeper who participated in the assault was given to Mayor Mollman, but he made no effort to have him indicted, and even refused to cancel his saloon license.
A well-known hotel in East St. Louis, with a saloon attachment, was offered for sale, and part of the chattels as set out in writing in the contract were two women whose earnings as prostitutes it was represented would average $7 a day each. The owner of this hotel lived in New York, and Canavan and Talton, both public officials, acting as his agents, rented the property. The vile purpose for which it was used was held out as a reason why the place was worth the price asked.
Between the first of September, 1916, and July 2, 1917, the day of the riot, there were eight hundred crimes of various characters, ranging from larceny to rape and murder committed in East St. Louis. In hundreds of these cases straw bonds were taken, and when the criminals failed to answer a small fine was entered, of which the justice of the peace received two-thirds and the chief of police one-third. It was a profitable business for the justices, one of whom, now dead, is said to have made $25,000 in one year.
Women of the street in kimonas, with frowsy heads and painted faces, took part in the riots and were, if possible more brutal than the men. They attacked negro women and children and beat them unmercifully.
The mayor’s secretary made a practice of instructing justices of the peace when to fine criminals; how much they should pay; and also furnished a list of those who were to go free.
It is worthy of note that with the aid of the votes of the good women East St. Louis now has a commission form of government, which promises to cure some of the evils from which it has suffered for so many years.
One of the unique features of official life in East St. Louis was that permitting constables to summons juries from the barrel houses and saloons. They were known as “irrigation juries.” These juries always returned a verdict in favor of the clients of Alexander Flannigan, a friend of the court, or of any other lawyer or gang leader with “pull;” and it was the invariable custom for the court to impose a sufficient additional fine to pay for a “treat” all around for the jurymen and officers. These lawyers with a “pull” proudly took them to a nearby saloon on which was the large sign, “Court Bar,” where they were “irrigated.”
As a matter of record many of the prominent citizens of East St. Louis and many not so prominent refused to pay taxes; and then, under the law, their property was sold. In all such cases the city bought in the property, but never perfected its title, with the result that these taxes were finally barred by the statute of limitation, the city receiving no revenue and the tax dodger retaining his property.
The saloons made a business of discounting the salaries of city employees, in many cases charging as high as 30 and even 40 per cent. The tougher the saloon the more patrons it had from the city hall.
A saloon keeper was chairman of one of the assessment boards. He publicly stated that the corporations were assessed too high and the small property owners too low.
After Mayor Mollman’s election, which was brought about by an alliance between corrupt Republican and Democratic gangsters of both races, he was the guest of honor at a banquet given by negroes, and was photographed in the midst of them.
A witness stated that one of the letters written by a negro to his friend in the South ran about as follows: “There is a money tree in East St. Louis. All you have to do is to come up here and shake it and get the money.” The negroes came in thousands in answer to this appeal and others like it. They found no money tree; but, instead, some of them found telephone poles from which they were hung at a rope’s end.
During the riot a negro was arrested and taken to jail, that the mob might get him. He had not committed any offense; and, presumably, was in the safe custody of the jailer. One of the police officers, learning that he had some money in his pocket, constituted himself judge, jury and witness, and fined him $11.50 and also made him contribute $5 additional to raise the assessment of one of his fellow prisoners to the proper amount. This petty crook, in learning afterward that the negro had some change left, no doubt was surprised at his own moderation.
One of the famous institutions of Brooklyn, a negro town in St. Clair County, was known as “Aunt Kate’s Honkytonk.” A sign over the door read, “Something doing every hour.” Many witnesses testified that Aunt Kate was protected by the police, and that her place was vile, even in that degraded community. Indecent dances went on as a continuous performance, and abandoned white women interlined the motley crowd of men by dancing naked on the ballroom floor.
One of the original dances of “Aunt Kate’s Honkytonk” was the “Chemise-she-wobble,” a variation of the famous muscle dance of the East. It was a special feature of Aunt Kate’s program, and hundreds came from all the countryside to witness it.
Brooklyn had a high school for negro girls, in which the town took a pardonable pride; but along came a wave of crime and engulfed this center of culture, and 24 out of the 25 girls who were in the graduating class went to the bad in the saloons and dance halls and failed to receive their diplomas.
It was a frequent occurrence to find drunken, naked white women in the streets of Brooklyn. They had spent the night in the saloons; and, in the quarrels and orgies that took place, were stripped and turned into the street.
Marie Hall is a noted prostitute in East St. Louis. She not only had a “pull” with the police, but she was a great admirer of Justice Clark, and presented him with a new office desk, to which he proudly pointed. When joked by his friends about this gift he remarked he was only sorry she had not given him an automobile instead.
Some years ago the Council of East St. Louis gave away an electric franchise to a crowd of freebooters who had neither capital nor credit. They never had any idea of establishing an electric plant nor using any of the valuable privileges so freely granted them. These promoters sold the franchise for $50,000, and ever since East St. Louis has suffered from high prices for electricity, an eastern syndicate finally getting control, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charter. The widow on of the aldermen exposed the bribery by which the franchise was secured. She filed suit against the original promoters for $1,000, alleging that $14,000 had been promised for the votes of 14 aldermen; that they had lived up to their part of the contract and granted the franchise, and that her husband died before he could receive his share of bootie—$1,000.
The looting of the city and country treasury has grown into a habit in East St. Louis. More than $250,000 has been stolen by various defaulting officials in the last five years. In one instance the school fund was robbed of $45,000, but the prosecution of the thief has gone on listlessly for several years without any real effort to convict him. He was not arraigned for trial until after your committee had left East St. Louis. He then pleaded guilty. Everybody knows who were protecting him, but so many similar thefts have been overlooked that there is but little public sentiment against him.
After one of the defalcations the thieves took everything in the vault by the metal hinges of a loose-leaf ledger, and the fire they started to destroy the evidence of their guilt left that as the only souvenir for the taxpayers.
The names of the saloons in and about East St. Louis were typical of the wildest West in the mining-camp days; and, while picturesque in their nomenclature, they breathe a spirit of lawless defiance. Prominent among them were “The Bucket of Blood,” “The Monkey Cage,” “The Yellow Dog,” “Uncle John’s Pleasure Palace,” with the seductive appeal, “Come in and be suited,” and “Aunt Kate’s Honkytonk,” with “Something doing every hour.”
In the latter part of 1912 or the first part of 1913 a hod carrier living in East St. Louis died. It was not then known that he had any near relatives, although he carried $1,600 life insurance. The county took charge and the funeral was assigned to William Degen, an undertaker, who was a member of the city council. A relative of the deceased appeared later and claimed the insurance. It was found that all the money had been paid to Degen except about $200. Degen supplied an itemized bill, containing such items as a casket, $100 for a suit of clothes, $20 for shoes, $5 for shaving the dead man, and other and similar extravagant items.
The whole matter was exposed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and such a scandal resulted that the authorities exhumed the body. It was found to have been buried in a rough pine box, with scarcely enough clothing to cover it. The whole outfit cost less than $50.
It was reported at about the same time that the bodies of women were not safe from the degeneracy of an employee of another prominent undertaker. Another employee of this establishment reported one such instance to his employer and was discharged, while the man against whom the accusation was made was retained in the employ of the undertaker.
On the night of July 1 Mayor Mollman telephoned the acting adjutant general of Illinois that the mob spirit was rampant; that the police were unable to cope with the situation; and that it would take the strong hand of the militia to preserve order.
At 8 o’clock next morning Col. S. 0. Tripp, assistant quartermaster general, arrived under orders from the office of the adjutant general of the State. After an unnecessary journey to St. Louis he came to the city hall in East St. Louis and reported for duty to the mayor, who described the situation to him and gave him entire charge to deal with the conditions as the necessities of the case might arise.
It may be well at this point to describe Col. Tripp because he fills an important rôle in this tragedy, and responsibility for much that was done and left undone must rest on him.
When the adjutant general’s office summoned Col. Tripp in the early hours of the morning he answered the call to duty arrayed in a seersucker suit and a dainty straw hat, after having, as he informed your committee, hastily packed his hand bag with a lot of toilet articles. Thus ready for any emergency he took the first train for East St. Louis. He brought no uniform with him, and, although it was his duty to face and quell a riotous mob, at no time was he garbed as a soldier.
Evidently it was his intention to secure some bullet-proof coign of vantage from which he could view the turbulent scenes in perfect safety; while, with a megaphone, he could command and dispose of his troops. After hours of consultation with his companion in timidity and inefficiency, the mayor, he ventured in the direction of the mob and, according to his own testimony, saw a helpless negro with a rope around his neck being dragged to his death.
He described, with a great show of courage, how he grabbed a gun from a soldier and, facing this terrible mob, pressed back 1,500 people by his own unaided effort. Your committee was unable to find any evidence to confirm this valiant deed of the redoubtable colonel, where he practically mastered hundreds of infuriated rioters; but, as he states it to be a fact, it must be true.
It is the unanimous opinion of every witness who saw Col. Tripp on that fateful day that he was a hindrance instead of a help to the troops; that he was ignorant of his duties, blind to his responsibilities deaf to every intelligent appeal that was made to him. His presence in East St. Louis was a reproach to the assistant adjutant general who sent him there and a reflection on the judgment of the governor for burdening his staff with so hopeless an incompetent. Instead of putting himself at the head of his troops, uniformed as a soldier, and going boldly into the mob, dispersing them and, if necessary, risking his own life to rescue the poor wretches who were dragged through the streets by the neck, shot and mutilated, he remained in the city hall from 8 a.m. until 12 o’clock, when he calmly repaired to a restaurant outside the danger zone, secured a delightful lunch which it took him more than an hour to order and masticate, and at 1:30 he resumed his survey of the situation from the safe shelter of the city hall.
When Col. Tripp was asked why he spent four hours in the city hall, with East St. Louis in the hands of a murderous mob, and failed to go to the scenes of conflict and take charge of his troops who were sorely in need of a commander, he absolved himself of all responsibility by answering, “The President never goes out of his office;” and so, by comparing himself to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, he was perfectly satisfied with his conduct. “Me and the President” was, in his opinion, a complete defense.
The mayor called the governor on the long-distance telephone and urged that additional troops be sent, saying that the lives and property of the citizens were endangered. But Col. Tripp assured the governor that he “had the situation well in hand,” and that there was no need for more troops. His judgment in this matter was no better than his ability and courage as a soldier; qualities which he totally lacked.
Your committee desires to speak a special word in commendation of the conduct, bravery and skill of Col. C. B. Clayton, of the Fourth Infantry, next in command to Col. Tripp. Had it not been for his promptness and determination the mob certainly would have committed many more atrocities.
Col. Tripp, in his testimony before your committee, undertook to defend his blunders; but he failed utterly. If he had taken hold of the situation upon his arrival, inspired his soldiers with respect for him, gone to the center of the disturbance and turned loaded guns against the mob, he would have spared East St. Louis much of the ignominy from which it now suffers and saved the lives of many innocent men, women and children.
Your committee invites the attention of the Secretary of War to the record of this officer as set forth under oath by himself and many other witnesses.
The conduct of the soldiers who were sent to East St. Louis to protect life and property puts a blot on that part of the Illinois militia that served under Col. Tripp. They were scattered over the city, many of them being without officers to direct or control them. In only a few cases did they do their duty. They seemed moved by the same spirit of indifference or cowardice that marked the conduct of the police force. As a rule they fraternized with the mob, joked with them and made no serious effort to restrain them.
Following are a few of the many instances testified to by responsible witnesses:
A negro, unarmed, making no resistance, and trying to escape the fury of the mob, was knocked down and cruelly kicked and beaten. His condition was so pitiable that a soldier said to the rioters, “Boys, he has suffered enough; let him alone.” In answer one of the mob drew his pistol and shot the negro five times, one bullet plowing through his brain. The soldier then put his gun on his shoulder and calmly walked away, making no arrests.
A number of soldiers openly stated that “they didn’t like niggers” and would not disturb a white man for killing them.
Three soldiers and two policemen were ordered to close a negro saloon. On their approach two negro men ran, and the soldiers and policemen shot and killed both, although neither had committed any offense.
The same crowd shot off the arm of the negro servant girl, Mineola McGee, already mentioned. They had no warrant for her; she had not committed any offense; she was not even running away, she was cruelly maimed for life by these official murderers. This unoffending girl was wantonly shot by the soldiers, as testified to by the policemen who have been prosecuted. Your committee was unable to secure the names of these militiamen. They must be known to the military authorities. It is the duty of the governor and the adjutant general of Illinois to find these men and to punish them for their brutal crime. It was one of the most flagrant cases of cruelty revealed to your committee.
Paul Y. Anderson, reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, testified that he heard a soldier tell a white man who was loading a revolver “to kill all the negroes he could, that he didn’t like them, either.”
A member of the Sixth Illinois Infantry boasted that he had fired his gun 17 times during the riot and every time at a “black target.” Your committee was unable to secure the name of this soldier.
It was a common expression among the soldiers: “Have you got your nigger yet?”
A militiaman in uniform, said to have been on furlough, led a section of the mob that was killing negroes.
A soldier stabbed a white boy with a bayonet, and the boy bled to death. The boy was carrying a pair of pantaloons across his arm. That was his sole offense. The soldier was drinking, and murderously assaulted him. After a full hearing the coroner’s jury unanimously held him on a charge of murder. But, later, at a secret trial by the military authorities, he was released.
Soldiers deliberately shot into a house where seven negroes had taken shelter.
G. E. Popkess, a reporter for the St. Louis Times, testified that he saw two inoffensive negroes, while fleeing for their lives from a burning building, shot down by soldiers.
The governor of Illinois has a responsibility in this matter that he cannot evade. The militia of the State are under his control. He can arraign militiamen for misconduct; he can remove officers for inefficiency; he can institute a thorough inquiry that will expose the criminal and the incompetent.
A prominent merchant of East St. Louis testified that within 24 hours after the occurrence he notified the governor of the case of a militiaman who deliberately shot a negro without provocation, a crime committed in cold blood. He did not know the militiaman’s name, but it was possible for the governor to learn who he was and to visit proper punishment upon him.
The governor must be familiar with the wanton stabbing of the boy by a drunken soldier. The facts were reported at the time in all the newspapers as they were testified to before your committee. They are within the reach of the governor in the records of the court-martial which is said to have tried and released this murderer.
Has any official effort been made to apprehend the three militiamen who next morning after the riot, in company with two policemen, killed two innocent negroes and shot off the arm of the negro girl, Minneola McGee? These men were State militiamen, were in regulation uniform, and subject to the authorities of the great State of Illinois. At that time it would have been an easy matter to identify them and turn them over to the authorities to be tried for their crimes. It is evident that no military inquiry conducted by such courts-martial as sat in similar cases growing out of the East St.Louis riots, would have given them their desserts.
What was to hinder the proper State authorities from making an investigation of this murderous assault? They had the power to search the roster of the companies present at East St. Louis. These men were known to their companions, who could have identified them easily.
Special commendation is due Attorney General Brundage and Assistant Attorney General Middlekauf. The attorney general answered every appeal made to him by the good people of East St. Louis and St. Clair County and, virtually without assistance from the local authorities, remedied many evils. It was due entirely to his efforts that lawless resorts were closed, and wherever there had been a violation of the State law he was quick to order the arrest and prosecution of the offender.
Assistant Attorney General Middlekauf had active charge of the prosecutions growing out of the riot, and he showed neither fear nor favor. Capable, determined and courageous, he allowed neither political influence nor personal appeals to swerve him from the strict line of duty.
As a result of these prosecutions by the attorney general’s office 11 negroes and 8 white men are in the State penitentiary; 2 additional white men have been sentenced to prison terms; 14 white men have been given jail sentences; 27 white men, including the former night chief of police and three policemen, have pleaded guilty to rioting and have been punished.
These convictions were obtained in the face of organized, determined effort, backed with abundant funds, to head off the prosecutions and convictions. In the case of Mayor Mollman there seems to have been an open, paid advertising campaign to slander and intimidate the attorney general.
The State of Illinois is fortunate in having men of ability and character at the head of its law department.
Your committee wishes to commend the work of Rev. George W. Allison, pastor of the First Baptist Church, of East St. Louis, and to express thanks to him for much information which was of vital assistance in bringing out the criminal life of the city and the political influence that encouraged lawlessness. The Rev. Allison is a man of courage, capacity and determination. Conspiracies against his character and threats against his life did not deter him; the constant danger of bodily harm did not prevent him from continuing his investigations and fighting with all his splendid power the organized forces of evil. If there had been others on the “committee of one hundred” with even half his moral force the example might have leavened that whole lot of selfish incompetents.
Paul Y. Anderson, reporter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was assigned to your committee an inexhaustible source of valuable information. In serving his newspaper fearlessly he rendered the public a more important service by laying bare the story of faithless officials who could not be lashed, even by exposure, to do their duty. He personally laid before the mayor positive evidence of the guilt and incompetency of his police force, and demanded that he close the gambling houses and the lawless and unlicensed saloons. His investigations, thwarted on every hand, were thorough and trustworthy. He saw everything; reported what he saw without fear of consequences; defied the indignant officials whom he charged with criminal neglect of duty; ran a daily risk of assassination, and rendered an invaluable public service by his exposures. His testimony before your committee was most interesting and illuminating; his harrowing experiences before and during the riot threw a flood of light on conditions.
Your committee is indebted to Rev. Father Christopher Goelz, pastor of St. Phillips Church, at Edgemont, for much valuable information. He was a power for good in his community, and the fact that it escaped much of the contamination of the greater city was due to his vigilance and the publicity he gave the low characters that attempted to gain a foothold in Edgemont.
Your committee has not adjourned sine die for the reason that it is possible, at least, that a supplementary report may be made showing the beneficial results of the exposures brought about by the investigation and also by the vigorous prosecutions hereinbefore referred to.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
JOHN E. RAKER
M. D. FOSTER
HENRY ALLEN COOPER68
U. S. House of Representatives. 65th Congress, 2d Session, 1918. House Doc. No. 1231, pp. 1–24.
By LINDSEY COOPER,
Special Representative of the THE CRISIS
The committee appointed by Congress to investigate the East St. Louis riots met in East St. Louis, October 18, 1917. It was composed of Representatives Ben Johnson, of Kentucky; Martin D. Foster, of Illinois; Henry A. Cooper, of Wisconsin; George A. Foss, of Illinois; and John D. Raker, of California.
Witnesses were heard from all classes. Many came voluntarily to tell what they knew of the rioting. Others were subpoenaed. Every side of the East St. Louis matter was presented for consideration. Heads of manufacturing plants, labor union representatives, East St. Louis business men, Negroes from all walks of life, professional men, policemen, and day laborers, civil and military authorities—all appeared before the inquiry committee.
The primary business of the committee was to ascertain whether or not the laws of interstate commerce were broken, or interstate travel interfered with by the rioting of May and July. Having established these facts, it was then at liberty to push the inquiry into details of labor and race conflict.
In view of this provision, the first witnesses called before the committee were those parties whose business was of a nature such as to experience interference in a case of interstate violation.
The heads of the large East St. Louis industries, the traffic manager of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, and the manager of the East St. Louis Relay Depot testified to the fact that commercial traffic and personal travel had been interfered with by the rioting.
Each of these witnesses told the committee what he knew of the rioting, in addition to detailing the effect the conditions had upon individual business. It was learned that in a number of instances contracts with the Federal Government had been delayed because of shortage of labor, due to the Negroes having been so thoroughly intimidated by the rioting as to be unwilling to return to the city. One manufacturer stated that he had offered his colored men higher wages than they had ever received before if they would return, but that he was unable to get them to do so. In those cases where they did come back to the city to work, they insisted on retaining St. Louis as their place of residence and demanded that they be released from work an hour sooner than customary, in order that they might be out of East St. Louis before dark.
It was one of these witnesses, Charles Roger, of the J. C. Grant Chemical Company, who first told the committee of the shooting of Negroes by the soldiers.
Upon being asked by the committee if he had seen any soldiers on the day of July 2, Mr. Roger replied that he had. Inquiry was made as to what the soldiers were doing. Mr. Roger replied: “Shooting Negroes.”
He then related that he with several others was standing at a window of his plant when a soldier came out of a near-by door. A crowd was in the street below and a group of Negroes was standing not far away. The soldier was armed. Someone in the crowd taunted him, saying: “You can’t shoot!” The soldier replied: “Like hell I can’t!” and, raising his rifle, fired into the group of unmolesting Negroes. One of the Negroes fell.
The story of the race riots as revealed through the mass of evidence procured by the investigating committee is almost the history of East St. Louis itself.
Twenty years after the establishment of the city, she had the reputation of being a center of lawlessness. Conditions seem not to have improved since that time.
Although the seat of immense money-making industries, East St. Louis has been forced to support herself by means of saloon licenses. The population of the city is 75,000. At the time of the July riots she maintained, or was maintained by, 376 saloons. Over thirty of these have been closed since the July riots. Barrel-houses, gambling resorts, and dives of all descriptions were allowed open operation in the city. While some of these places have been closed, others may continue to exist.
Situated on the Mississippi River, and the terminal of twenty-eight main lines of railroad, it is only natural that East St. Louis should attract a large floating population. Such a population requires the most efficient government. East St. Louis has had the worst.
The immense plants of Swift, Armour, and Morris are not technically located in East St. Louis and pay no tax to the city. They were originally established just outside the city limits. Upon being threatened with absorption by the neighboring town of Lansdowne, they procured a charter from the State of Illinois and became incorporated as a village. This village is called National City, and in addition to the great plants names includes the National Stockyards, owned by Morris and Company.
The territory covered by National City is not more than two miles square and includes not more than thirty-two residence houses. The heads of the great plants live in St. Louis, and the majority of the laboring men in East St. Louis.
The result is that National City bears the distinction of being the richest municipality per capita in the world. While her population is only two hundred, the property included within her limits has an aggregate value of not less than $10,000,000.
These plants maintain open shop, and since the strikes of 1916, the majority of their employees have been Negroes.
An immense industry of East St. Louis, which is not in National City, is the Aluminum Ore Works, a subsidiary branch of the Aluminum Ore Company of America popularly known as the Aluminum Trust. The plant of the Aluminum Ore Works in East St. Louis is valued at over a million dollars. The Aluminum Ore Company of America was capitalized at $20,000,000 and now has an investment of $80,000,000.
It would seem that the seat of such industries would be able to maintain a properly paid police force and would be, at least, comfortably independent as to funds wherewith to meet her community responsibilities.
Yet such has not been the case. East St. Louis has had to depend on the proceeds of her saloon licenses, and her government has been so corrupt that the entire truth of its viciousness will probably never be revealed.
It is necessary to understand these conditions in order to grasp the truth of the Negro’s situation in the city.
Dating from the packing house strikes of 1916, and continuing through the Aluminum Ore strikes of October 1916 and April 1917, labor conditions in East St. Louis have been desperately tense.
In order to combat such powerful employers, the laboring men were obliged to make a vigorous fight. None of the great plants is completely unionized. The men of the Aluminum Ore Company were unionized in an independent group, not affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
Organized labor has been made to bear much of the blame of the riots of May and July, but it is only fair to the unions to look to the deeper causes of the trouble.
Alois Towers, a labor organizer of Belleville, Ill., told the committee that the labor unions recognized that there was no law to prevent the Negro from coming North, and that organized labor had no desire to prevent individuals from doing so. It was with the forced condition of thousands of these colored folk being brought into a community, where the laboring population was already equal to the number of jobs to be had, that the labor unions were at war.
There is no more tragic pilgrimage in history. Working under unfair conditions, denied his rights of citizenship and education, hounded by race prejudice, the southern Negro listened eagerly to the tales of prosperity and opportunity for his race which flourished in the nearest northern city.
The relation of the Negro and the labor union has been difficult. The percentage of skilled colored labor in East St. Louis is not large and there is no organization for unskilled or common labor. The skilled Negro has felt himself discriminated against by the crafts unions, and to the unskilled or uneducated Negro the purposes of labor organization are obscure.
It is fairly certain that the employers of the large industries gave the preference to colored workers for the reason that they felt these men would be slower to organize than white unskilled laborers would be. If they did undertake to organize, more men could be brought from the South to take their places. Thus, the employer had in his grasp a solution of the problem which from his point of view was quite satisfactory. If the men of his plant went on strike, he ignored the strike, filled their places with Negro workmen, and went on with his business.
It is an interesting fact that one company of Negroes, which was brought up during the strike at the Aluminum Ore Company, refused to accept the positions which had been promised them when they learned that the reason for these jobs being vacant was that their regular occupants were out on strike.
The situation as it existed was deeply unfair to the Negro laborer. Instead of his cause being the cause of the working class at large, the two became separated and pitted against each other, the employer, of course, being on the side of that form of unskilled labor of which he felt he could for the longest period of time take advantage.
It must be remembered that as a background for all of this industrial discontent, the worst of municipal conditions existed. With three men for every one job, with saloons and gambling houses operating on all sides, with an administration which, under Mayor Fred Mollman, winked at any crime as long as it was committed by a friend of those in office, with pawnshops displaying in their windows a variety of fire-arms accompanied by the sign “Buy a Gun for Protection,” it is small wonder that eventually every semblance of law and order broke down, resulting in the desperate events of July 2.
In this terrible crisis, the innocent were made to suffer for the guilty. Every instinct of brutality which had been allowed to grow up in East St. Louis sprang full-fledged into expression, and because members of his race who had had no chance for enlightenment had been used as tools in the hands of despotic employers, great numbers of Negroes were burned and shot and persecuted by a fiendish mob which cared nothing for labor principles or for industrial justice, but seized the opportunity to exercise its degraded sense of race prejudice arid gratify its gluttony for bloodshed. That the rank and file of labor did take part in the riots of May and July is not to be denied.
The spring of 1917 was a crucial time in the labor activities of East St. Louis. In addition to the large strike which was called at the Aluminum Ore Works, contracts which the employees of the street railway system had made with their employers some two or three years before reached expiration. The men were dissatisfied with their wage rate and a strike was in prospect.
In view of this occurrence, the superintendent of the street railways system procured two companies of Federalized militia which were quartered within the precincts of the car company’s property. Many of them were housed in the car barns and the remaining number pitched their tents near by. These troops, also, had under their protection the plants of the packing houses, the Aluminum Ore Company, and the National Stockyards.
At the time of the May riots, when the Mayor appealed to the commander of these troops for assistance he was told that the mission of the soldiers in East St. Louis was of another nature, and assistance in restoring the city to order was refused.
On the day of the opening hearing of the Congressional Committee, Mrs. Lena Cook, of St. Louis, who lost her son and her husband in the riots of July 2, told the jury at Belleville, Ill., the story of her tragic experience. She was called as a witness in the trial of John Dow, Charles Hanna, and Harry Robinson for the murder of William Keyser, a white man who was killed by a bullet which had previously passed through the body of Mrs. Cook’s son, Lurizza Beard, killing the boy. Mrs. Cook’s husband was also killed by these men, but the case under consideration at that time was the murder of William Keyser.
Mrs. Cook, her husband, Ed Cook, her son, Lurizza Beard, and her thirteen-year-old daughter were on their way back to their home in St. Louis, Mo., from a fishing trip at a lake some miles above East St. Louis, near Alton.
As the car of which they were occupants passed through East St. Louis, it was stopped at Collinsville and Illinois Avenues. Mrs. Cook testified that Hanna reached through the car window and caught her by the shoulder, partly tearing her dress off. Using an abusive term, he ordered her to get out of the car, as he was going to kill her. Then Hanna and Dow came into the car and told the white people to get out, as they were going to kill the Negroes. The white people left the car. The Cook family tried to explain that they did not even live in East St. Louis. The excuse was of no avail. Hanna pulled Ed Cook to the back platform of the car, threw him off, and shot him. Dow started to drag the Beard boy from the car. His mother begged for his life. Dow jerked the boy away and the last his mother saw, the white man was beating the colored boy over the head with his revolver. Then Mrs. Cook was dragged from the car, beaten with clubs, and kicked. A group of white women fell upon her and tore her hair out by the roots.
Mrs. Cook lost consciousness. When she regained her normal senses, she found herself lying in an ambulance along with three bodies of Negroes. Wiping the blood from her eyes, she turned to find that two of those bodies were her dead husband and her son.
When this story was repeated to the Congressional Committee, Representative Henry A. Cooper, of Wisconsin, profoundly moved, made the comment: “Indians could have done no worse.”
Dow and Hanna received a sentence of fifteen years each in the penitentiary. Robinson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.
Dr. Thomas G. Hunter, a prominent colored doctor of East St. Louis, was the first eye-witness to tell the committee of the joy-riding automobile which passed through Market Avenue, shooting into the houses, on the evening of July 1. His testimony was verified by other witnesses, one of these being a Negro policeman whose sister’s house was one of the number shot into.
The killing of detective-sergeants Coppedge and Wodley had been previously described to the committee by Roy Albertson, a newspaper reporter for the East St. Louis Daily Journal, who was in the car with the police officers when they were shot.
Albertson described the events surrounding this killing of the detectives very vividly. A point in his testimony which did not agree with the account given by Dr. Hunter, of the weather on the same evening, was that Albertson testified that it was a very dark night.
Dr. Hunter, on the other hand, described the evening as one of bright moonlight. The committee, upon looking the matter up, found that there had been in fact a moon, almost, if not quite full.
Much interest was manifested in the courtroom on the morning of October 24, when it was learned that Colonel S. 0. Tripp, who had been in command of the militia on the day of July 2, had come voluntarily to testify before the Congressional Committee.
No witness had been on the stand who had not described the cowardly conduct of the militia during the rioting. Many had told of the militia taking part in the activities of the mob. No one could tell of having seen them do any part of their duty.
When Colonel Tripp assumed the stand, he carried under his arm a substantial document. Upon being sworn in, he proceeded to open this document and began to read. The committee objected strenuously, and the Colonel was obliged to depend on his mind.
He told the committee of being called out of bed early on the morning of July 2, of leaving Springfield at four o’clock, and of reaching East St. Louis at eight. Upon reaching East St. Louis, he said he went straight to the office of Mayor Mollman.
There he was informed by the Mayor that he himself was not feeling well that day and had been advised not to go out.
Considerable amusement was expressed in the courtroom at this statement from the Mayor. The committee asked Colonel Tripp if he thought the Mayor’s indisposition were physical or mental. Colonel Tripp replied that he thought it was mental, that the Mayor was “laying down on his job.”
Mayor Mollman appointed City Attorney Thomas Fekete to act in his place that day, and co-operating with Mr. Fekete, Colonel Tripp took charge of the situation. When the officer told the committee that he spent the entire morning at the City Hall, mapping out a plan of campaign, Mr. Cooper, ejaculated: “You could have planned half the battle of Verdun in that time’”
Colonel Tripp strove manfully to make the committee understand that he was not in active charge of the militia that day, that he was present in an administrative capacity only, leaving Colonel E. P. Clayton, the commanding officer of the field forces. It is clear that Colonel Clayton did not understand this arrangement, for it was under his command that the militia had controlled the May rioting so effectively. When Colonel Tripp endeavored to make it clear to the committee the character of his position, he said: “It is like the President. He doesn’t go out on active duty.” Mr. Johnson replied caustically: “We see. You and the President don’t go out.”
Of the few companies of militia which straggled into East St. Louis during the morning of July 2, none was proprely equipped. Ammunition was scarce among them—a fact the mob was not slow to find out. It was learned later that the majority of them had been enlisted only a few days. Many of them came from counties adjoining St. Clair County and shared the sentiment of East St. Louis toward the Negro.
The September issue of THE CRISIS, containing the East St. Louis Supplement, played an important part in the investigation by the Congressional Committee. Its sweeping data, with pictures, gave the committee the best available publication to study in connection with its inquiry.
The representative of THE CRISIS had obtained the original of the photographs published by the magazine and submitted them to the committee. After hearing Colonel Tripp’s account of the competent behavior of the soldiers, a member of the committee confronted the officer with a photograph showing the militia standing by in large numbers while the mob assaulted a Negro in front of a street car. Colonel Tripp stated that he was unable to place the locality shown in the picture. Paul Y. Anderson, a reporter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who had given the committee valuable evidence, was called to assist the military officer. Mr. Anderson told the committee that the picture was taken at the conjunction of Broadway and Collinsville Avenues.
Colonel Tripp testified that after spending the morning at the City Hall, planning a campaign by which the city might be restored to order, he then spent an hour at lunch. By comparing evidence it was ascertained that while the commanding officer of the military forces was at lunch, three men were killed at a distance of not over three blocks away!
During the afternoon, a meeting of the Mayor and a number of business men was held, at which the Mayor called Governor Lowden by long distance telephone and begged him to have martial law declared in the city. Speaking on the same call, Colonel Tripp took the receiver and assured the Governor that he had the situation well in hand and that martial law was unnecessary. Colonel Tripp gave as his reason for this statement the fact that had martial law been declared, the military forces would have been deprived of the assistance of the police force, whereas if civil law were maintained, the military and the police forces could both operate to quell the riot.69
Considering that only fifteen out of the forty men which constituted the police force of East St. Louis had reported for duty that morning, one cannot but feel that Colonel Tripp’s loss in the matter of police assistance would have been light.
It is a fact, however, that with the declaration of martial law complete authority would have devolved upon Colonel Tripp, just as under civil law it devolved upon Mayor Mollman. Consequently, each desired the form of government which relieved him of responsibility.
Colonel Tripp assured the committee that he had never before heard the stories of the militia shooting Negroes, and that he had made no investigation of the subject. He also stated that he at no time saw any occasion for firing on the mob, taking the chance of wounding and perhaps killing innocent by-standers.
Evidence as to the participation of the militia in the rioting was given the committee by any number of witnesses, yet in no case can there be found any indication that acts committed by the militiamen have been punished by the military authorities. Most of these soldiers have been sent to the border. They have been Federalized and will from now until the close of the war devote their talents to making the world safe for democracy.
It was under the command of Colonel Clayton, at seven-thirty in the evening of July 2, that the riot was finally controlled and several hundred persons were arrested. Most of these were turned loose by the police as soon as they reached the police station. Of the number who were held until the next day, few were indicted. They were dismissed as rapidly as they could walk out.
When Colonel Tripp had completed his testimony, Representative Raker, of California, exclaimed: “What chance on earth has a poor, innocent Negro in a place like this?”
The Crisis, 15 (January, 1918): 116–21.
East St. Louis has recently occupied an unenviable but a well-merited place in the forum of public opinion.
As the home of the most destructive race riot of recent years this Northern city has brought upon itself the castigation of editors and public men both North and South. The immediate cause of this riot (which broke out on July 1, and raged for the larger part of two days) is still shrouded in doubt, but it is painfully evident that during the progress of the riot, Negro men were hunted to death and their wives and children burned within the walls of their homes. Whether or not the spirit of riot will flare up again in East St. Louis seems at present to depend more upon the strong arm of military force than upon the self-restraint of her citizens.
The opinion of Governor Lowden, of Illinois, is the opinion of the whole country. After a visit on July 3 to East St. Louis he said:
I have been weighted down since I visited those hospitals last night, since I saw those charred ruins of homes, since I saw the havoc this riot wrought. . . . A stain rests upon Illinois—a stain that will remain. We cannot erase it if we would. . . .
We in the North have been in the habit frequently of criticising our Southern friends for their treatment of the Negro. . . . I tell you that I know of no outrages that have been perpetrated in the South that surpass the conditions I found in East St. Louis, in our own beloved State.
Mr. Roosevelt, during a reception to the Russian Commission in New York, courageously faced the issue raised by the East St. Louis riots. In Carnegie Hall, from the same platform on which sat the Russian Commission, Mr. Roosevelt said:
Before I extend my greetings to these envoys I want to say a word to you, a word I should not leave unsaid. Before I speak of justice and liberty to Russia we should do justice within our own household. There has been an appalling outbreak of savagery in the race riots in East St. Louis—race riots which, as far as we can see, had no real provocation, and, whether there was provocation or not, waged with such appalling brutality as to leave a stain on the name of America.
It behooves us to express our deep condemnation of acts that give the lie to our words. It is our duty to demand that the governmental representatives whose business it is shall use with ruthless sternness every instrumentality at their command to punish murder, whether committed by whites against blacks or blacks against whites.
This statement of Mr. Roosevelt’s called forth at the time the emphatic protest of Mr. Gompers, who declared that the race riots, detestable though they were, had been caused by the unfair importation of Negro labor from the South. This indirect apology for the rioters called forth a second energetic protest from Mr. Roosevelt, and for a little while it seemed as though the reception to the Russian envoys would be forced to take second place to the discussion of what many might consider solely an American domestic problem. But it is not merely a domestic problem. That riot was an attempt to terrorize a community into submission; and “frightfulness” is a menace to all mankind, whether we call it Schrecklichkeit when practiced by the Prussians in Belgium or France, or call it a race riot when practiced by a mob of whites in an American city.
Naturally enough, many Southern newspapers have seized upon the East St. Louis riots as an opportunity to point the accusing finger at those Northern critics who have been most vehement in denouncing the South for its attitude toward the Negro. A typical editorial of this kind appears in the “Courier-Journal” of Louisville, Kentucky. The “Courier-Journal” says:
It would be indeed a strange dénouement and a kind of poetic justice if, after the ungenerous treatment bestowed upon the South by the public opinion of the North in the matter of this Negro question, the chalice of race poison should be put to the North’s own lips. . . . If East St. Louis were in Kentucky, the newspapers north of us would be on their hind legs howling for dear life.
It can be said in fairness to such Northern papers as the New York “Evening Post” and the Chicago “Tribune,” which have been the bitterest critics of Southern lynching, that they have been, in the present instance, equally bitter in their condemnation of this Northern atrocity. Despite this fact, there is more than enough truth in the arraignment by the Atlanta “Constitution” to make the reproach of that journal unpleasant reading for Northern eyes:
Disdainful of law or decency, disregardful of police or military authority, all day long and for half the night the blood-crazed mobs howled and fought and destroyed—employing stones, bludgeons, knives, firearms, and the torch! The number of dead Negroes as a result of the day’s rioting cannot be approximately estimated until a search of the charred ruins can be made.
And this all happened in the home State of Abraham Lincoln, who guaranteed the black man freedom from bondage and equality before the law!
Here is the concluding advice of the Atlanta “Constitution;”
As to those colored folk who have escaped with their lives, they had better come back home, where they were well off. And those who have not gone North can thank their lucky stars that they have stuck by the South, where every man is safeguarded in the right to work—and to live in peace and security if he works and leads the life of a decent, self-respecting citizen!
Not all Southern papers, however, are as certain as the Atlanta “Constitution” that the exodus of Negroes to the North followed solely as a result of the blandishment of Northern labor agents. Any one who has recently traveled through the South knows that there are many Southern men and women who ascribe the exodus of Negroes from the South in part to the unsanitary conditions in which the average Negro is forced to dwell, to a lack of school facilities for the colored race, and to the uneconomic system of tenant farming which still hampers the agricultural efforts of a large part of the South.
The New York “Tribune” quotes two editorials from Southern papers which have looked upon the East St. Louis riots with their eyes open. The first is from the Houston (Texas) “Post:”
In the towns and cities the Negroes are dissatisfied with their living conditions. They are not disturbed about politics or social equality, but the unsanitary surroundings amid which circumstances compel them to exist are unsatisfactory, and the white people owe it to their own welfare to improve those conditions.
Even worse conditions obtain on many of the plantations, and added to all of the drawbacks common to the towns and cities is the other fact that the rural schools for Negro children, where they exist at all, are a joke.
Another cause of Negro discontent lies in the widely prevalent and largely justified belief among the Negroes that there is one law for the white man and another for the Negro. The instances in the court records of the State which prove this to be true are too numerous to be recited here.
The Savannah “Morning News” does not believe that the solution of the problem caused by the emigration of Negro labor from the South is to be found in the application of coercive measure to prevent the Negro departing from the location which has so long been his home. This Georgia paper says:
Would it not be the part of reason to look about us and find out why the Negro is so fixed in his determination to go elsewhere, instead of arbitrarily seeking to stay his departure or to frighten him into staying by picturing to him the disadvantages of the life he will have to live in the North? If the Negro is discontented in the South, there is undoubtedly a reason for his discontentment. This reason may be partly fancied, but it cannot be wholly so; a race of people does not break every natural tie and go into strange lands because of an entirely fancied grievance.
Consider the matter selfishly or altruistically, as you please, there is no escape from the conclusion that the obligation to understand the Negro’s view-point is resting upon the best white people of the South heavily, or that this obligation is of the most pressing immediacy.
If the North and South can get together on such a basis for action as has been outlined by the Savannah “Morning News,” we shall have gone a long way towards eradicating many of the contributing causes to such a disaster as has occurred in East St. Louis.
In view of the fact that such occurrences as the East St. Louis riots and the recent ghastly lynching in the neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee, have caused the growth of a tremendous feeling of discouragement and fear among the Negroe both North and South, it is gratifying to record the fact that in the South, at least, the number of recorded lynchings during the first six months of 1917 has been very much less than during the same periods in 1915 and in 1916. According to statistics compiled by the local head of the Division of Records and Research of Tuskegee Institute, Professor Monroe N. Work there were thirty-four lynchings during this period in 1915, twenty-five lynchings in 1916, and only fourteen lynchings in 1917. Professor Work states that in ten instances by the bravery of officers of the law mobs were thwarted and lynchings prevented. Of those lynched, thirteen were Negroes and one was a white man. Four of those put to death—one white man and three Negroes—were charged with the crime of rape. One of those lynched was a Negro woman, reported to have been of unsound mind, who in resisting arrest wounded an officer of the law.70
The decrease in the number of lynchings is a happy augury for the future; but so long as a single man, black or white, is put to death by mob violence within the confines of the United States without due process of law, America cannot hold itself free from shame.
Outlook, 116 (July 18, 1917): 435–36.
By Oscar Leonard
Superintendent Jewish Educational and Charitable Association of St. Louis
Two days before the nation was to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence with its recognition that “all men are created free and equal” came the news that in East St. Louis Negroes were being slaughtered and their homes pillaged and burned by white Americans. East St. Louis, as all good St. Louisans wish to make clear, has nothing to do with the southwestern metropolis. It is an industrial town across the Mississippi. It is not located in Missouri. It is part of the state which gave us Abraham Lincoln. This circumstance made the “pogrom” upon the Negroes more tragic. They were being murdered mercilessly in a state which had fought for their freedom from slavery. They were forced to seek refuge and safety across the river in Missouri, which was a slave state at one time.
I just called the riot a “pogrom,” the name by which Russian massacres of Jews has become known. Yet when I went to East St. Louis to view the sections where the riots had taken place, I was informed that the makers of Russian “pogroms” could learn a great deal from the American rioters. I went there in the company of a young Russian Jew, a sculptor, who had witnessed and bears the marks of more than one anti-Jew riot in his native land. He told me when he viewed the blocks of burned houses that the Russian “Black Hundreds” could take lessons in pogrom-making from the whites of East St. Louis. The Russians at least, he said, gave the Jews a chance to run while they were trying to murder them. The whites in East St. Louis fired the homes of black folk and either did not allow them to leave the burning houses or shot them the moment they dared attempt to escape the flames.
What is the reason for this terrible situation?
Fundamentally, the reason is purely economic. It is not that the white people in Illinois, or rather in East St. Louis, have any terrible hatred for the Negro. The two races go to the same schools. The laws of Illinois even permit inter-marriage between whites and blacks. Negroes hold state, county and municipal offices. They own a great deal of property in the state and in the city where the riots took place. But being the most disinherited of men, Negroes at times work for lower wages than do whites. Some of them will not join labor unions and most of them would not be admitted if they cared to join.
This condition is extremely objectionable to the white workers with whom they compete for jobs. But this very fact makes the Negro laborer more attractive to employers who want labor at the cheapest possible terms. They favor any labor force that will not join unions, that will not strike, that will not make periodic demands for increased wages or shorter workdays. Such an element introduced into the community acts as a whip over the heads of the white workers. Employers know that. Laboring people are painfully aware of it. This is the main reason for the race antipathy in East St. Louis, as I judge from talking to business men, laborers, professional men and labor leaders.
East St. Louis is what Graham Romeyn Taylor called a “satellite city.” It is not a city of homes, in the American acceptance of that term. It is a manufacturing town where industries locate because land is cheap, transportation facilities good, coal and water near and cheap. The many factories make the place unattractive for home-building. Capital goes there simply in search of dividends. It is not interested in the welfare of the city or of the workers who help make those dividends. Only those who must, live there. Those who can live in St. Louis, while working in East St. Louis, do so.
The result is that the city is run to suit the lowest political elements. The foreign laborers who were imported by the industries in East St. Louis know nothing of American standards. There is practically no social work being done in that city which boasts a population of 100,000 souls. Saloons are numerous and gambling dens abound. They run wide open. In fact, when Governor Folk closed the St. Louis saloons on Sunday, the city across the Mississippi reaped a rich harvest. Multitudes crossed Eads Bridge for their liquor in spite of the Illinois law which prohibited Sunday selling. The saloon element has been pretty much in control of the town, from all I can learn. I have these facts both from observation as a neighbor, and from good citizens, not necessarily prohibitionists. One can not visit East St. Louis without seeing at a glance that saloons are more numerous than schools and churches. That in itself would indicate how much control the liquor interests have over the city.
This, too, has helped bring about the situation which resulted in the massacre of Negroes both May 28 and July 2. The undesirable Negro element, like the undesirable white element, was used by self-seeking politicians. In order to be able to control that element the politicians had to make concessions. Evil dives were permitted. Lawless Negroes were protected. All to frequently the St. Louis papers reported outrages committed upon white women by Negroes in East St. Louis. There were robberies and stabbings and shootings of white men at frequent intervals. Yet criminals were not punished. They were “taken care of.” This helped stir ill will of the better element among the white population.
There were grumblings on the part of laboring people at the increased number of Negro workers who were coming into the city. But there was no open or pronounced hostility, although there were old scores to settle, from the days when some 2,500 white workers went on strike in the packing plants last summer and Negroes were imported to take their jobs. According to the former president of the Central Trades and Labor Union of East St. Louis, at that time Negroes were imported in box-cars and given the jobs held by striking white workers. When the strike was over about 800 of the Negro strike-breakers were retained and the white strikers lost those places.
In speaking to a man conncected with the stockyards the same facts were brought out. This man has a specialized work to do which cannot be done by Negroes. In fact, it cannot even be done by white men, excepting as they receive his special training. He could speak dispassionately, for his job was not threatened by the black workers. He said:
Of course, no one can condone this killing of innocent Negro men and women and children. It is terrible. I saw it on Monday night and I never want to see such a sight again. But here is the situation: The Negroes are not only taking the places of common laborers in the packing plants, but they are beginning to take the places of the skilled workers. The packers, no doubt, want to fill their plants ultimately with black labor. They are angry because the white workers beat them in a strike and obtained two and a half cents an hour increase. The packers are charging wholesalers five cents a pound more for meat than they did a year ago. They do not take into consideration the fact that everything is so high and the men cannot live on what they used to make. They want to give the places of the white workers to Negroes because they work for lower wages. They live in shanties which a white man could not occupy. Their wives wash clothes and their children work. A white man wants his children to get some education and would not think of sending his wife to work. He must demand higher wages. The employers who bring the Negroes here in carload are responsible for the terrible situation which has arisen.
The employers insist that they do not encourage Negro immigration and absolutely deny that they import Negroes. They insist that there are not enough white workers to take the jobs. They point to the fact that since the Negroes left East St. Louis, on July 2 and that entire week, four important industries have entirely shut down. When asked why it is that Negroes do come in such large numbers to East St. Louis they say that the lure of better wages than the South pays attracts them.
R. F. Rucker, superintendent of the aluminum ore plant, says that the employers were glad to employ Negroes when there were not enough white workers to fill the jobs. According to him, many of the white workers went east to take employment in munition factories where wages are higher. Some Negroes who had come voluntarily from the South were given their places. These men wrote home of the fine opportunities for employment at high wages and urged their friends to come to East St. Louis.
The fact remains that during a recent strike, when the government took possession of the factory, Negroes took the places of the strikers. This intensified the feeling against the race. The feeling was aggravated by the many lawless acts committed by the bad Negro element. Feeling began to run high so that on May 28 a meeting was called which was known as the “anti-race meeting.”
In spite of the fact that the meeting was known in advance to be against the Negroes, permission was given for holding it in the city hall. I have these facts from a business man who was present. Mayor Mollman and the Board of Aldermen were among the 1,000 men who attended. Intemperate speeches were made and the last speaker is said to have hinted that unless the mayor and the city fathers did something to check the coming of Negroes, the people would take matters into their own hands. That night a race riot took place. The militia came and quelled the riot before it went too far.
Those who had attended the meeting, however, continued to agitate the idea that “East St. Louis must remain a white man’s town.” Feeling against the Negroes was stirred constantly. Here and there personal encounters between men of the two races took place. Sunday evening, July 1, a rumor was spread that the Negroes had gathered in one of their churches to plan revenge upon the white population. A number of policemen in charge of Detective Sergeant Coopedge drove over to the church. As they approached the place they were fired upon by Negroes and Coopedge was killed. The same night a policeman and two other white men were shot by Negroes.
These deeds acted as a match applied to powder. Monday morning it was apparent that there would be trouble. Mayor Mollman said he tried to prepare for it. East St. Louis has just thirty-six policemen. The mayor says that he spoke personally to them, urging them to do their duty. They were not inclined to interfere because their comrade had been shot. The deputy sheriffs felt the same way. Some militiamen were in town, but according to all accounts the militia fraternized with the white population. The mayor was urged to call up the governor and ask for reinforcements and for a declaration of martial law. He refused to do so. His opponents say that he had political reasons for his failure to act.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that through someone’s negligence, black men and women and children were murdered wantonly. In the seven Negro districts of the city fires were started at the same time. Negroes were hanged and stoned and shot and kicked. White women and boys as well as men took part. A black skin was a death warrant on the streets of this Illinois city. How many black persons were killed will never be known.
It was fortunate for these harassed Negroes that their inhospitable home town was located near St. Louis, which took them in readily. The St. Louis chapter of the Red Cross, under the leadership of Mrs. Frank Hammar, took charge of the refugees, who fled half naked. They were housed in the City Lodging House, where blankets and food were provided out of Red Cross funds. The Provident Association and the Jewish Educational and Charitable Association provided social workers to handle the situation. The Red Cross Emergency Committee, with Acting Mayor Aloe, Director of Public Welfare Schmoll and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the Provident Association and the Jewish charities met daily to devise means of helping the refugees.
A committee from the Greenville, Miss., Chamber of Commerce was ready to charter a boat and take 1,000 Negroes to that city to be placed on plantations where their labor is needed. Employers in St. Louis were ready to offer jobs. The industrial plants of East St. Louis offered to take their men back. The Emergency Committee, however, considered all these offers from the point of view of the Negroes. It secured the assurance of the city, county and state authorities that the safety of the Negroes would be guaranteed should they desire to return to work. Consultation was held with prominent Negroes of St. Louis as to what is best for their own people. At a citizens meeting held in the City Hall in East St. Louis on July 6 a reorganization of the police force was decided upon and a committee of 100 citizens will assist the mayor in keeping order. The militia will be retained as long as necessary under the direct command of Adjutant-General Dickson of Illinois. Efforts will be made by the St. Louis Red Cross Emergency Committee, with the cooperation of the Bar Association, to recover from the state of Illinois damages to life and property.
According to eye-witnesses, many Negroes must have been burned in their homes so that no remains will be found. It is believed that one hundred Negroes who took refuge in an old theater in one of their sections were burned when the building was set on fire. I saw that building, of which only part of one wall was left.
It was a distressing sight to see block after block where peaceful homes had been located burned to the ground. The innocent suffered with the guilty. Thrifty black folk, who were doing their bit by raising vegetables, were murdered. I saw the ruins of their homes, into which had gone the labor and savings of years. The little thrift gardens had escaped the flames and the orderly rows where seeds had been planted gave the plots the appearance of miniature graveyards.
The Survey, 38 (July 14, 1917): 331–33.
TO THE EDITOR: It was not labor masquerading under race prejudice, or even prejudice using the labor troubles as a pretense that caused the riots in East St. Louis; it was the absolute conviction on the part of the labor leaders that no Negro has a right to any position or privilege which the white man wants. Mr. Gompers, it may be remembered, in his reply to Colonel Roosevelt, complained that capitalists in East St. Louis had been “luring colored men” to that city. And a few days before the riots the secretary of the Central Trades and Labor Unions in East St. Louis had sent out a letter to this effect: “The southern Negro is being used to the detriment of our white citizens. The entire body of delegates to the central trades and labor unions will call upon the mayor and city council . . . and devise a way to get rid of a certain portion of those (Negroes) who are already here.” The emphasis in both quotations is on color. Labor leaders are psychologists. They know that in this country the chances are more than even that any group of whites can attack a group of blacks, and not only get away with it, but probably have the protection of the laws. It was the connivance of the police and the militia which enabled the East St. Louis mob to expel from their homes, 6,000 working men, burn down the dwellings of several thousands, and butcher and burn upwards of 200 helpless men, women and children.
How do we black Americans feel about all this? I asked an unlettered southern “emigrant” the other day if he would be willing to go back South. “Miss,” he told me, “if I had the money I would go South and dig up my father’s and my mother’s bones and bring them up to this country [Philadelphia]. I am forty-nine years old, and these six weeks I have spent here are the first weeks in my life of peace and comfort. And if I can’t get along here I mean to keep on goin’, but, no matter what happens, I’ll never go back.” Of course since then East St. Louis, Chester and Youngstown have shown him what he may expect—he is damned if he stays South and he is damned if he doesn’t. But at least he has known a little respite, he has not died yearning vainly to see Carcassonne. Thus much for our untrained class.71
As for the rest of us, being true democrats, we acknowledge only two classes, the trained and the untrained. We are becoming fatalists; we no longer expect any miraculous intervention of Providence. We are perfectly well aware that the outlook for us is not encouraging, but we know this, too, it is senseless to suppose that anarchy and autocracy can be confined to only one quarter of a nation. A people whose members would snatch a baby because it was black from its monther’s arms, as was done in East St. Louis, and fling it into a blazing house while white furies held the mother until the men shot her to death—such a people is definitely approaching moral disintegration. Turkey has slaughtered its Armenians, Russia has held its pogroms. Belgium has tortured and maimed in the Congo, and today Turkey, Russia, Belgium are synonyms for anathema, demoralization and pauperdom. We, the American Negroes, are the acid test for occidental civilization. If we perish, we perish. But when we fall, we shall fall like Samson, dragging inevitably with us the pillars of a nation’s democracy.
JESSIE FAUSET. 72
The Survey, 38 (August 18, 1917): 448.
TO THE EDITOR: Practically all the discussion of the race riots in East St. Louis has neglected a fundamental factor in the inability of the second city of Illinois to control such an outbreak of violence.
The impotence of the police and municipal administration has been cited, but no explanation given of the significance of their weakness. In the light of the warning that “what happened in East St. Louis might happen anywhere” in the North under the pressure of cheap Negro labor migrating from the South, that explanation is of unusual interest. It is of interest, too, in light of the fact that citizens of St. Louis, Mo., have since been busy explaining that East St. Louis is across the Mississippi in another state, and that St. Louis must not be held responsible for East St. Louis’ sins.
The explanation that explains whether it “can happen anywhere” will also answer St. Louis’ proud disclaimer.
East St. Louis is industrially part and parcel of St. Louis. It is the big shipping and railroad center of the metropolitan district. It is the Hoboken of St. Louis. It houses all those larger industrial processes of a big city which seek cheaper land and lower business costs, railroad yards, stock markets and warehouses. These represent the great corporations engaged in transportation. The history of East St. Louis is the history of the fight of these interests to create a monopoly control of transportation across the Mississippi. Under one power they have for years controlled every bridge, ferry company and most of the river front. (Their control is now for the first time slowly being broken by the city of St. Louis).
To get this transportation monopoly these interests found it necessary to control the city government of East St. Louis. It has since been theirs without question and without a fight. (They once also owned the city government of St. Louis). And East St. Louis is probably the most finished example of corporation-owned city government in the United States. This second city of Illinois is a by-word among reformers, for municipal corruption and inefficiency Graft trials, bribery and scandals have been rife for years.
Prostitution, gambling, illegal liquor-selling, have all flourished. All the lawless elements turned out by the clean-ups in St. Louis have found their haven over the river in Illinois.
East St. Louis’ failure to control the recent outbreak of race violence is only her longstanding failure to control every form of violence and lawlessness. It is due directly to the exploitation of the East St. Louis city government by selfish business interests. These are located chiefly in St. Louis, and constitute probably the most powerful single element in the organized commercial life of the city. They know no boundaries of state or city; they have no loyalties.
But among the chief interests in St. Louis which have put in a disclaimer for sharing the guilt of East St. Louis are the closest business associates of the monopoly crowd responsible for her corruption. Practically all the men in that crowd are citizens of St. Louis.
The East St. Louis outrages therefore are the joint product of corporation exploitation of city government for selfish purposes, and uncontrolled race prejudice in a labor struggle. In other cities race prejudice in labor struggles has not done such violence because the community forces of law and order controlled it. In East St. Louis those forces have not been operative for years.
The chief lesson to be drawn from East St. Louis, behind all other factors, is the need of freeing government from the control of selfish interests. If the people of East St. Louis really controlled their own government democratically, the recent outrages would have been impossible. All that the business interests need is a city government that will give them the privileges they want, and then let them alone. The politicians and the underworld can have the rest. But with the citizens really in control, law enforcement and public service would become realities.
East St. Louis is almost in a class by itself. It is among the last of the larger cities still so exclusively under the thumb of big business. No, it probably can’t and won’t “happen anywhere else,” and St. Louis shares the guilt of her east side partner’s corruption.
(Recently Secretary St. Louis League.)
The Survey, 38 (August 18, 1917): 447–48.
On the anniversary of the signature of a famous document asserting the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, thousands of American negroes were fleeing for safety from the State of Abraham Lincoln into Missouri. They left behind them nearly two score of their own race dead, nearly a hundred in hospitals, and the blackened ruins of more than three hundred of the homes of their people. East St. Louis, guarded by two thousand militiamen, was recovering from the effects of one of the worst race riots in American history while investigations by Federal, State, and Municipal authorities were on foot. Although the blame for the loss of life and property is laid by many observers at the door of local and State officials, the underlying cause of the riot, the press generally agree, was the influx of negro labor into East St. Louis from the South.
This migration, as our readers are aware, is no more liked at the South than at the North. Indeed, as the New York Evening Sun remarks, the South has tried every expedient to check it, so that “as Northern communities mob the negroes for coming in, so Southern communities mob the employment agents for inducing them to go out.” Other papers observe that while the rioting at its beginning was due to economic causes, it developed racial jealousy which led to wholesale and indiscriminate attacks on negro men, women, and children.
While the press of the country more or less calmly consider the underlying causes of the East St. Louis riots, and discuss the economic effects of the war, and the development of race hatred in the United States, papers near at hand are imprest with the collapse of government in the Illinois city. Across the Mississippi River in St. Louis, The Globe-Democrat denounces the failure to “impress the lawless and irresponsible participants in the mob” that “attacks on property and persons would be dangerous to themselves.” This paper believes that firmness early in the afternoon of the first day’s rioting “would have saved East St. Louis, the State of Illinois, and American civilization itself, a record of indelible shame.” But, it continues, after the coming of darkness to the aid of the mob, slaughter and burning raged unchecked. “The unleashed passions of the mob ignored questions of guilt and innocence and of age and sex. They disregarded the safety of bystanders and cared not what ruin the incendiary fires might bring. The lust of murder turned the mob into savages.”
East St. Louis, tho a suburb of the great Missouri city, is itself in Illinois. In that State the Chicago Tribune, which, as it reminds us, “has flailed the evil of lynching and especially reproached its countrymen of the South for their failure to stamp it out, does not propose to offer any palliation of this outrage in Illinois.” It continues:
“The blood of victims spatters the State. The riot will burn as an unforgetable dishonor in our memories. We do not propose to talk now about race hatred or economic rivalry or any other learned aspect of the offense. There is just one truth, one sickening, shameful truth—in an American city, in a city of Illinois, there has been a loathsome irruption of the brute, and neither civilized public sentiment nor constituted authority was capable of arresting it. . . .
“The East St. Louis riot is nothing to be covered with official whitewash. Illinois stands shamed before the world. Her authority has been proved futile. Her name will be a byword if she does not establish that authority, so it will never be defied again.”
Somewhat more philosophical is the editor of the Adrian (Michigan) Telegram. He vigorously denounces the rioters and is thoroughly ashamed of the East St. Louis episode. But he would suggest that we try to discover the basic cause of the trouble in order to avoid similar things in the future. He says:
“Theoretically, negroes from the South have a right to go North and work for half a white man’s wages, thereby turning the white man out of his job. Theoretically, the Northern employer has a right to import negroes who will work for half-wages, dwell in hovels, live on a scale that no white family would endure. But while these things may be done in theory, they cannot be done in practise. The white workers of the North will not stand it.”
This writer would remind us that just now workers are sensitive over their rights and their prospects, believing that these may suffer under war-conditions. So a certain moral responsibility for the East St. Louis episode is placed upon “the men and the interests who began the wholesale importation of Southern black labor.” The Adrian editor even believes that good may result from the evil of the East St. Louis riot—
“Cincinnati employers will not start any wholesale importations of negroes; Pittsburg employers will not; Chicago employers will not. They will all take due notice. They have been effectively warned that there are some things that cannot be done in practise, even tho they may be strictly according to law. . . .
“The moral is clear. Leave the negro in the South.”
A leader of the negro race, Booker T. Washington’s successor at Tuskegee, expresses his pain, chagrin, and discouragement at these riots on the eve of Independence day, at a time when the nation is calling upon negroes as well as whites to join in the war for “democracy” and the “square deal” for weak peoples. Major Moton adds, in a letter to the New York World:
“There is room in America for the various racial groups to work out their salvation. Killing and maiming men because they are seeking economic salvation is not, in my opinion, a credit to our civilization or to our boasted doctrine of fair play. With all her faults, the South, at least, cannot be criticized for killing men seeking employment and a better economic status.”73
Literary Digest, 55 (July 14, 1917): 10–11.
Race riots in East St. Louis afford a lurid background to our efforts to carry justice and idealism to Europe. The question, as it is put by Charles Stelzle, the writer on social subjects from a religious standpoint, is:
“How can we assume to free peoples in Europe from tyranny when we ourselves are guilty of the worst kind of tyranny toward a deprest race?” The remedy, of course, is not in abstaining from the cure of one tyranny to excuse our neglect of the other. Nevertheless, Mr. Stelzle is probably right in asserting that “the East St. Louis race riots should have made every American citizen realize that we have in the negro one of the most serious social problems by which this country is confronted.” He quotes Booker T. Washington as saying, “I cannot hold any man in the gutter without staying there myself,” and appeals to the principle of self-preservation as an imperative if not the highest motive for taking better care of the negro. In The Continent (Chicago), Mr. Stelzle declares that the simple question whether “he is to be a ‘good’ negro or a ‘bad’ negro” depends as much upon the whites as upon the blacks. He calls us to look at a few outstanding facts in regard to our treatment of the members of this race:74
“We compel him to live in the worst parts of our towns and cities, often without drainage or sewerage or garbage service, with scarcely any of the sanitary conveniences in house or yard or street which whites consider an absolute necessity.”
“We drive the worst forms of immorality into the negro quarters and then curse the negro because of his moral weakness. If there is to be a ‘red-light district’ in town, it is dumped into the area into which we also dump the negro population.”
“It would be a comparatively easy matter to produce statistics to indicate that the negro is the worst criminal in the country. But how can he help becoming such? We subject him to the severest tests of our city life—physical, moral, and political—and then cynically declare that the ‘nigger’ is no good anyway.”
“The negroes who live in these unsanitary and immoral surroundings are our laundresses, nurses, and cooks. If there is contagious disease in their own homes—and there is much of it—they are sure to bring it to our homes, either personally or through the laundry which we send to them.”
“Washington was right. If we keep the negro in the gutter, we shall be compelled to stay there with him. We can’t get away from him. It is impossible to have a nation part free and part slave, and it is still more impossible to have in one country a morally and physically decaying race, and a surviving race untouched by the dying race’s fate. And let it be remembered that the 10,000,000 negroes in the United States constitute 10 per cent of the population of our country.”
“Occasionally some of us try to find comfort in the statement that labor-leaders are responsible for the mistreatment of the negro race. But this may be set down as a fact—organized labor is as ready as anybody else to give the negro square deal.”
“Every man who becomes a member of the American Federation of Labor obligates himself never to discriminate against a fellow worker on account of creed, color, or nationality. This is as high a standard as one could find anywhere and in a general way it expresses the attitude of organized labor toward the negro throughout the entire country.”
“It is true that in some parts of the United States there is a prejudice against the negro among trade-unionists, but whenever this is the case these trade-unionists simply reflect the opinion of the so-called ‘better classes’ of the community. For example, it is safe to say in such communities it is easier for a colored man to join a white man’s union than it is for a colored man to join a white man’s church. Ordinarily, when there is prejudice against the negro on the part of the white trade-unionists it is due largely to the negro’s character and not to his color.”
The writer looks with apprehension upon the systematic efforts now being made to bring the negro from the South to the large industrial centers of the North. For—
“The negro is probably much better fitted for work on the farm than he is for work in the city. The latest census reports of the United States Government brought out the fact that negro farms in the South had increased 21 per cent, while negro population increased only 10 per cent throughout the country.”
“The real friends of the negro will try to persuade him to move on to the farm, for here he will have more independence than he will ever secure in industrial cities or even in smaller towns.”
“There are exceptional negroes who will make good almost anywhere, but it is to be remembered that we are dealing with the one-tenth of the population of the United States which for many generations to come will in some respects be inferior to the white race.”
“Those who are constantly preaching equality of every sort to the negro race are not the real friend of the negro. While the negro should have equality of opportunity, it by no means follows that he is born with the same endowments or capabilities as the white man, and he is sure to suffer when he comes into competition with the white man in the city.”
Literary Digest, 55 (September 22, 1917): 34.
Organized Toilers Feel They Have Been Refused Square Deal at East St. Louis
St. Louis, Nov. 5.—Organized labor, testifying before the Congressional Committee which is investigating the July riots in East St. Louis, denied the charge of race persecution. Harry Kerr, district organizer of the American Federation of Labor emphasized to the committee that race prejudice was not used to drive unorganized labor out of the city and cited instances of assistance to the Negro from the labor unions.
The labor unions feel that they have not gotten a square deal in the East St. Louis matter, and an appeal was made to the Congressional Committee for impartial consideration.
Mr. Kerr explained the formation of the unions which control skilled labor, attributing the failure of the Negro workman to obtain admission to these bodies to his inability to pass the examinations required by most of the unions As the unions are autonomous bodies, the general sentiments of the members direct the actions of each organization. The district organizer wished to make plain the fact that these sentiments were not controlled by the American Federation of Labor. . . .
There is no organization for unskilled workmen in East St. Louis owing to the large number of negroes who come into East St. Louis from the rural districts of the South, most of the colored workers are not eligible for the ranks of skilled union labor.
An attempt was made last August to organize a federal labor union, and a charter was obtained for that purpose. Such a union has for its purpose the incorporation of unskilled labor and would, therefore, include a larger number of Negro laborers than can gain admittance to the craft unions.
It was stated to the committee by other representatives of the labor unions that, owing to the loose political condition and the large migratory population which the city seemed to attract, there were habitually in East St. Louis two laboring men for every job.
UNIONS DIDN’T CONTROL MEETING
It would seem from the testimony of labor union men that the meeting of May 28, which culminated in rioting, although planned by the unions as a consultation with Mayor Mollman concerning complicated labor conditions, at an early hour slipped from their control.
Upon their arrival at the city hall, where the meeting was held, the unions claim they were greatly surprised to find a large crowd assembled to take part in the proceedings.
The labor representative told the committee that upon finding the meeting was acquiring a tone of levity incompatible with the seriousness of its purpose, he left the hall. Later in the evening, when the crowd had fully acquired the spirit which would result in mob activity, and had surged forth upon the streets in disorder, he made appeals that they should go home. The witness stated that he had his face slapped in reply. Immediately afterwards two soldiers whom he recognized as members of the national guard of St. Louis called to the mob to follow them, and they left the vicinity of the city hall.
The witness stated that he personally went to a point from whence the Negroes would of necessity have to come in order to enter the business section of the city, and advised the colored people to come down into the heart of East St. Louis. . . .
On the morning of July 2, finding a large threatening crowd gathered in front of the police station, about the automobile in which Detectives Coppedge and Wadley had been killed the night before, the labor leader suggested to the chief of police that exhibition of the bullet-scarred car might incite further difficulty, and upon his suggestion the car was removed to the garage.
The American Federation of Labor was connected with the strike at the Aluminum Ore works owing to the fact that the men of this plant were organized into an individual association which was not affiliated with the national body. This particular conflict lay between the managers and employees of the American Ore works.
The committee has been unable so far to learn just who is responsible for the bringing of Negroes to East St. Louis from the South. That such agencies were at work is practically certain.
New York Call, November 6, 1917.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 70 Fifth Avenue, New York, sent Martha Gruening and W. E. Burghard Du Bois to East St. Louis, as special investigators of the recent outrages. These two collected in person the facts . . . from which this article is compiled.
On the 2nd of July, 1917, the city of East St. Louis in Illinois added a foul and revolting page to the history of all the massacres of the world. On that day a mob of white men, women and children burned and destroyed at least $400,000 worth of property belonging to both whites and Negroes; drove 6,000 Negroes out of their homes; and deliberately murdered, by shooting, burning and hanging between one and two hundred human beings who were black.
Such an outbreak could not have been instantaneous. There must have been something further reaching even than an immediate cause to provoke such a disaster. The immediate cause usually given is as follows: On the evening of July 1, white “joy riders” rode down a block in Market Street, which was inhabited by Negroes, and began to fire into the houses. The Negroes aroused by this armed themselves against further trouble. Presently a police automobile drove up containing detectives and stopped. The Negroes thinking that these were the “joy riders” returning opened up fire before this misunderstanding was removed, and two of the detectives were killed. Some of the policemen were in plain clothes.
One naturally wonders why should the white “joy riders” fire in the first place. What was their quarrel with the Negroes? In answering that question we get down to the real story. It is here we meet with the facts that lay directly back of the massacre, a combination of the jealousy of white labor unions and prejudice.
East St. Louis is a great industrial center, possessing huge packing and manufacturing houses, and is, therefore, one of the biggest markets in the country for common unskilled labor. The war, by the deportation of white foreign workers, caused a scarcity of labor and this brought about the beginning of a noticeable influx of Negroes from the South. Last summer 4,500 white men went on strike in the packing plants of Armour & Co., Morris & Co., and Swift & Co., and Negroes from the South were called into the plants as strikebreakers. When the strike ended the Negroes were still employed and that many white men failed to regain their positions. The leaders of various labor unions realized that the supply of Negroes was practically inexhaustible and that they were receiving the same wages as their white predecessors and so evidently doing the same grade of work. Since it was increasingly possible then to call in as many black strike-breakers as necessary, the effectiveness of any strike was accordingly decreased. It was this realization that caused the small but indicative May riots. Evidently, the leaders of the labor unions thought something must be done, some measure sufficiently drastic must be taken to drive these interlopers away and to restore to these white Americans their privileges. The fact that the Negroes were also Americans meant nothing at such a time as this.
The leader of a labor union must be an opportunist. The psychology of any unskilled laborer is comparatively simple. To the knowledge then that his job is being held by an outsider add his natural and fostered prejudice against an outsider who is black and you have something of the mental attitude of the rioters of East St. Louis. Doubtless it was with some such prophetic vision as this that Edward F. Mason, secretary of the Central Trades and Labor Union, issued a letter, the facsimile of which appears on the opposite page.
One point in particular is emphasized, that of color: “The Southern Negro,” writes Mr. Mason, “has come into our community. No less than ten thousand of undesirable Negroes,” he continues, “have poured in and are being used to the detriment of our white citizens.” There is the appeal direct to prejudice. It is not that foreigners—Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians—or whatever ethnic division is least indigenous to East St. Louis—it is not that they are ousting Americans of any color or hue, but the “Southern Negro,” the most American product there is, is being used “to the detriment of our white citizens.”
Mr. Mason has no hesitancy in suggesting “that some action should be taken to retard this growing menace” and “to get rid of a certain portion of those who are already here.” Was not Mr. Gompers’ excuse in Carnegie Hall a faint echo of all this?
Mr. Mason wants to be fair. “This is not a protest against the Negro who has been a long resident”—so runs his superb English—”of East St. Louis, and is a law-abiding citizen of the state.” In East St. Louis labor leaders are the arbiters of legal conduct and therefore 10,000 Negroes become undesirable citizens because they are strike-breakers and black.
That the July riot grew out of the meeting called by Mr. Mason (see facsimile), we are not prepared to say; but that it grew out of this attitude is only too apparent. By all accounts of eye-witnesses, both white and black, the East St.Louis outrage was deliberately planned and executed. Says Richard L. Stokes, writing in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat Sunday, July 8:
On the night of May 28th a delegation of about 600 union men marched to the City Hall to appeal to the authorities to prevent the importation of any more Negroes. Among them were many of the Aluminum Ore Company strikers. They took possession of an auditorium, and some of the leaders made speeches advising that in case the authorities took no action, they should resort to mob law.
When genuine mob law did finally reign on July 2, the scenes were indescribable. Germany has nothing on East St. Louis when it comes to “frightfulness.” Indeed in one respect Germany does not even approximate her ill-famed sister. In all the accounts given of German atrocities, no one, we believe, has accused the Germans of taking pleasure in the sufferings of their victims. But these rioters combined business and pleasure. The Negroes were “butchered to make” an East St. Louis “holiday.”
Carlos F. Hurd, an eye-witness, realizes this fact and speaks of it in the article which he published July 3 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, of which he is a staff-reporter. Mr. Hurd writes:
A mob is passionate, a mob follows one man or a few men blindly; a mob sometimes takes 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 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.
“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.
(A FACSIMILE OF MR. MASON’S LETTER) CENTRAL TRADES AND LABOR UNION
|Affiliated with the American Federation of Labor||Meets Second and Fourth Tuesdays 309 Collinsville Avenue|
EAST ST. LOUIS, ILL.,
To the Delegates
to the Central Trades
and Labor Union:
The immigration of the Southern Negro into our city for the past eight months has reached the point where drastic action must be taken if we intend to work and live peaceably in this community.
Since this influx of undesirable negroes has started no less than ten thousand have come into this locality.
These men are being used to the detriment of our white citizens by some of the capitalists and a few of the real estate owners.
On next Monday evening the entire body of delegates to the Central Trades and Labor Unions will call upon the Mayor and City Council and demand that they take some action to retard this growing menace and also devise a way to get rid of a certain portion of those who are already here.
This is not a protest against the negro who has been a long resident of East St. Louis, and is a law-abiding citizen.
We earnestly request that you be in attendance on next Monday evening at 8:00 o’clock, at 137 Collinsville Avenue, where we will meet and then go to the City Hall.
This is more important than any local meeting, so be sure you are there.
CENTRAL TRADES & LABOR UNION, EDW. F. MASON, Sec’y.
A Negro, his head laid open by a great stone-cut, had been dragged to the mouth of the alley on Fourth Street and a small rope was being put about his neck. There was joking comment on the weakness of the rope, and everything was prepared for what happened when it was pulled over a projecting cable box, a short distance up the pole. It broke, letting the Negro tumble back to his knees, and causing one of the men who was pulling on it to sprawl on the pavement.
An old man, with a cap like those worn by street car conductors, but showing no badge of car service, came out of his house to protest. “Don’t you hang that man on this street,” he shouted. “I dare you to.” He was pushed angrily away, and a rope, obviously strong enough for its purpose, was brought.
Right here I saw the most sickening incident 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, as he seized the other end of the rope. The rope was long, but not too long for the number of hands that grasped it, and this time the Negro was lifted to a height of about seven feet from the ground. The body was left hanging there.
These accounts make gruesome reading, but they are all true. Hugh L. Wood paints in the St. Louis Republic another horrible picture. He says:
A Negro weighing 300 pounds came out of the burning line of dwellings just north and east of the Southern freight house. His hands were elevated and his yellow face speckled with the awful fear of death.
“Get him!” they cried. Here was a chance to see suffering, something that bullets didn’t always make.
So a man in the crowd clubbed his revolver and struck the Negro in the face with it. Another dashed an iron bolt between the Negro’s eyes. Still another stood near and battered him with a rock.
Then the giant Negro toppled to the ground. “This is the way,” cried one. He ran back a few paces, then ran at the prostrate black at full speed and made a flying leap.
His heels struck right in the middle of the battered face. A girl stepped up and struck the bleeding man with her foot. The blood spurted onto her stockings and men laughed and grunted.
No amount of suffering awakened pity in the hearts of the rioters. Mr. Wood tells us that:
A few Negroes caught on the street were kicked and shot to death. As flies settled on their terrible wounds, the gaping-mouthed mobsmen forbade the dying blacks to brush them off. Girls with blood on their stockings helped to kick in what had been black faces of the corpses on the street.
The St. Louis Republic has still a further touch:
A Negro lay a block east on Broadway, with his face beaten in. He was not dead. An ambulance, driven by white men, dashed up.
“If you pick up that skunk we’ll kill you, too,” cried the crowd.
“I’ve got a wife and four children at home,” said the white-faced ambulance man as he climbed back on the wagon.
When the fire had eaten its way that far the body was tossed into the flames. Two blocks further east lay a Negro who had been beaten until he was dying. “Let’s string him up,” shouted a man.
A rope was brought and the dying black in a moment was dangling from a pole. Several “good measure” shots were fired into the body and the crowd went further on.
Mr. Hurd who writes with much restraint tells how he saw a man covered with blood and half conscious, raise himself on his elbow and look feebly about, when a young man, standing directly behind him, lifted a flat stone in both hands and hurled it up on his neck. This young man was much better dressed than most of the others. He walked away unmolested.
The violence was confined not only to men. Women were in many cases the aggressors and always ready to instigate and abet.
One woman, according to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, wanted to “cut the heart out” of a Negro, a man already paralyzed from a bullet wound, who was being then maltreated at the hands of a mob.
Mr. Hurd writes:
I saw a 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 coarse 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.
“Let the girls have her,” was the shout as the women attacked one 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 baseball bat. Another woman 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 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.
To this the St. Louis Republic adds:
Seized with the mob spirit, two young white girls climbed on a car at Broadway and Main Street at about 4 p.m. and dragged a Negress from her seat. As they dragged the struggling Negress through the door to the street there was a great cheer from men on the sidewalk.
As the Negress attempted to break away from her assailants one of the girls—for they were only about 17 years old—pulled off her shoe and started to beat the victim over the head. The victim flinched under the blows of the girl and was bleeding when she was rescued by militiamen.
The girls were not arrested and started to walk away from the scene. There were bloodstains on their clothes and as they passed their friends they told about the part they had played in the riot.
But this sort of Negro-baiting did not make a strong enough appeal to the jaded senses of the mob. Surely there must be some other means of adding to such pleasurable excitement. Somebody suggested fire. The idea was immediately accepted. Says John T. Stewart:
The first houses were fired shortly after 5 o’clock. These were back of Main street, between Broadway and Railroad avenue. Negroes were “flushed” from the burning houses, and ran for their lives, screaming and begging for mercy. A Negro crawled into a shed and fired on the white men. Guardsmen started after him, but when they saw he was armed, turned to the mob and said:
“He’s armed, boys. You can have him. A white man’s life is worth the lives of a thousand Negroes.”
A few minutes later matches were applied to hastily gathered debris piled about the corner of one of three small houses 100 feet from the first fired. These were back of the International Harvester Company’s plant. Eight Negroes fled into the last of the houses and hid in the basement. When roof and walls were about to fall in, an aged Negro woman came out. She was permitted to walk to safety. Three Negro women followed and were not fired upon. Then came four Negro men, and 100 shots were fired at them. They fell. No one ventured out to see if they were dead, as the place had come to resemble No Man’s Land, with bullets flying back and forth and sparks from the fires falling everywhere.
A Negro who crawled on hands and knees through the weeds was a target for a volley. The mob then turned back to Main street and another Negro was spied on a Main Street car. He was dragged to the street and a rioter stood over him, shooting.
The crowd then turned to Black Valley. Here the greatest fire damage was caused. Flames soon were raging and the shrieking rioters stood about in the streets, made lurid by the flames, and shot and beat Negroes as they fled from their burning homes.
This district today was a waste of smouldering debris. Firemen fought the flames all night. In this stretch were burned the Southern Railroad freight house, the Hills-Thomas Lime and Cement Company plant and the Broadway Opera House. By desperate effort, firemen saved the Public Library Building, the Bon Bon Baking Powder Company, and the J. C. Grant Chemical Company. The warehouses of the latter contained 1,000 gallons of gasoline and coal oil.
It was rumored that many Negroes were burned to death in the Broadway Opera House, an abandoned theatre structure. Bystanders claimed to have seen men, women and children seek refuge in the basement of the building.
Rioters formed in gangs and trooped through the street, chasing Negroes when they met them, and intimidating white and Negro men alike, if they attempted to offer resistance.
Here again according to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the women and children took a hand:
They pursued the women who were driven out of the burning homes, with the idea, not of extinguishing their burning clothing, but of inflicting added pain, if possible. They stood around in groups, laughing and jeering, while they witnessed the final writhings of the terror and pain wracked wretches who crawled to the streets to die after their flesh had been cooked in their own homes.
Where was the militia? At best they stood idly about in tacit sympathy with the rioters. It was not their business to protect Negroes against white men. Richard L. Stokes makes their attitude plain in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. He says:
I wish to point out that in these riots all the antipathy toward the Negro was not confined to East St. Louis. Among the first militia to arrive from Central and Northern Illinois, were not a few who declared feelingly their understanding they were not here to protect Negroes against whites but to guard whites against Negroes.
Subsequent testimony conflicted with this statement and showed that most of the militia, as one would suppose from the location of East St. Louis, came from Southern Illinois.
And John T. Stewart continues in the St. Louis Star:
The major riot ensued at 4:30, with not a Negro in sight. A crowd of fifty young men and boys dribbling aimlessly south on Collinsville came to a pawn shop. At once there were shouts of “get his guns,” and the whites crowded through the shop doors and looted the shop of every weapon and all its ammunition. A boy not over fourteen years old emerged with a rifle and several rounds of cartridges. Another boy dragged a shotgun too big for him to carry.
A detachment of militia came along and made a half-hearted effort to disarm the civilians. The only persons who gave up their arms were boys. One white man walking beside me patted a large revolver in his shirt bosom. It was fully loaded. Another handed him two additional rounds of cartridges. Two guards passed.
“You’ve got nothing on me,” the rioter said, and showed the militiaman his revolver and shells. When the militiaman laughed, the rioter threw his disengaged arm around the guardsman’s shoulder and they disappeared around the corner.
Some of the militia were active in the fray. Miss Gruening tells of the two soldiers, members of Troop L, from Olney. She passed them a few days after the riot near Cahokia Creek and entered into conversation with them. They boasted that here “seven niggers” were thrown into the creek, “and every time the niggers came up people rocked them till they was all drowned.” She imitated their vernacular. “And how many ‘niggers’ did you boys actually kill?” she asked. They were modestly uncertain—they were not quite sure how many, but they had certainly shot to kill. That had been their orders.
“What!” asked Miss Gruening, “to shoot to kill ‘niggers’?”
They grinned cheerfully. “Oh, no. Only to kill all we saw starting fires.”
“And did you see any starting fires?”
“No, all we saw was niggers flying.”
And they were to disarm every “nigger” of any kind of weapon—guns, razors, knives. They got everything away from them.
Miss Gruening wanted to know if they hadn’t disarmed any whites at all.
They were doubtful. Yes, one remembered he had disarmed a drunken white man who was attacking a white woman.
Subsequently, Miss Gruening met with the Military Board of Inquiry, whose members were: Brigadier General Henry R. Hill, Brigadier General James E. Stewart, Colonel M. J. Foreman, Colonel Taylor E. Brown, Major Edward B. Tollman, Colonel William D. McChesney and Major Richard J. Abbott. She told her story and offered to identify the boys.
The Board was unenthusiastic and a trifle skeptical. Didn’t Miss Gruening really suppose that the boys were joking? Doubtless they merely wanted to look big in the eyes of a lady. Yes, such jesting was in bad taste, but boys will be boys. At any rate identification was impossible because the Olney troops had been withdrawn.
Miss Gruening offered to go to Olney, to go anywhere to identify the two guardsmen.
Well, that was unnecessary, it was rather late now—on the third day of the inquiry—to institute such a complaint. Why hadn’t the lady gone immediately to the commandant, who was present, and made her charge.
Miss Gruening had already been to the commandant on another matter and had been rebuffed.
As she was about to leave they laid on her a solemn charge.
“Young lady, as a writer, you have a heavy responsibility. If you go away and give the world the impression that the boys of the Illinois Militia or their officers failed in their duty you will be doing a serious injustice. We have gone exhaustively into the evidence. We have followed up every accusation made against Illinois guardsmen and we find not a single instance in which they misconducted themselves. On the contrary, we have found innumerable instances of the greatest heroism on the part of these young and untrained boys—instances in which Negroes were rescued from crowds of two or three hundred people. We have examined every body (Query: the burned and drowned bodies too?) and none of the wounds were made by rifles.”
Miss Gruening inquired why, in the case of so much heroism, were so many Negroes killed and only eight white men. There was no answer to that.
Many white people told Miss Gruening that the militia had done remarkably well when one considered that most of them came from towns in Southern Illinois, like Olney, for instance, at whose railway stations were placards with the inscription: “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you.” It was impossible, it was argued, for such to suppose that they were being called on to protect “niggers!”
And now we come to a short list of savage deeds which most of the newspapers have failed to print. Some of them though hint at them, like the St. Louis Globe-Democrat for instance, when it says “enormities of savagery which would shame the jungle were committed in the presence of policemen and militiamen.” All of the following statements were related by eyewitnesses to Miss Gruening and Dr. Du Bois.
Miss Gruening writing in the Boston Journal says succintly:
“One girl was standing at a window of a white woman’s house in which she worked. Her arm was shot away. A policeman and a soldier, she said, did the shooting . . . An old woman, frightfully burned, dying in the hospital, was asked if the mob had done it and replied: ‘No, they jes’ set fire to my house and I burned myself trying to get out’ . . . One of the St. Louis reporters said that he knew exactly how people felt who had seen atrocities abroad and were trying to ‘get them across’ to the rest of the world, ‘although,’ he added, ‘not even Belgium probably has anything quite as horrible to show’ . . . About 10 blocks of Negro homes were burned, and the mobs stood outside and shot and stoned those who tried to escape . . . The mob seized a colored woman’s baby and threw it into the fire. The woman was then shot and thrown in.”
One dares not dwell too long on these horrors. There are the stories too related by Mrs. Luella Cox (white) of the Volunteers of America, a St. Louis organization. Mrs. Cox had gone over to East St. Louis on that memorable day on business connected with her society. She passed through scenes that she can never forget. She realized the storm that was brewing and tried to persuade some of the colored families living in what afterwards became the burned district to flee. They were afraid to venture out but remained hidden in their houses with what results one can shudderingly surmise.
Mrs. Cox saw a Negro beheaded with a butcher’s knife by someone in a crowd standing near the Free Bridge. The crowd had to have its jest. So its members laughingly threw the head over one side of the bridge and the body over the other.
A trolley-car came along. The crowd forced its inmates to put their hands out the window. Colored people thus recognized were hauled out of the car to be beaten, trampled on, shot. A little twelve-year-old colored girl fainted—her mother knelt beside her. The crowd surged in on her. When its ranks opened up again Mrs. Cox saw the mother prostrate with a hole as large as one’s fist in her head.
Around a corner came a group of miners, fresh from work, their pick-axes over their shoulders. They plunged joyously into the crowd and made use of them resting from their labors, their pick-axes slung once more over their shoulders, and on their backs dripped blood.
While Mrs. Cox was talking to Miss Gruening and Dr. Du Bois, a colored woman came up and exclaimed: “There’s the lady that saved me!” The woman had spent all that terrible night crouching in a sewer pipe.
It was Mrs. Cox, too, who saw the baby snatched from its mother’s arms and thrown into the flames, to be followed afterwards by the mother. This last act was the only merciful one on the part of the crowd.
This recital deals only with facts. But stop and picture for a moment Mrs. Cox’s day and the memories which must haunt her and all others who spent those awful hours in St. Louis.
First the mob, always a frightful thing—lowering in dense cowardly ranks through the streets. Then the fleeing Negroes, hunted, despairing. A hoarse, sullen cry, “Get the nigger!” A shower of bullets, of bricks and stones. The flash of meat-cleavers and pickaxes. The merciless flames. And everywhere bodies, blood, hate and terrible levity.
All our hunting-songs and descriptions deal with the glory of the chase as seen and felt by the hunters. No one has visualized the psychology of the quarry, the driven, hunted thing. The Negroes of East St. Louis have in their statements supplied the world with that lack.
The following accounts are published in the somewhat disjointed fashion in which they were necessarily collected by the investigators. No interpolation whatever is added to detract from their simplicity and sincerity.
This is the testimony of Mary Edwards. She is twenty-three years old, directress of a cafeteria at Lincoln School at fifty dollars a month, has lived in East St. Louis for sixteen years:
Knew at ten o’clock in the morning that white and colored had been fighting, but did not know seriousness of fight until five o’clock in evening when riot started at Broadway and Fourth Street. Heard shooting and yelling, saw mob pull women off street cars and beat them, but did not think rioters would come up to Eighth Street. Fires had started and were as far as Fifth Street and Broadway and swept through Fourth St., to Fifth and on to Eighth. The shooting was so violent that they were afraid to leave home. By this time rioters were on Eighth Street, shooting through homes and setting fire to them. Daughter and father were in house dodging bullets which were coming thick. Building at corner of Eighth and Walnut was occupied by whites. Some of mob yelled, “Save it. Whites live there.” Some of the rioters went to Eighth and Broadway and set fire to colored grocery store and colored barber shop. Man in barber shop escaped but the man and wife in store were burned up. By that time Opera House was on fire and flats on side and back of it. East end of Library Flats caught and heat was so great that father and daughter tried to escape through alley and up street to Broadway, but encountered mob at Broadway. Soldiers were in line-up on north side of street and offered no assistance. Ran across street to Westbrook’s home with bullets flying all around them and rioters shouting, “Kill him, kill him.” Here daughter lost track of father. She beat on the back door of Westbrook’s home but no response, ran across alley to Division Avenue, ran on white lady’s porch, but the lady would not let her in. Men were shooting at her for all they were worth, but she succeeded in dodging bullets. Ran across field and got in house and crawled under bed. Mob following right behind her, but lost sight of which house she went in and set fire to each end of flat. Rather than be burned to death she ran out and mob began shooting at her again. Just at that time a man ran out of the house, and mob let girl alone and started at him. She fell in weeds and lay very quiet. Could see them beating man. About one hour afterwards she heard someone say, “Any niggers in here?” She kept very quiet thinking them rioters. One said, “No one does answer. Come on, boys, let’s go in after them.” She then raised up not knowing they were soldiers and pleaded for her life. They picked her up and took her over the same ground she had run from the mob; put her in a machine and took her to City Hall. When she came to herself she was in the doctor’s office surrounded by friends and her sister, Josephine, who had escaped with the Westbrooks. It was about one o’clock when she reached the City Hall. Mr. Edwards succeeded in getting away from mob, hid under a white man’s porch until three o’clock in the morning, crawled from under there and went under sidewalk on Broadway and stayed there till five o’clock. (In East St. Louis, Ill., the streets are higher than the houses). He got out from under the walk and walked over where his home was still burning and stayed there till five-thirty. Started out to find girls, saw a policeman who told him he would probably find them at City Hall. On way to City Hall, he met two policemen with two colored men. One man asked him if he would send a message to his wife. Mr. Edwards said he could not do so. Policemen then arrested him charging him with being one of the rioters. He was locked up in jail and did not get out until twelve o’clock, when he was carried before Justice of Peace for trial. They found him guilty and set his trial for nine o’clock Wednesday morning and told him he would have to give bond for three hundred dollars. They would not let him have an attorney nor would they let him send for anyone. He then asked the Judge to let him make a statement to the court. That was granted.
He got up and told of his experience from five o’clock Monday evening until he was arrested at 5:45 Tuesday morning. After hearing his story the Judge dismissed him.
Nathaniel Cole is twenty-two years old and worked in a steel foundry. He says:
I was on my way from Alton on an Interurban car. When the car reached East St. Louis I saw a crowd of whites hollering, “Stop the car and get the nigger.” The car was pulled off and stopped and a Negro man pulled out and beaten. In the mean time a white child called “There’s another nigger.” I was then pulled off the car, beaten and left in the street. After the mob left I attempted to board a car and was ejected by the conductor. Not knowing anything about East St. Louis or the mob, I ran into a white neighborhood and a woman hollered, “Stop that nigger. Stop that nigger.” Two fellows ran out of gangway, one with a brick and the other with a long club. I ran and was well out of the way when a Ford car came along and about twelve of the rioters got in and overtook me after I had entered an alley. They hemmed me in a yard, where a carpenter was at work and began beating me. The carpenter then asked the rioters not to beat me up there, but to turn me over to the police if I had done anything to deserve it. The rioters replied, “The nigger takes the white man’s job.” I was beaten in the face with a cane and a rubber hose. I was beaten into insensibility and when I came to they were taking stitches in my head at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Observe the terseness of the statement of Nine Fleet:
Husband worked at M. & 0. Round House. Was a resident of East St. Louis for ten years.
I stayed with white people in the neighborhood the night of the riot and when I returned home, Tuesday, found my house had been ransacked and burned.
My husband was killed in the riot on his way home from work.
Here follows the continued story of Mary Lewis and her sister Hattie House Mary Lewis, who is thirty-three, speaks first. She says:
The mob gathered about my house shouting oaths, etc., and after watching and listening for a long time, I decided to try to escape. Just as I started to leave I saw them shoot a man dead, less than thirty feet from my window. The mob then went to the rear of the house and I, with my four children, slipped out the front door. I had gone but a short distance when I was spied by one of the mob and they wanted to come back, but were urged by the leader to go on as he had seen some men on another street. His remark was, “Let her go and get the niggers running on the other street.”
I was left in my house, my husband, Allen Lewis; sister, Hattie House, and a friend who was visiting Mr. McMurray.
Her sister, Hattie House, continues:
In less than twenty minutes from the time my sister left, the mob returned and began shooting and throwing bricks through the windows, while the three of us lay flat upon the floor, hoping to escape. The mob then set fire to both the front and back and when the roof began falling in we ran out through the rear door amidst the rain of bullets to the home of a Mr. Warren, white, begging him to save us. Mr. Lewis was shot just as he reached the door, and I ran into the house.
Some women who were always at the Warren house began beating me and I was compelled to leave there. I ran through a shed and seeing a big tin box, I jumped in, pulling on the lid and succeeded in concealing myself. The mob pursued, looking in every place as they sought for me, but overlooked the box. As they stood discussing the riot, one said, “I felt sorry for that old nigger. He begged so for his life.” The answer was, “Why should you feel sorry, Irene, you helped to kill him?” Some other person in the crowd then said, “He was such a hard nigger to kill, he was shot and then had to have his head smashed with an ax.”
Lulu Suggs is twenty-four years old, and has lived in East St. Louis since April. She tells of seeing children thrown into the fire. She says:
My house was burned and all the contents. My husband was at Swift’s the night of the riot. I, with about one hundred women and children, stayed in a cellar all night, Monday night. The School for Negroes on Winstanly Avenue was burned to the ground. When there was a big fire the rioters would stop to amuse themselves, and at such time I would peep out and actually saw children thrown into the fire. Tuesday came and with that the protection of the soldiers. We escaped to St. Louis.
Chickens were of more value than Negro human lives. Mabel Randall, who is twenty-four years old, and has lived in East St. Louis for one and one-half years tells us:
Monday evening the mob broke out the windows and we stayed under the bed. When dark came, we begged the white lady next door to let us get under her house and she told us that she had chickens in the yard and we could not. We then went next door and got into a coal-house piling stoves upon us until four o’clock next morning when we went to the M. & 0. Railroad yards. We remained there until 5:30 and then reached the ferry.
The statement of Josephine Jones is interesting. She says:
Mrs. Jones made this statement to me, that the mob formed both times at the City Hall, May, 1917, and July 2, 1917. She also said that Mayor Mollman stood in the alley leaning on the bannister of the Justice of Peace Building when a white man ran down the alley chasing two colored men, whom he afterwards shot and threw into the creek. When he returned to the street, Mayor Mollman was still standing there and he said, “Fred, I shot two niggers. How do you like that?” Mayor Mollman said nothing and made no protest.
Rena Cook returned from a day’s outing to horror and death. Her statement follows:
While returning from a fishing trip on an Alton St. car, we were met by a mob at Collinsville and Broadway who stopped the car and had the white people get out. The mob came in and dragged my husband and son out, beating them at the same time, threw them off the car and shot both my husband and son, killing them instantly. Two policemen stood by, but did not interfere. The mob came back in the car and ran me out and beat me into insensibility, I knew nothing more until I found myself in St. Mary’s Hospital. After staying in the hospital for two days I was taken to City Hall in East St. Louis and from there the police and militia escorted me to St. Louis.
Here is a brief but comprehensive tale of treachery as told by Edward Spence:
Born in Lafayette, Alabama—came to East St. Louis five years ago. Worked in a Rolling Mill, Madison, Ill., but lived in East St. Louis. Wages $3.25 a day. He had taken his family, seven children and a wife to friends out from East St. Louis for safety. He returned to East St. Louis and walked down the street with a white man, whom he thought to be a friend. When he passed this man’s gate he was shot by this same man in both arms and back. He ran one and one-half blocks and was picked up and carried to the hospital by three colored men. His address is 1208 Colas Ave., East St. Louis.
Comments are needless. Here is the testimony of Elsie L. Lothride, twenty years old, and a resident of East St. Louis for five months. She says:
Monday, about four o’clock, mob surrounded house. My husband and I were under the bed, and the mob threw stones and broke the windows and furniture up. The spread hid us from the people and after they had broke everything they left. Then we went to a white lady and asked could we hide in her house and she refused us, and we went in the next neighbor’s house and hid in the coal-house until about four o’clock Tuesday morning. We hid in an engine until about 5:30 and then we went down to the Ferry and came across to St. Louis.
Testimony of Giles Bowner, sixty years old, and a resident of East St. Louis for four years:
I was at my work when the rioting began. I witnessed the rioting and being so excited I could hardly realize what the trouble was. My house was not burned but it was broken into and nearly everything was destroyed, things that I have had over twenty years. I saw many homes from a short distance of Fourth Street to Seventh Street burned to the ground.
Testimony of Mose Campbell, for seven months a resident of East St. Louis:
I was attacked by the mob of about 50 or more with stones and shots, but gave chase. They shot continuously and before we reached the Southern Freight House one bullet passed through my hand, shattering the bone. The mob threatened to burn the freight house so I crawled to the other end and found safety under the trunks of a freight car. Another victim drew the mob away by this time. This man was beaten until unconscious and when he revived the soldiers who were watching him raised a cry which brought the mob back to complete the murder.
While this excitement was at its height it gave me an opportunity to make my way to Brooklyn by back lanes. I saw the mob fire into houses the first being my own, which afterwards proved to be the bier for five men and two children. Among the men were Allen Lewis, Jas. Thomas and Aubry Jones.
Testimony of twenty-year-old Vassie Randall, an employee of the Electric Sack Plant:
The mob had benches stretched across the street facing both directions that no one might escape. A Negro came along and one fellow stepped out and struck him, and then others jumped on him, kicked out his eye and when he tried to get up, they returned and killed him. They then took him to Third and Main and swung him to a telegraph pole.
I was trying to escape with my four children and the mob threatened to throw me and the children in the river. Some white people from St. Louis, Mo., came to us and then the mob let us alone and we were allowed to escape.
The testimony of William Seawood shows the attitude of the soldiers. Seawood is thirty years old and has been a resident of East St. Louis seven years. He says:
Age, thirty years old, and have been a resident of East St. Louis seven years. I left my work at 2:30 P.M., went down Fifth Street to Walnut Avenue. I then went to a lunch stand, and as there was so much shooting I was afraid to leave. The mob came very close to the stand and I ran into an alley; there I found more of the rioters. I ran out of the alley between two buildings. I met a soldier who pointed a gun at me and told me to stop and throw up my hands. One of the men hit me on the back of my neck with his fist and another hit me across the head with a stick, and I also received a glance shot. One of the rioters also put a rope around my neck and said, “We will hang this one.’
The statement of Troy Watkins is to the same effect:
Tuesday I went to my house to get what I could. While inside a man was killed in front of my house. I thought since the soldiers were there to protect me I could go out of my house. I started out of my house and the white lady told me to go back, that they (the soldiers) had killed a man in front of my house. I went into the coal shed, got behind some tubs, when four men came in and saw me, but did not harm me. Then I went to where I was working (Kehlor Mill) where Mr. Cunningham gave us a team to go to my house and get my things. When I got there my house was burned down.
Miss Gruening told of a girl who lost her arm. Here is the girl’s own account. Her name is Mineola McGee and she has been a chambermaid at $3.50 a week. She has resided in East St. Louis since February 8, 1917. She says:
Cannot locate a relative since riot, several cousins, aunt and uncle.
Tuesday morning between seven and eight o’clock, as I was on my way to work (at Mrs. Gray’s) I was shot in the arm, as I was about to enter the door. The only men whom I saw on the street were a soldier and a policeman, and I think I was shot by one of the two. I fainted after being shot, and when I came to I was being taken to the hospital in a patrol wagon. At the hospital the remainder of my arm was amputated. No insurance.
And here is the testimony of Narcis Gurley, who had lived for seventy-one years to come at last to this. She says that she has lived in East St. Louis for thirty years and had earned her living by keeping roomers and as a laundress. She says:
Between five and six o’clock we noticed a house nearby burning and heard the men outside. We were afraid to come outside and remained in the house which caught fire from the other house. When the house began falling in we ran out, terribly burned, and one white man said “Let those old women alone.” We were allowed to escape. Lost everything, clothing and household goods.
The picture shows how terribly her arms were burned.
Testimony of the Kendricks, residents of West Madison, Ill., since 1909:
Monday about 1:30 P.M. I passed through East St. Louis from Belleville on my way to West Madison and the car met the mob at State and Collinsville. The mob shouted, “There’s a Negro on the car, stop that car and get him off.” The motorman stopped the car and all the white passengers left the car, leaving myself and sister-in-law and another lady, Mrs. Arthur. At that time three of the mob ran in the car and commenced beating me. I was shot through the left arm. They dragged me to the street. I was hit in the back of the head by one white, another hit me in the mouth. When I went to make a step another hit me on the side of the head and knocked me down. After this, one shot me in the leg. They jumped on me and beat me. After this they thought me dead and left me. There were three soldiers and a policeman in this mob, but offered me no assistance. In about twenty minutes I was carried to the hospital in an ambulance.
Testimony of Mary Bell White, age fifty-nine years. She was born in East St. Louis and did laundry-work at $1.25 a day:
Saw two people burn an old man and a very old woman. They were thrown into a burning house. Monday at 4 P.M. I saw three women burned. By that time I was so excited that I ran to Tenth Street, where I met a white man who offered me and about one hundred others his protection. He had us go into an old building that had been used for a storage house. We stayed there all night. The next day I went to the City Hall and from there to St. Louis. I lost everything.
Testimony of Thomas Crittenden:
Age forty-six years and a resident of East St. Louis for five years. Worked as a laborer at $3.60 a day. Monday night his boss found out about the riot and secreted him and another fellow. The next day he found that the district in which he lived had been burned. His wife was pulled from her house by the women of the mob, who beat her into insensibility and knocked out three teeth. She was sent to Cleveland, O., where she is in a very serious condition. Through the kindness of his employer he escaped to St. Louis.
Testimony of Lulu Robinson, age 33 years, has lived in East St. Louis for eight months:
Between five and six o’clock Monday evening the mob began shooting into my home at me and my child. We backed up against the wall to dodge the shots, but I was hit three times, once through the finger, shoulder and face. My boy of twelve years was shot twice and killed. I ran away and luckily escaped the shots that were rained upon me, and found shelter in another house. My husband I have not seen or heard from since the riot.
Testimony of Frank Smith, resident of East St. Louis for about twenty-five years and employed for the last fifteen years at the Acme Cement Company:
His house was set afire by the mob, and they waited outside to shoot him when he should emerge from the house. He waited till the last possible moment and was frightfully burned.
Testimony of Samuel J. Green, age 34 years:
I lived with my wife in East St. Louis; we have no children. I was born in Alabama and attended school through the fourth grade. I came to East St. Louis last October in search of better wages and better treatment from the white folks. I worked for the Loomin Owin Company; I received $3 for eight hours’ work. I rented our home; I paid $10 a month rent. Before the riot things were fine, but on Sunday the rioting began. At night when I was going home from work I got off the car right into the thickest of the rioters. I ran and they chased me, firing at me all the time. I saw the state guards but they were helping the mob to club the Negroes. It is wonderful how I escaped unhurt. I hid in the weeds and was lost to the mob. It was about ten o’clock Monday when I saw the state guards clubbing the colored people. I shall stay here awhile, then I shall go farther north.
Testimony of Salena Hubble, age 42 years:
I am a widow. I lived in East St. Louis five years. I came to wait on my sick daughter.
Before the riot the people of both races were friendly and pleasant in manners. On the evening the rioters told me to leave because they were going to burn up the whole block, as they thought I was a white woman, so they warned me to flee. I talked with a neighbor, Mrs. Clemens (a white woman) and asked her if she thought the mob would do any more harm. She said: “I don’t know, but you get ready and leave by the way of the cars over the bridge.”
Just as I started over the bridge the mob broke my windows out with rocks. I escaped because the mob didn’t know I belonged to the Negro race. Before I got out of East St. Louis I saw the mob with a rope and I heard them say: “There’s a nigger, Let us hang the S___ of a B___,” and they threw the rope over the telegraph pole, but I didn’t know what came of that; I saw the soldiers and they offered no assistance to the colored people. I saw the fire department come before the fire was started, but when the fire was started they did nothing to stop it. I also saw the mob throw a rope around a colored man’s neck and shoot him full of holes. The soldiers offered no assistance to the man who was shot, neither did the police. I saw a crowd of soldiers go into a saloon and engage in drinking heavily of beer. The mob burned the houses in the localities where colored lived mostly. The women were as vile as the men in their vile treatment to the Negroes. I saw the soldiers driving a crowd of colored men in the streets. The men were made to hold their hands above their heads as they walked.
Testimony of Beatrice Deshong, age 26 years:
I saw the mob robbing the homes of Negroes and then set fire to them. The soldiers stood with folded arms and looked on as the houses burned. I saw a Negro man killed instantly by a member of the mob, men, small boys, and women and little girls all were trying to do something to injure the Negroes. I saw a colored woman stripped of all of her clothes except her waist. I don’t know what became of her. The police and the soldiers were assisting the mob to kill Negroes and to destroy their homes. I saw the mob hang a colored man to a telegraph pole and riddle him with bullets. I saw the mob chasing a colored man who had a baby in his arms. The mob was shooting at him all of the time as long as I saw him. I ran for my life. I was nearly exhausted when a white man in the block opened the door of his warehouse and told me to go in there and hide. I went in and stayed there all night. The mob bombarded the house during the night, but I was not discovered nor hurt. The mob stole the jewelry of Negroes and used axes and hatchets to chop up pianos and furniture that belonged to them. The mob was seemingly well arranged to do their desperate work. I recognized some of the wealthy people’s sons and some of the bank officials in the mob. They were as vile as they could be.
Testimony of Jerry Mayhorn:
I saw the mob running the Negroes and beating them and killing them. I saw thirty white men beating one Negro. They clubbed the Negro to death. I saw the mob shooting into the homes of Negroes and throwing stones into them. The women and children were as bad as the men. The man that worked with me in the Stock Yards swam the creek to escape the mob and they stopped to beat another Negro to death. He escaped. I saw the mob set fire to the church and to the school; then they ran. This was about seven o’clock in the evening. I ran through the Stock Yards and down the railroad to Brooklyn, carrying my three children. I saw the soldiers, who seemed to run a little pretense, and the mob just kept on killing Negroes. The soldiers searched the colored men, but I never saw them attempt to search any of the white men.
Testimony of Robert Hersey, age 20 years:
I have lived in East St. Louis since the 25th of March, 1917. I came here because of bad treatment and poor wages. I worked in a tobacco factory in St. Louis, Mo., and received two dollars a day.
Before the riot everyone seemed friendly toward me. I never got into the thickest of the men or riot, but they hit me with clubs, bricks, and stamped me on the head. They broke my arm. But for all of that I got away from them.
I shall never return to the South whatever may happen to me here, for in the South it is always killing and burning some of our people. No let up on bad treatment and no wages either. Men must work for eighty cents a day, women for fifty cents a week, and if the whites choose not to pay that, they won’t do it. I shall stay in St. Louis, Mo.
The damning statements go on and on. Among the Negroes one finds a note sometimes of blank stark despair. John T. Stewart in the St. Louis Star drew a pathetic picture:
One aged Negro woman passed the police station carrying in her arms all that mob spirit and fire had left of her belongings. They consisted of a worn pair of shoes—she was barefooted—an extra calico dress, an old shawl and two puppies. Tears were streaming down her face and she saw neither soldiers nor her enemies as she passed beneath the lights of the City Hall, going she knew not where.
Saddest of all is Miss Gruening’s account of the old woman whom she saw poking about in the desolate ruins of what had once been her home. Her family had escaped to St. Louis, but not a fraction of their possessions remained intact. The woman was old—sixty-five—not an easy age at which to begin life anew.
“What are we to do?” she asked Miss Gruening. “We can’t live South and they don’t want us North. Where are we to go?”
From the statements gathered by the investigators, many of these driven people seem to feel that the example of the South in dealing with Negroes is responsible for the methods of East St. Louis. Many of them express firmly their resolve, in spite of all, never to go back South. They will stay in St. Louis, they say, or push further North.
How does East St. Louis feel? According to all accounts she is unrepentant, surly, a little afraid that her shame may hurt her business, but her head is not bowed.
In this connection Miss Gruening supplies the statement of East St. Louis Postman No. 23, who said: “The only trouble with the mob was it didn’t get niggers enough. You wait and see what we do to the rest when the soldiers go. We’ll get every last one of them”
And here follows a sort of composite statement of the best citizens, editors, and liberty-bond buyers of East St. Louis and its surroundings:
“Well, you see too many niggers have been coming in here. When niggers come up North they get insolent. You see they vote here and one doesn’t like that. And one doesn’t like their riding in the cars next to white women—and, well what are you going to do when a buck nigger pushes you off the sidewalk?”
This last pathetic question was put to Miss Gruening by three different editors on as many separate occasions.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives the views of District Attorney Karch on the attitude of the rioters. He says:
Those men have not left the city, and they have not repented of their excesses. They are just as bitter as they were, and the action of the Chamber of Commerce in forcing these Negroes down their throats is only inflaming the men who participated in the riot.
The District Attorney told of seeing a man on a street car exhibit a revolver openly Thursday night, and remark that “it had killed niggers, and would kill some more as soon as the damned militia leaves.” Other men near by expressed similar sentiments, he added. They were laboring men, apparently going home from work.
Karch emphatically confirmed the statements made to the Post-Dispatch Tuesday by City Clerk Whalen, who is president of the Central Trades and Labor Union of East St. Louis, to the effect that large employers of labor had given marked and continuous preference to Negroes.
“Their attitude for some time has been that they would give jobs to white men when they couldn’t get any more Negroes,” Karch declared. “This, as Mr. Whalen said, is because the Negroes will not unionize. Before the tenseness of this situation is relieved, these employers must convince the laboring whites that they will be given preference over imported blacks in applying for work. Instead of doing that, they are declaring they will put all the Negroes back to work, and protect them, if they have to keep troops here indefinitely. That kind of flamboyant talk only angers the men who should be quieted.
“As long as the heads of these big plants break up strikes by importing Negro strikebreakers, so long can they expect to have race riots. This is no defense for the rioters; there is no defense for them. It is just a fact that when a man’s family is hungry his sense of justice doesn’t operate very accurately.”
Prejudice is a bad thing. But prejudice in the hands of Organized Labor in America! The Central Trades and Labor Union of East St. Louis has perpetrated a grim jest. Its motto as one may see by glancing back, “Labor omnia vincit.” Latin is apt to be a bit obscure, so we translate: “Labor conquers everything.” It does. In East St. Louis it has conquered Liberty, Justice, Mercy, Law and the Democracy which is a nation’s vaunt.
And what of the Federal Government?
The Crisis, 14 (September, 1917): 219–38.
The division of records and research of Tuskegee Institute had barely gotten before the public its announcement of a decrease in the number of lynchings the first six months of this year as compared with the same period last year, before the East St. Louis, Ill., race riots broke out afresh, resulting up to Tuesday night, in the death of seventy-five persons, the injury of seventy-five and the distruction by fire of 310 dwelling houses, and other property valued at more than $3,000,000. Of the 14 persons lynched throughout the country during the first six months of the year, four of them, one white and three colored, were charged with the crime of rape. The score or more of colored persons mob-murdered in the East St. Louis riots were put to death because they wanted to work for their living. . . .
Organized labor appears to be directly responsible for the trouble between the races, as the following statement from Michael Whalen, president of the East St. Louis Central Trades and Labor Council will indicate:
“Last summer 4,500 white men went on strike in the packing plants of Armour and Company, Morris and Company, and Swift Company. Eight hundred from the south came into the plants as strike breakers. When the strike ended the Negroes remained at work and an equivalent number of white men failed to get their jobs back. Since then there has been a stream of Negroes arriving. At least 2,500 Negroes have come from the south in the last year. Many of them failed to get work, or to hold jobs once obtained. Burglaries, highway robberies and petty crimes began. The people became exasperated and determined to drive them out of town.”
The leader of organized labor is flatly contradicted by employers of Negro labor in East St. Louis. We quote the press dispatches:
“Managers of plants mentioned by Mr. Whalen asserted that not a white man had been deprived of work by the Negroes. Even with the Negroes it was difficult to get enough labor, they said. They explained that rosy letters written back home by the first arrivals accounted for the continued influx from the south.”
“Mr. Whalen said that the chief objection to the Negroes was that they would not organize and would not strike.”
Will the United States government take cognizance of the East St. Louis massacre? Is there any section of the United States in which the American Negro can enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” when deporting himself as a law-abiding citizen? Will the United States government permit any groups of its citizens to be deprived by anarchy of common right to work for an honest living? All of these issues have been raised by the East St. Louis race riots, and unless the United States government takes prompt and rigorous action upon them, the United States government should renounce its purposes for entering the world war and stand convicted among the nations of the earth as the greatest hypocrite of all times.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, July 7, 1917.
July 27-August 2, 1919
Thirty-eight persons killed, 537 injured, and about 1,000 rendered homeless and destitute was the casualty list of the race riot which broke out in Chicago on July 27, 1919, and swept uncontrolled through parts of the city for four days. By August 2 it had yielded to the forces of law and order, and on August 8 the state militia withdrew.
A clash between whites and Negroes on the shore of Lake Michigan at Twenty-ninth Street, which involved much stone-throwing and resulted in the drowning of a Negro boy, was the beginning of the riot. A policeman’s refusal to arrest a white man accused by Negroes of stoning the Negro boy was an important factor in starting mob action. Within two hours the riot was in full sway, had scored its second fatality, and was spreading throughout the south and southwest parts of the city. Before the end came it reached out to a section of the West Side and even invaded the “Loop,” the heart of Chicago’s downtown business district. Of the thirty-eight killed, fifteen were whites and twenty-three Negroes; of 537 injured, 178 were whites, 342 were Negroes, and the race of seventeen was not recorded.
In contrast with many other outbreaks of violence over racial friction the Chicago riot was not preceded by excitement over reports of attacks on women or of any other crimes alleged to have been committed by Negroes. It is interesting to note that not one of the thirty-eight deaths was of a woman or girl, and that only ten of the 537 persons injured were women or girls. In further contrast with other outbreaks of racial violence, the Chicago riot was marked by no hangings or burnings.
The rioting was characterized by much activity on the part of gangs of hoodlums, and the clashes developed from sudden and spontaneous assaults into organized raids against life and property.
In handling the emergency and restoring order, the police were effectively reinforced by the state militia. Help was also rendered by deputy sheriffs, and by ex-soldiers who volunteered.
In nine of the thirty-eight cases of death, indictments for murder were voted by the grand jury, and in the ensuing trials there were four convictions. In fifteen other cases the coroner’s jury recommended that unknown members of mobs be apprehended, but none of these was ever found. . . .
The Commission’s inquiry concerning the facts of the riot included a critical analysis of the 5,584 pages of the testimony taken by the coroner’s jury; a study of the records of the office of the state’s attorney; studies of the records of the Police Department, hospitals, and other institutions with reference to injuries, and of the records of the Fire Department with reference to incendiary fires; and interviews with many public officials and citizens having special knowledge of various phases of the riot. Much information was also gained by the Commission in a series of four conferences to which it invited the foreman of the riot grand jury, the chief and other commanding officers of the Police Department, the state’s attorney and some of his assistants, and officers in command of the state militia during the riot.
Background of the riot.—The Chicago riot was not the only serious outbreak of interracial violence in the year following the war. The same summer witnessed the riot in Washington, about a week earlier; the riot in Omaha, about a month later; and then the week of armed conflict in a rural district of Arkansas due to exploitation of Negro cotton producers.
Nor was the Chicago riot the first violent manifestation of race antagonism in Illinois. In 1908 Springfield had been the scene of an outbreak that brought shame to the community which boasted of having been Lincoln’s home. In 1917 East St. Louis was torn by a bitter and destructive riot which raged for nearly a week, and was the subject of a Congressional investigation that disclosed appalling underlying conditions.
This Commission, while making a thorough study of the Chicago riot, has reviewed briefly, for comparative purposes, the essential facts of the Springfield and East St. Louis riots, and of minor clashes in Chicago occurring both before and after the riot of 1919.
Chicago was one of the northern cities most largely affected by the migration of Negroes from the South during the war. The Negro population increased from 44,103 in 1910 to 109,594 in 1920, an increase of 148 per cent. Most of this increase came in the years 1917-19. It was principally caused by the widening of industrial opportunities due to the entrance of northern workers into the army and to the demand for war workers at much higher wages than Negroes had been able to earn in the South. An added factor was the feeling, which spread like a contagion through the South, that the great opportunity had come to escape from what they felt to be a land of discrimination and subserviency to places where they could expect fair treatment and equal rights. Chicago became to the southern Negro the “top of the world.” . . .
It is necessary to point out here only that friction in industry was less than might have been expected. There had been a few strikes which had given the Negro the name of “strike breaker.” But the demand for labor was such that there were plenty of jobs to absorb all the white and Negro workers available. This condition continued even after the end of the war and demobilization.
In housing, however, there was a different story. Practically no new building had been done in the city during the war, and it was a physical impossibility for a doubled Negro population to live in the space occupied in 1915. Negroes spread out of what had been known as the “Black Belt” into neighborhoods near by which had been exclusively white. This movement, as described in another section of this report, developed friction, so much so that in the “invaded” neighborhoods bombs were thrown at the houses of Negroes who had moved in, and of real estate men, white and Negro, who sold or rented property to the newcomers. From July 1, 1917, to July 27, 1919, the day the riot began, twenty-four such bombs had been thrown. The police had been entirely unsuccessful in finding those guilty, and were accused of making little effort to do so.
A third phase of the situation was the increased political strength gained by Mayor Thompson’s faction in the Republican party. Negro politicians affiliated with this faction had been able to sway to its support a large proportion of the voters in the ward most largely inhabited by Negroes. Negro aldermen elected from this ward were prominent in the activities of this faction. The part played by the Negro vote in the hard-fought partisan struggle is indicated by the fact that in the Republican primary election on February 25, 1919, Mayor Thompson received in this ward 12, 143 votes, while his two opponents, Olson and Merriam, received only 1,492 and 319 respectively. Mayor Thompson was re-elected on April 1, 1919, by a plurality of 21,622 in a total vote in the city of 698,920; his vote in this ward was 15,569, to his nearest opponent’s 3,323, and was therefore large enough to control the election. The bitterness of this factional struggle aroused resentment against the race that had so conspicuously allied itself with the Thompson side.
As part of the background of the Chicago riot, the activities of gangs of hoodlums should be cited. There had been friction for years, especially along the western boundary of the area in which the Negroes mainly live, and attacks upon Negroes by gangs of young toughs had been particularly frequent in the spring just preceding the riot. They reached a climax on the night of June 21, 1919, five weeks before the riot, when two Negroes were murdered. Each was alone at the time and was the victim of unprovoked and particularly brutal attack. Molestation of Negroes by hoodlums had been prevalent in the vicinity of parks and playgrounds and at bathing-beaches.
On two occasions shortly before the riot the forewarnings of serious racial trouble had been so pronounced that the chief of police sent several hundred extra policemen into the territory where trouble seemed imminent. But serious violence did not break out until Sunday afternoon, July 27, when the clash on the lake shore at Twenty-ninth Street resulted in the drowning of a Negro boy.
The beginning of the riot.—Events followed so fast in the train of the drowning that this tragedy may be considered as marking the beginning of the riot.
It was four o’clock Sunday afternoon, July 27, when Eugene Williams, seventeen-year-old Negro boy, was swimming offshore at the foot of Twenty-ninth Street. This beach was not one of those publicly maintained and supervised for bathing, but it was much used. Although it flanks an area thickly inhabited by Negroes, it was used by both races, access being had by crossing the railway tracks which skirt the lake shore. The part of Twenty-seventh Street had by tacit understanding come to be considered reserved for Negroes, while the whites used the part near Twenty-ninth Street. Walking is not easy along the shore, and each race had kept pretty much to its own part, observing, moreover, an imaginary boundary extending into the water.
Williams, who had entered the water at the part used by Negroes, swam and drifted south into the part used by the whites. Immediately before his appearance there, white men, women, and children had been bathing in the vicinity and were on the beach in considerable numbers. Four Negroes walked through the group and into the water. White men summarily ordered them off. The Negroes left, and the white people resumed their sport. But it was not long before the Negroes were back, coming from the north with others of their race. Then began a series of attacks and retreats, counter-attacks, and stone-throwing. Women and children who could not escape hid behind debris and rocks. The stone-throwing continued, first one side gaining the advantage, then the other.
Williams, who had remained in the water during the fracas, found a railroad tie and clung to it, stones meanwhile frequently striking the water near him. A white boy of about the same age swam toward him. As the white boy neared, Williams let go of the tie, took a few strokes, and went down. The coroner’s jury rendered a verdict that he had drowned because fear of stone-throwing kept him from shore. His body showed no stone bruises, but rumor had it that he had actually been hit by one of the stones and drowned as a result.
On shore guilt was immediately placed upon a certain white man by several Negro witnesses who demanded that he be arrested by a white policeman who was on the spot. No arrest was made.
The tragedy was sensed by the battling crowd and, awed by it, they gathered on the beach. For an hour both whites and Negroes dived for the boy without results. Awe gave way to excited whispers. “They” said he was stoned to death. The report circulated through the crowd that the police officer had refused to arrest the murderer. The Negroes in the crowd began to mass dangerously. At this crucial point the accused policeman arrested a Negro on a white man’s complaint. Negroes mobbed the white officer, and the riot was under way.
One version of the quarrel which resulted in the drowning of Williams was given by the state’s attorney, who declared that it arose among white and Negro gamblers over a craps game on the shore, “virtually under the protection of the police officer on the beat.” Eyewitnesses to the stone-throwing clash appearing before the coroner’s jury saw no gambling, but said it might have been going on, but if so, was not visible from the water’s edge. The crowd undoubtedly included, as the grand jury declared, “hoodlums, gamblers, and thugs,” but it also included law-abiding citizens, white and Negro.
This charge, that the first riot clash started among gamblers who were under the protection of the police officer, and also the charge that the policeman refused to arrest the stone-thrower were vigourously denied by the police. The policeman’s star was taken from him, but after a hearing before the Civil Service Commission it was returned, thus officially vindicating him.
The two facts, the drowning and the refusal to arrest, or widely circulated reports of such refusal, must be considered together as marking the inception of the riot. Testimony of a captain of police shows that first reports from the lake after the drowning indicated that the situation was calming down. White men had shown a not altogether hostile feeling for the Negroes by assisting in diving for the body of the boy. Furthermore a clash started on this isolated spot could not be augmented by outsiders rushing in. There was every possibility that the clash, without the further stimulus of reports of the policeman’s conduct, would have quieted down.
Chronological story of the riot.—After the drowning of Williams, it was two hours before any further fatalities occurred. Reports of the drowning and of the alleged conduct of the policeman spread out into the neighborhood. The Negro crowd from the beach gathered at the foot of Twenty-ninth Street. As it became more and more excited, a group of officers was called by the policeman who had been at the beach. James Crawford, a Negro, fired into the group of officers and was himself shot and killed by a Negro policeman who had been sent to help restore order.
During the remainder of the afternoon of July 27, many distorted rumors circulated swiftly throughout the South Side. The Negro crowd from Twenty-ninth Street got into action, and white men who came in contact with it were beaten. In all, four white men were beaten, five were stabbed, and one was shot. As the rumors spread, new crowds gathered, mobs sprang into activity spontaneously, and gangs began to take part in the lawlessness.
Farther to the west, as darkness came on, white gansters became active. Negroes in white districts suffered severely at their hands. From 9:00 P.M. until 3:00 A.M. twenty-seven Negroes were beaten, seven were stabbed, and four were shot.
Few clashes occurred on Monday morning. People of both races went to work as usual and even continued to work side by side, as customary, without signs of violence. But as the afternoon wore on, white men and boys living between the Stock Yards and the “Black Belt” sought malicious amusement in directing mob violence against Negro workers returning home.
Street-car routes, especially transfer points, were thronged with white people of all ages. Trolleys were pulled from wires and the cars brought under the control of mob leaders. Negro passengers were dragged to the street, beaten, and kicked. The police were apparently powerless to cope with these numerous assaults. Four Negro men and one white assailant were killed, and thirty Negro men were severely beaten in the street-car clashes.
The “Black Belt” contributed its share of violence to the record of Monday afternoon and night. Rumors of white depredations and killings were current among the Negroes and led to acts of retaliation. An aged Italian peddler, one Lazzeroni, was set upon by young Negro boys and stabbed to death. Eugene Temple, white laundryman, was stabbed to death and robbed by three Negroes.
A Negro mob made a demonstration outside Provident Hospital, an institution conducted by Negroes, because two injured whites who had been shooting right and left from a hurrying automobile on State Street were taken there. Other mobs stabbed six white men, shot five others, severely beat nine more, and killed two in addition to those named above.
Rumor had it that a white occupant of the Angelus apartment house had shot a Negro boy from a fourth-story window. Negroes besieged the building. The white tenants sought police protection, and about 100 policemen, including some mounted men, responded. The mob of about 1,500 Negroes demanded the “culprit,” but the police failed to find him after a search of the building. A flying brick hit a policeman. There was a quick massing of the police, and a volley was fired into the Negro mob. Four Negroes were killed and many were injured. It is believed that had the Negroes not lost faith in the white police force it is hardly likely that the Angelus riot would have occurred.
At this point, Monday night, both whites and Negroes showed signs of panic. Each race grouped by itself. Small mobs began systematically in various neighborhoods to terrorize and kill. Gangs in the white districts grew bolder, finally taking the offensive in raids through territory “invaded” by Negro home seekers. Boys between sixteen and twenty-two banded together to enjoy the excitement of the chase.
Automobile raids were added to the rioting Monday night. Cars from which rifle and revolver shots were fired were driven at great speed through sections inhabited by Negroes. Negroes defended themselves by “sniping” and volley-firing from ambush and barricade. So great was the fear of these raiding parties that the Negroes distrusted all motor vehicles and frequently opened fire on them without waiting to learn the intent of the occupants. This type of warfare was kept up spasmodically all Tuesday and was resumed with vigor Tuesday night.
At midnight, Monday, street-car clashes ended by reason of a general strike on the surface and elevated lines. The street-railway tie-up was complete for the remainder of the week. But on Tuesday morning this was a new source of terror for those who tried to walk to their places of employment. Men were killed enroute to their work through hostile territory. Idle men congregated on the streets, and gang-rioting increased. A white gang of soldiers and sailors in uniform augemented by civilians, raided the “Loop,” or downtown section of Chicago, early Tuesday, killing two Negroes and beating and robbing several others. In the course of these activities they wantonly destroyed property of white business men.
Gangs sprang up as far south as Sixty-third Street in Englewood and in the section west of Wentworth Avenue near Forty-seventh Street. Premeditated depredations were the order of the night. Many Negro homes in mixed districts were attacked, and several of them were burned. Furniture was stolen or destroyed. When raiders were driven off they would return again and again until their designs were accomplished.
The contagion of the race war broke over the boundaries of the South Side and spread to the Italians on the West Side. This community became excited over a rumor, and an Italian crowd killed a Negro, Joseph Lovings.
Wednesday saw a material lessening of crime and violence. The “Black Belt” and the district immediately west of it were still storm centers. But the peak of the rioting had apparently passed, although the danger of fresh outbreaks of magnitude was still imminent. Although companies of the militia had been mobilized in nearby armories as early as Monday night, July 29, it was not until Wednesday evening at 10:30 that the mayor yielded to pressure and asked for their help.
Rain on Wednesday night and Thursday drove idle people of both races into their homes. The temperature fell, and with it the white heat of the riot. From this time on the violence was sporadic, scattered, and meager. The riot seemed well under control, if not actually ended.
Friday witnessed only a single reported injury. At 3:35 A.M. Saturday incendiary fires burned forty-nine houses in the immigrant neighborhood west of the Stock Yards. Nine hundred and forty-eight people mostly Lithuanians, were made homeless, and the property loss was about $250,000. Responsibility for these fires was never fixed. The riot virtually ceased on Saturday. For the next few days injured were reported occasionally, and by August 8 the riot zone had settled down to normal and the militia was withdrawn.
Growth of the riot.—The riot period was thirteen days in length, from Sunday, July 27, through Thursday, August 8, the day on which the troops were withdrawn. Of this time, only the first seven days witnessed active rioting. The remaining days marked the return toward normal. In the seven active days, rioting was not continuous but intermittent, being furious for hours, then fairly quiescent for hours. The first three days saw the most acute disturbance, and in this span there were three main periods: 4:00 P.M. Sunday till 3:00 A.M. Monday; 9:00 A.M. Monday till 9:00 A.M. Tuesday; noon Tuesday till midnight. This left two long intervals of camparative quiet, six hours on Monday and three hours on Tuesday. On the fourth day, Wednesday, there were scattered periods of rioting, each of a few hours’ duration. Thus Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning was the longest stretch of active rioting in the first four days.
For the most part the riot was confined to the South Side of the city. There were two notable exceptions, the district north and west of the south branch of the Chicago River and the “Loop” or downtown business district. A few isolated clashes occurred on the North Side and on the extreme West Side, but aside from these the area covered was that shown on the accompanying outline map.
For the purposes of discussion it is convenient to divide the riot area into seven districts. The boundaries in some instances are due to the designation of Wentworth Avenue by the police as a boundary west of which no Negroes should be allowed, and east of which no whites should be allowed.
I. “Black Belt.” From Twenty-second to Thirty-ninth, inclusive; Wentworth Avenue to the lake, exclusive of Wentworth; Thirty-ninth to Fifty-fifth, inclusive; Clark to Michigan, exclusive of Michigan.
II. Area contested by both Negroes and whites. Thirty-ninth to Fifty-fifth, inclusive; Michigan to the lake.
III. Southwest Side, including the Stock Yards district; south of the Chicago River to Fifty-fifth; west of Wentworth, including Wentworth.
IV. Area south of Fifth-fifth and east of Wentworth.
V. Area south of Fifty-fifth and west of Wentworth.
VI. Area north and west of the Chicago River.
VII. “Loop” or business district and vicinity.
In the district designated as the “Black Belt” about 90 per cent of the Negroes live. District II, the “contested area,” is that in which most of the bombings have occurred. Negroes are said to be “invading” this district. Extension here instead of into District III, toward the Stock Yards neighborhood, may be explained partly by the hostility which the Irish and Polish groups to the west had often shown to Negroes. The white hoodlum element of the Stock Yards district, designated as III, was characterized by the state’s attorney of Cook County, when he remarked that more bank robbers, pay-roll bandits, automobile bandits, highwaymen, and strong-arm crooks come from this particular district than from any other that has come to his notice during seven years of service as chief prosecuting official.
In District IV and V, south of Fifty-fifth Street, Negroes live in small communities surrounded by white people or are scattered through white neighborhoods. District VI has a large Italian population. District VII is Chicago’s wholesale and retail center.
On only one day of the riot were all these districts involved in the race warfare. This was Tuesday. On Sunday Districts I, III, and IV suffered clashes; on Monday all but District VI were involved; on Tuesday the entire area was affected; on Wednesday District VII was not included, and District VI witnessed only one clash; on Thursday District IV was again normal, and Districts II, V, and VII were comparatively quiet; during the remainder of the week only the first three districts named were active.
The worst clashes were in Districts I and III, and of those reported injured, 34 per cent received their wounds in the “Black Belt,” District I, and 41 per cent on the Southwest Side, in the district including the Stock Yards, District III.
Factors contributing to the subsidence of the riot were the natural reaction from the tension, efforts of police and citizens to curb the rioters, the entrance of the militia on Wednesday, and last, but perhaps not least, a heavy rain.
The longest period of violence without noticeable lull was 9:00 A.M. Monday to 9:00 A.M. Tuesday. On Tuesday the feeling was most intense, as shown by the nature of the clashes. Arson was prevalent on Tuesday for the first time, and the property loss was considerable. But judging by the only definite index, the number of dead and injured, Monday exceeded Tuesday in violence, showing 229 injured and eighteen dead as against 139 injured and eleven dead on the latter day. While it is apparent that no single hour or even day can be called the peak of the riot, the height of violence clearly falls within the two-day period Monday, July 28, and Tuesday, July 29.
The change in the nature of the clashes day by day showed an increase in intensity of feeling and greater boldness in action. This development reached its peak on Tuesday. Later came a decline, sporadic outbursts succeeding sustained activity.
Factors influencing growth of the riot.—After the attacks had stopped, about 3:00 A.M. Monday, they did not again assume serious proportions until Monday afternoon, when workers began to return to their homes, and idle men gathered in the streets in greater numbers than during working hours. The Stock Yards laborers are dismissed for the day in shifts. Negroes coming from the Yards at the 3:00 P.M., 4:00 P.M., and later shifts were met by white gangs armed with bats and clubs. On Tuesday morning men going to work, both Negro and white were attacked.
The main areas of violence were thoroughfares and natural highways between the job and the home. On the South Side 76 per cent of all the injuries occurred on such streets. The most turbulent corners were those on State Street between thirty-first and thirty-ninth. On Cottage Grove Avenue at Sixty-third Street. On halsted Street at Thirty-fifth and Forty-seventh streets and on Archer Avenue at Thirty-fifth Street. Injuries at these spots were distributed as follows:
The street-car situation had an effect upon the riot both before the strike and after it. Because of a shortage of labor at the time, the surface-streetcar company had put on a number of inexperienced men. This may account for the inefficiency of some crews in handling attacked cars.
An example is the case of Henry Goodman who was killed in an attack on a Thirty-ninth Street car. The car was stopped at Union Avenue by a truck suspiciously stalled across the tracks. White men boarded the car and beat and chased six or eight Negro passengers. When asked under oath to whom the truck directly in front of him belonged and what color it was, the motorman replied, “I couldn’t say.” When asked what time his car left the end of the line and whether or not he had seen any Negroes hit on the car, he answered, “I didn’t pay any attention.” The motorman said he made a report of the case, but it could not be found by anyone in the street-car company’s office. The conductor of this car had been given orders to warn Negroes that there was rioting in the district through which the car ran. He did not do this. He ignored the truck. No names of witnesses were secured. The motorman was an extra man and had run on that route only during the day of the attack.
In the case of John Mills, a Negro who was killed as he fled from a Forty-seventh Street car, the motorman left the car while Negroes were being beaten inside it. Neither motorman nor conductor took names of witnesses or attempted to fix a description of the assailants in mind.
When B. F. Hardy, a Negro, was killed on a street car at Forty-sixth Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, the motorman and conductor offered no resistance and did not get names or descriptions.
The testimony of the conductor and motorman on a car attacked at Thirty-eighth Street and Ashland Avenue was clear and showed an attempt to get all information possible. They secured names of witnesses. One member of the crew had been in the service of the Chicago Surface Lines for ten years, and the other for twelve years.
The tie-up of the street railways affected the riot situation by forcing laborers to walk, making them more liable to assault in the hostile districts, by keeping many workers from jobs, turning out on the streets hundreds of idle men, and by increasing the use of automobiles.
Tuesday morning two white men were killed while walking to work through the Negro area, and two Negroes were killed while going through the white area.
Curiosity led the idle to the riot zone. One such was asked on the witness stand why he went. “What was I there for? Because I walked there—my own bad luck. I was curious to see how they did it, that is all.”
Under cover of legitimate use gangs used motor vehicles for raiding. Witnesses of rioting near Ogden Park said trucks unloaded passengers on Racine Avenue, facilitating the formation of a mob. On Halsted Street crowds of young men rode in trucks shouting they were out to “get the niggers.” An automobile load of young men headed off Heywood Thomas, Negro, and shot him at Taylor and Halsted streets as he was walking home from work.
Beside daily routine and the street-car situation, the weather undoubtedly had an influence in the progress of the riot. July 27 was hot, 96 degrees, or fourteen points above normal. It was the culmination of a series of days with high temperatures around 95 degrees, which meant that nerves were strained. The warm weather of Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday also kept crowds on the streets and sitting on doorsteps until late at night. Innocent people trying to keep cool were injured when automobiles raced through the streets, the occupants firing to right and left. Wednesday night and Thursday it rained. Cool weather followed for the rest of the week.
Gangs and “athletic clubs.”—Gangs and their activities were an important factor throughout the riot. But for them it is doubtful if the riot would have gone beyond the first clash. Both organized gangs and those which sprang into existence because of the opportunity afforded seized upon the excuse of the first conflict to engage in lawless acts. . . .
Restoration of order.—Long before actual hostilities ceased, and even before the arrival of the militia, various agencies, in addition to the police, were at work trying to hold lawlessness in check and restore order. Efforts of citizens of both races helped greatly in bringing about peace. As long as the rioting was in progress thousands of Negroes were cut off from their employment. The Stock Yards workers especially were affected, since Negroes living east of Wentworth Avenue would have been forced to go to work on foot through the district in which the worst rioting occurred. The hostilities also cut off the food supply in the main riot areas. The dealers in the “Black Belt,” principally Jewish merchants, became alarmed lest temporary lack of funds due to the separation from work and wages should lead Negroes to loot their stores.
On August 1, the various packing companies made the unpaid wages of Negro employees available for them by establishing pay stations at the Chicago Urban League at 3032 Wabash Avenue, the Wabash Avenue Young Men’s Christian Association at 3763 Wabash Avenue, the South Side Community Service House at 3201 South Wabash Avenue, and the Binga State Bank, Thirty-eighth and State Streets. Approximately 6,000 employees were paid in this way. Banks within the district made small temporary loans to stranded persons, sometimes without security. The cashier of the Franklin State Bank at Thirty-fifth Street and Michigan Avenue said that he had made loans of more than $200 to Negroes in sums of $2 and $3 on their simple promise to pay, and that every dollar had been repaid. . . .
Labor unions also took a hand in the efforts toward peace. Unionists of both races were exhorted to co-operate in bringing about harmonious relations, and meetings for this purpose were planned by trade-union leaders, as described in the section of this report dealing with the Negro in industry. Probably the most effective effort of union labor was the following article in the New Majority, the organ of the Chicago Federation of Labor, prominently displayed:
FOR WHITE UNION TO READ
Let any white union worker who has ever been on strike where gunmen or machine gun have been brought in and turned on him and his fellows search his memory and recall how he felt. In this critical moment let every union man remember the tactics of the boss in a strike when he tries by shooting to terrorize striking workers into violence to protect themselves.
Well, that is how the Negroes feel. They are panic-stricken over the prospect of being killed.
A heavy responsibility rests on the white portion of the community to stop assault on Negroes by white men. Violence against them is not the way to solve the vexed race problem.
This responsibility rests particularly heavy upon the white men and women of organized labor, not because they had anything to do with starting the present trouble, but because of their advantageous position to help end it. Right now it is going to be decided whether the colored workers are to continue to come into the labor movement or whether they are going to feel that they have been abandoned by it and lose confidence in it.
It is a critical time for organized labor.
All the influence of the unions should be exerted on the community to protect colored fellow-workers from the unreasoning frenzy of race prejudice. Indications of the past have been that organized labor has gone further in eliminating race hatred than any other class. It is up against the acid test now to show whether this is so. . . .
Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (Chicago, 1922), pp. 1–11, 43–45.
The so-called race riots in Chicago during the last week of July, 1919, started on a Sunday at a bathing beach. A colored boy swam across an imaginary segregation line. White boys threw rocks at him and knocked him off a raft. He was drowned. Colored people rushed to a policeman and asked for the arrest of the boys throwing stones. The policeman refused. As the dead body of the drowned boy was being handled, more rocks were thrown, on both sides. The policeman held on to his refusal to make arrests. Fighting then began that spread to all the borders of the Black Belt. The score at the end of three days was recorded as twenty negroes dead, fourteen white men dead, and a number of negro houses burned.
The riots furnished an excuse for every element of Gangland to go to it and test their prowess by the most ancient ordeals of the jungle. There was one section of the city that supplied more white hoodlums than any other section. It was the district around the stockyards and packing houses.
I asked Maclay Hoyne, states attorney of Cook County, “Does it seem to you that you get more tough birds from out around the stockyards than anywhere else in Chicago?” And he answered that more bank robbers, payroll bandits, automobile bandits, highwaymen and strong-arm crooks come from this particular district than any other that has come to his notice during seven years of service as chief prosecuting official.
And I recalled that a few years ago a group of people from the University of Chicago came over into the stockyards district and made a survey. They went into one neighborhood and asked at every house about how the people lived —and died. They found that seven times as many white hearses haul babies along the streets here as over in the lake shore district a mile east. Their statement of scientific fact was that the infant mortality was seven times higher here proportionately, than a mile to to the east in a district where housing and wages are different.
So on the one hand we have blind lawless government failing to function through policemen ignorant of Lincoln, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and a theory sanctioned and baptized in a storm of red blood. And on the other hand we have gaunt involuntary poverty from which issues the hoodlum.
At least three conditions marked the events of violence in Chicago in July, 1919, and gave the situation a character essentially different from the backgrounds of other riots. Here are factors that give the Chicago flare-up historic import:
1. The Black Belt population of 50,000 in Chicago was more than doubled during the war. No new houses or tenements were built. Under pressure of war industry the district, already notoriously overcrowded and swarming with slums, was compelled to have and hold in its human dwelling apparatus more than twice as many people as it held before the war.
2. The Black Belt of Chicago is probably the strongest effective unit of political power, good or bad, in America. It connects directly with a city administration decisive in its refusal to draw the color line, and a mayor whose opponents failed to defeat him with the covert circulation of the epithet of “nigger lover.” To such a community the black doughboys came back from France and the cantonment camps. Also it is known that hundreds—it may be thousands—have located in Chicago in the hope of permanent jobs and homes in preference to returning south of Mason and Dixon’s line, where neither a world war for democracy, nor the Croix de Guerre, nor three gold chevrons, nor any number of wound stripes, assures them of the right to vote or to have their votes counted or to participate responsibly in the elective determinations of the American republic.
3. Thousands of white men and thousands of colored men stood together during the riots, and through the public statements of white and colored officials of the Stockyards Labor Council asked the public to witness that they were shaking hands as “brothers” and could not be counted on for any share in the mob shouts and ravages. This was the first time in any similar crisis in an American community that a large body of mixed nationalities and races—Poles, Negroes, Lithuanians, Italians, Irishmen, German, Slovaks, Russians, Mexicans, Yankees, Englishmen, Scotchmen—proclaimed that they were organized and opposed to violence between white union men and colored union men.
In any American city where the racial situation is critical at this moment, the radical and active factors probably are (1) housing (2) politics and war psychology and (3) organization of labor.
The articles that follow are reprints from the pages of the Chicago Daily News, which assigned the writer to investigate the situation three weeks before the riots began. Publication of the articles had proceeded two weeks and were approaching the point where a program of constructive recommendations would have been proper when the riots broke and as usual nearly everybody was more interested in the war than how it got loose.
The arrangement of the material herewith is all rather hit or miss, with the stress often in the wrong place, as in much newspaper writing. However, because of the swift movement of events at this hour and because items of information and views of trends here have been asked for in telegrams, letters and phone calls from a number of thoughtful people, they are made conveniently available for such service as they are worth. . . .
TRADES FOR COLORED WOMEN
A colored woman entered the office of a north side establishment where artificial flowers are manufactured.
“I have a daughter 17 years old,” she said to the proprietor.
“All places filled now,” he answered.
“I don’t ask a job for her,” came the mother’s reply. “I want her to learn how to do the work like the white girls do. She’ll work for nothing. We don’t ask wages, just so she can learn.”
So it was arranged for the girls to go to work. Soon she was skilled and drawing wages with the highest in the shop. Other colored girls came in. And now the entire group of fifteen girls that worked in this north side shop have been transferred to a new factory on the south side, near their homes. At the same time a number of colored girls have gone into home work in making artificial flowers.
Such are the casual, hit-or-miss incidents by which the way was opened for colored working people to enter one industry on the same terms as the white wage earners.
Doll hats, lamp shades, millinery—these are three branches of manufacture where colored labor has entered factories and has also begun home work. Colored workers, with their bundles of finished goods on which the entire family has worked, going to the contractor to turn in the day’s output are now a familiar sight in some neighborhoods. In one residence a colored woman employs seven girls, who come to the house every day and make lamp shades, which are later delivered to a contractor. The first week in July thirty girls were placed in one millinery shop.
A notable recent development, partly incidental to conditions of war industry, is the entrance of colored women into garment factories, particularly where women’s and children’s garments are made. In Chicago in the last year they have been assigned to the operation of power machines making children’s clothes, women’s apparel, overalls and rompers.
Out of 170 firms in Chicago that employed colored women for the first time during the war, 42, or 24 per cent, were hotels or restaurants, which hired them as kitchen help or bus girls. Twenty-one, or 12 per cent, were hotels or apartment houses which hired them as chambermaids. Nineteen laundries, 12 garment-factories, seven stores, and eight firms, hiring laborers and janitresses, make up the rest of the 170. The packing industry, of course, leads all others in employment of both colored men and women as workers. Occupations that engaged still others during the war were picture framers, capsule makers, candy wrappers, tobacco strippers, noodle makers, nut shellers, furniture sandpaperers, corset repairers, paper box makers, ice cream cone strippers, poultry dressers and bucket makers.
In a building near the public library is a colored woman who conducts a hair-dressing parlor. She employs three white girls. All the patrons are white. The proprietress herself could easily pass for a Brazilian banana planter’s widow, of Spanish Caucasian blood. But as she frankly admits that she is one-eighth African and seven-eighths Caucasian, she has been refused admission to other buildings when she wished for various reasons to change the location of her establishment.
Here and there, slowly, and by degrees, the line of color discrimination breaks. A large chain of dairy lunchrooms in Chicago employs colored bus girls, cooks and dishwashers and depends almost entirely on colored help to do the rougher work.
More notable yet is the fact that a downtown business college informs employment bureaus that it is able to place any and all colored graduates of the college in positions as stenographers and typists. In a few loop stores colored salesgirls are employed. In one shoe store beginning this policy, a white girl filed complaint. The manager investigated and found there was no objection except from this one white girl, who was thereupon dismissed.
A matress factory opened wage earning opportunities to colored women in the last year. Two taxicab companies now hire women as cleaners. The foregoing list of occupations just about completes the recital of progress in this regard in Chicago in the last year.
Colored women were occupied during the war in various cities in making soldiers’ uniforms, horses’ gas masks, belts, puttees, leggings, razor blade cases, gloves, veils, embroideries, raincoats, books, cigars, cigarettes, dyed furs, millinery, candy, artificial feathers, buttons, toys, marabou and women’s garments.
The comment of a trained industrial observer on the colored woman as a machine operator is as follows:
“Few as yet are skilled as machine or hand operators. Because of their newness to industrial work, the majority have been put on processes requiring no training and small manual ability. They are employed at repetitive hand operations, and occasionally run a foot press or a power sewing machine. In one millinery shop, however, the superintendent said that every colored worker in his shop preferred machine operation to hand work.
“Replacement for colored women, however, does not mean advancement in the same sense as for white women. Because the white woman has been in industry for a long time, and is more familiar with industrial practices, she is less willing to accept bad working conditions. The colored woman, on the other hand, is handicapped by industrial ignorance and drifts into conditions of work rejected by white workers. Colored women are found on processes white women refuse to perform. They replace boys and men at cleaning window shades, dyeing furs, and in one factory they were found bending constantly and lifting clumsy 160 pound bales of material.
“Inquiries as to the general attitude of white workers toward the introduction of colored women brought conflicting reports. About half the employers claimed that their white workers had no objection to the colored women; that they were either cordial or entirely indifferent toward them. Of the other half, some said their white workers objected when the colored workers were first hired, but felt no prejudice now. Other white workers preferred to have the two groups segregated. Still others were willing to let the colored workers do unskilled work, but refused to allow them on the skilled processes.
“At the time of the greatest labor shortage in the history of this country, colored women were the last to be employed. They did the most menial and by far the most underpaid work. They were the marginal workers all through the war, and yet during those perilous times, the colored woman made just as genuine a contribution to the cause of democracy as her white sister in the munitions factory or her brother in the trench. She released the white women for more skilled work and she replaced colored men who went into service.”
The report of a study jointly directed by representatives of the Consumers’ League, Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., Russell Sage Foundation and other organizations recommends that greater emphasis be placed on the training of the colored girl by more general education and more trade training through apprenticeship and trade schools, and also that every effort be made to stimulate trade organizations among colored women by education of colored women working toward organization, education of colored workers for industrial leadership and keener understanding of colored women in industry among organized and unorganized white workers. And lastly, an appreciation and acceptance of the colored woman in industry by the American employer and the public at large is urged.
A creed of cleanliness was issued in thousands of copies by the Chicago Urban League during the big influx of colored people from the south. It recognized that the woman, always the woman is finally responsible for the looks and upkeep of a household, and made its appeal in the following language:75
“For me! I am an American citizen. I am proud of our boys ‘over there,’ who have contributed soldier service. I desire to render citizen service. I realize that our soldiers have learned new habits of self-respect and cleanliness. I desire to help bring about a new order of living in this community. I will attend to the neatness of my personal appearance on the street or when sitting in the front doorway. I will refrain from wearing dustcaps, bungalow aprons, house clothing and bedroom shoes when out of doors. I will arrange my toilet within doors and not on the front porch. I will insist upon the use of rear entrances for coal dealers and hucksters. I will refrain from loud talking and objectionable deportment on street cars and in public places. I will do my best to prevent defacement of property, either by children or adults.”
Two photographs went with this creed. One showed an unclean, messy front porch, the other a clean, well kept front porch. Such is the propaganda of order and decency carried on earnestly and ceaselessly by clubs, churches and leagues of colored people, struggling to bring along the backward ones of a people whose heritage is 200 years of slavery and fifty years of industrial boycott.
As an aside from the factual and the humdrum of the foregoing, here is a letter, vivid with roads and bypaths of spiritual life, written by a colored woman to her sister in Mississippi. It is a frank confession of one sister soul to another of what life has brought, and as a document is worth more than stacks of statistics.
“My Dear Sister:—I was agreeably surprised to hear from you and to hear from home. I am well and thankful to say I am doing well. The weather and everything else was a surprise to me when I came. I got here in time to attend one of the greatest revivals in the history of my life. Over 500 people joined the church. We had a Holy Ghost shower. You know I like to have run wild. It was snowing some nights and if you didn’t hurry you could not get standing room.
“Please remember me kindly to any who ask of me. The people are rushing here by the thousands, and I know if you come and rent a big house you can get all the roomers you want. You write me exactly when you are coming. I am not keeping house. I am living with my brother and his wife. My son is in California, but will be home soon. He spends his winter in California. I can get a nice place for you to stop until you can look around and see what you want.
“I am quite busy. I work for a packing company in the sausage department. My daughter and I work in the same department. We get $1.50 a day and we pack so many sausages we don’t have much time to play, but it is a matter of a dollar with me and I feel that God made the path and I am walking therein.
“Tell your husband work is plentiful here and he won’t have to loaf if he wants to work. I know unless old man A_______ changed it was awful with his soul. Well, I guess I have said about enough. I will be delighted to look into your face once more in life. Pray for me, for I am heaven bound. I have made too many rounds to slip now. I know you will pray for me, for prayer is the life of any sensible man or woman. Good-by.”
UNIONS AND THE COLOR LINE
At the Saddle and Sirloin Club there sat in conference one day a few months ago representatives from two groups. On one side of the table were men speaking for the most active organizations of colored people in Chicago in matters of employment and general welfare. On the other side of the table were men speaking for the packers who employ at the stockyards upwards of 15,000 colored men and women, interests that are today and are expected to be in the future the largest employers of colored labor.
Four points to constitute a guiding policy in employment were offered by the colored representatives, with a statement that the principles embodied the general sense of the leaders of social, industrial, welfare and religious groups of the colored race in Chicago. After discussion the representatives of the packers agreed to accept the four points, and they are regarded by the colored people as in force and effective until further notice.
The four points as phrased in the conference at the Saddle and Sirloin Club, are:
1. That whenever we are attempting to introduce negro workers into trades in which white workers are unionized, we must urge the negroes to join the unions.
2. That when we are introducing negro labor into industries in which the white workers are not unionized, we advise negroes, in case the effort is made to unionize the industry, to join with their white comrades.
3. That we strongly urge the organizers of all the unions in industries which may be opened to colored labor, not only to permit, but actively to assist in incorporating negroes into the unions.
4. In cases where negroes are prevented from joining the unions, the right is reserved of complete liberty of action as to the advice that will be given to negro workingmen.
With these points in force, the men concerned felt that they had taken all steps humanly possible to avert any such disaster as came to East St. Louis, where labor conditions were a factor.
Estimates as to the number of colored workers who have joined the trade unions of the Stockyards Labor council vary from 6,000 to 10,000. The organizers say they are too busy to make even an approximate count. They say further that the organizations are mixed colored and white, and a count of membership is not as easy as it would be if all colored members were segregated in one local. Such a segregation is not being thought of.
“Men who work together in mixed gangs of white and colored workers believe their trade union ought to be organized just like the work gang,” said A. K. Foote, a colored man whose craft is that of hog killer and who is secretary of local 651 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America.
“If you ask me what I think about race prejudice, and whether it’s getting better,” he said, “I’ll tell you the one place in this town where I feel safest is over at the yards, with my union button on. The union is for protection, that’s our cry. We put that on our organization wagons and trucks traveling the stockyards district, in signs telling the white and colored men that their interests are identical.
“We had a union ball a while ago in the Coliseum annex, and 2,000 people were there. The whites danced with their partners and the colored folks with theirs. The hog butchers’ local gave a picnic recently and they came around to our people with tickets to sell, and the attendance at the picnic was cosmopolitan. Whenever you hear any of that race riot stuff, you can be sure it is not going to start around here. Here they are learning that it pays for white and colored men to call each other brother.”
Local 651 has a commodious, well-kept office at 43d and State streets. It is known as the “miscellaneous” local, taking in as members the common laborers and all workers not qualifying for membership in a skilled craft union. One advantage for colored workers, according to organizers, is that the seniority rights of such workers are now accorded. If the head of a work gang quits for any reason and a colored man is the oldest in point of service in the gang or department, he is automatically advanced. When an organization meeting was held recently on a Sunday afternoon in a public school yard at 33d street and Wentworth avenue, the police directed that the parade of the colored workmen from their hall at 43d and State streets must not march down State street through the district most heavily populated with negroes. The union officials are still mystified by the police explanation that it was safer and better for the colored procession to take a line of march where there were the smallest number of negro residents on the streets.
Margaret Bondfield, fraternal delegate from the British Trades Union Congress, spoke to the audience, which numbered about 3,000. Probably 2,000 stood in the hot sun three hours while the American Giants (colored) played in the next lot, and the White Sox game was on only two blocks away.
John Riley and C. Ford, organizers carrying authorizations from the American Federation of Labor, were speakers. Ford has personality, rides roughshod over English grammar, but wins his crowd with homely points such as these:
“If I had any prejudice against a white man in this crowd any more than I’ve got against a colored man, then I’d jump down here off this platform and break my infernal neck right now.”
“You boys know about rassling. You know if you throw a rassler down you know you got to stay down with him if you’re going to keep him down: If you don’t stay down with him, he’ll get up and you got to throw him again.”
“You notice there ain’t no Jim Crow cars here today. That’s what organization does. The truth is there ain’t no negro problem any more than there’s a Irish problem or a Russian or a Polish or a Jewish or any other problem. There is only the human problem, that’s all. All we demand is the open door. You give us that, and we won’t ask nothin’ more of you.”
It was a curious equation of human races that stood listening to this talk. Lithuanians, Poles, Slovaks, Italians and colored men mingled in all sections of the crowd, and every speaker touching the topic of prejudice got the same kind of a response from all parts of the crowd. So they stood in the July afternoon sun, listening as best they could to what they could hear from their orators, while the noisy cheers and laughter of two ball games came on the air in great gusts. They were 2,000 men for whom the race problem is solved. Their theory is that when economic equality of the races is admitted, then the social, housing, real estate, transportation or educational phases are not difficult.
“We all know there are unions in the American Federation of Labor that have their feet in the 20th century and their heads in the 16th century,” said Secretary Johnstone of the Stockyards Labor council, as applause swept the sunburned 2,000. He was referring to the unions that draw the color line.
The Rev. L. K. Williams of Olivet Baptist church, which has a membership of 8,500, and the Rev. John F. Thomas of the Ebenezer Baptist church at 35th and Dearborn streets, besides other clergymen, have voiced approval of the campaign for organization of colored labor in affiliation with the trade union movement. There was dissent to organization spoken by a few ministers at one time, but this is said now to have changed to approval.
A unique memorial was circulated among all colored clergymen in Chicago by five labor unions in which the colored people have a large representation. In order that each copy should bear proof of its authenticity, it was embossed with the seal of each of the five unions and signed by the officers. The memorial read:
“Whereas, God is the creator of all mankind and has endowed us with certain inalienable rights that should be respected one by the other, so that peace and harmony will reign and hell on earth be subdued, and
“Whereas, the unscrupulous white plutocrats, aided by corrupt politicians, have usurped even the rights of the workers guaranteed by the constitution and supplanted oppression and discord by propagating race hatred, discrimination and class distinction, and
“Whereas, the credulous common people (white and black) have been the maltreated tools of these financial master mechanics, and their fallacious teachings have kept us divided and made their throne more secure, and
“Whereas, the power of the united front and concerted action of all toilers is the only medium through which industrial and political democracy can be obtained, wage slavery and unjust legislation destroyed, and
“Whereas, the executive board of the American Federation of Labor on April 22, 1918 in Washington, D.C., was met by a committee of recognized race leaders, and adopted plans thoroughly to organize the colored workers in industry, putting them on the same economic level with other races; therefore, be it
“Resolved, that we appeal to the conscientious race leaders, intellectuals and other God-fearing men of influence, who believe in human rights, justice and fair play and are desirous of conveying light and plenty where darkness and want predominate, to assist the 60,000 colored members of the American Federation of Labor in fostering and encouraging members of our race to affiliate with the bona fide labor movement, to the end that we will have a larger representation in this industrial army, which will exemplify to the white progressives, as well as autocrats, that we are ‘straws in the new broom of reconstruction, that will sweep clean American institutions, ridding them of discrimination and corruption.’”
With the official union seals were the signatures of George A. Swan, president; Hugh Swift, vice president, and R. E. Copeland, secretary of the Musicians’ Protective union; Garrett Rice, president, A. L. Johnson, vice president, and A. Welcher, secretary of the Railway Coach Cleaners’ union; N. S. Wimms, president, and P. D. Campbell, vice president, of the Sleeping Car Porters of America; Annie M. Jones, president, Isabel Case, vice president, and Mabel Kinglin, secretary of local 213 of the Butcher Workmen’s union; Henry Papers, president, J. W. Smith, vice president, and A. K. Foote, secretary of local 651 of the Butcher Workmen’s union.
There is odd humor in the fact that Dr. George C. Hall, a colored surgeon and real estate proprietor to the extent of $100,000, has been for years an honorary member of the Meat Cutters’ and Butcher Workmen’s union. Dr. Hall always has contended that organization is one route away from race discrimination.76
Carl Sandburg, The Chicago Race Riots, July 2, 1919 (New York, 1919), pp. 1–4, 31–37, 44–50.
This interview on the “Chicago Riots” is given by an able and brilliant colored attorney in Chicago. He is a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin, a Bachelor of Laws and Master of Arts from Columbia University. The painstaking and cautious presentation of evidence will be immediately noted. It is just what we want. We desire no matter colored in the interest of Negroes or of whites. What we want is the truth. From our personal knowledge of the author of these answers, he is a man of very unusual mental endowments, of intellectual training, a thinker and speaker of extraordinary power.
1.—How many persons were killed of each race?
Unable to state exact number. One newspaper reported 16 white and 16 colored killed. The coroner puts the total number of casualties at 36—19 whites and 17 colored. There is a widespread belief, however, that the authorities have deliberately suppressed the truth about this matter. One white insurance adjuster, whose company insures 10,000 people, says that with his company alone 27 death claims, resulting from riot, were filed. John Dill Robertson, City Health Commissioner, however, denies that there has been any effort to conceal the facts.
2. What is the actual Negro population of Chicago?
It has been variously estimated anywhere between 100,000 and 225,000. The figure generally quoted is 125,000.
3. What was the occasion of the riot?
See “Exhibit A” enclosed. Briefly, however, the riot was caused by the growing resentment of Negroes to outward manifestations of the deep-seated prejudice of the American white man.
Mayor Thompson is credited with the statement that rioting first started at the stockyards, shortly after cessation of hostilities in Europe, when white employers of yards got the idea that they were being turned off in greater proportions than the colored. Several colored employees were beaten up by them.
4. Who participated in it? Young men, middle classes, best classes, worst classes, or all classes?
All classes. The best classes, however it seems confined their activities to protecting their homes and neighborhoods.
5. Did women take part? To what extent? Describe their activities.
Yes; they were quite active. A colored woman is said to have stood on the corner of 35th Street and Wabash Avenue and to have incited colored boys to throw stones at the white passersby. Two colored women, Emma Jackson and Katie Elder have both been indicted for the murder of a white man named Harold Dragnatello. They are being held without bonds. One white woman shot a colored man near 35th Street and Wabash Avenue.
It seems that colored predominate greatly, but cannot give even an approximate number of arrests. The grand jury, however, thus far has indicted 52 colored and 3 white rioters. You may be interested to hear that after the grand jury had returned their first 17 indictments, all of which were colored, they demanded that the State’s attorney bring forward some white cases or else dismiss them from further duty. The following day the State’s attorney and Judge Crowe instructed them as to their duties and they resumed their work.
7. What national or racial groups among the whites took part?
American whites, Irish, Italians, Poles—or who?
American whites and Irish particularly, and all of foreign groups employed at stockyards, principally Lithuanians and Poles.
8. What weapons were used by Negroes? Where is it supposed that the Negroes got the weapons from?
Everything from a knife to a machine gun. A white alderman stated in the City Council that he had been reliably informed that the Negroes had 1,000 army rifles and enough ammunition to last for years if used in guerilla warfare. It is known that a few Negroes broke into the Cadet School at Wendell Phillips and secured in the neighborhood of 100 rifles. They broke into the 8th Regiment Armory too, but did not find anything. Most of the discharged soldiers have guns obtained while in service. Pawnshops were looted and quite a bit of ammunition was procured from Gary, Ind.
9. Describe the behavior of the white policemen and the white soldiers stationed in the Negro district?
Prior to the riot there was a feeling that the white policemen were in sympathy with the lawless whites who were committing bomb outrages and other injustices against the colored. The action of the white officer in refusing to arrest Stauber was deemed characteristic of the conduct of white officers. On Monday evening, the second day of the riot, white officers wantonly injured or perhaps killed a half dozen or more colored persons by shooting promiscuously into a crowd at 35th and Wabash, merely because one mounted officer was knocked off his horse by a brick, which it was claimed, was not aimed at him but at a passing truck. One colored man, incensed by their cowardly action, walked out into the street with an automatic and shot several of the white officers. He was not hit by any of the bullets from the officer’s guns and has not been captured. His name is not known, of course. On the following evening two or more mounted policemen were killed by snipers at 23rd and State Streets. After these incidents the behavior of the white officers was splendid.
The white soldiers fraternized with the colored residents of the district which they patrolled from the very beginning and not a single hostile act has been charged to them against the colored. On the other hand a white man was killed by soldiers at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove.
10. Did any Negro leader suggest the use of the 8th Illinois? If not, why not?
Yes. Dr. Bentley, a member of the N.A.A.C.P. and a very prominent dentist of color, was in a conference with Gov. Lowden when the suggestion was made (whether the suggestion came directly from him I can’t say) and the Governor threw up both hands and said that it would never do. Some, who evidently didn’t hear of this conference, thought that the reason no effort was made to use the 8th was because it was not organized. It is reported that quite a few of the former members of the 8th acted independently and did everything in their power to quell the rioters. Others participated in raiding parties in the white districts.
11. How did the political situation affect the riot?
Not at all, in my opinion. Quite a few of our would-be-leaders tried to make political capital out of it.
12. Why was the Mayor so reluctant to ask for the use of the troops?
Evidently considered it a reflection upon his administration not to be able to cope with the situation. Did not want martial law, but when the situation grew serious was compelled to effect a compromise by asking the Governor to send troops to “assist” police force. We have never had martial law and soldiers have been recalled. Perhaps you have heard of the difference between Mayor Thompson and Gov. Lowden. I am not prepared to say, however, that that had anything to do with the Mayor’s failure to ask for the troops sooner. Ed Wright, Assistant Corporation Counsel, told me that he advised the Mayor against calling for the troops, because he felt that they would line up with the lawless whites, as they did in East St. Louis. Thompson excused himself for not being able to handle the situation because he has always maintained that our police force was inadequate. As a consequence, provision has been made for a thousand more officers.
13. Did the delayed use of the troops benefit or injure the Negro cause? Explain why, if your answer is yes or no.
Benefited it. While the delayed use of troops caused the loss of many innocent lives, colored as well as white, it afforded an opportunity for the Negroes to impress upon the whites their readiness, willingness, and eagerness to fight the thing through.
14. What relation has the housing problem to the riot?
Inability to house migrants in colored districts merely furnished another point of friction between whites and blacks and thus served to accentuate an already acrimonious feeling. I am of the opinion, however, that had there been ample space for the migrants in colored districts, a great many colored people would still have moved into white districts and the same feeling would have been present.
15. What did the Negro preachers and Negro leaders do? Especially go into activities of Roscoe Conkling Simmons and the Negro aldermen and assemblymen there.
Preachers and persons engaged in welfare work met daily during and since the riot in an attempt to handle emergency matters. Preachers were especially active in making statements to the press stating the Negro’s point of view and counselling order. Preachers, aldermen and assemblymen had conferences with the Mayor, Chief of Police and representatives at the stockyards. The Aldermen were quite active in relief work and secured from various sources rations for thousands of needy colored families. The bread line was very much in evidence. Alderman Anderson vigorously protested against the introduction of a “zoning” resolution in the City Council and succeeded. I have seen or heard nothing of Simmon’s activities except from his own lips. He was away from the city most of the time and came back just in time to help a few needy families.
16. Describe the press reporting, both white and Negro.
The white press, with the exception of the Tribune and possibly the Post, was exceptionally fair. The Hearst papers and the Daily News distinguished themselves for fairness. The colored papers were so acrid that they were threatened with suppression. With regards to news reports of the colored papers, I think they were in the main second-hand.
17. What do you think of the rumor that Negroes burned down those houses?
Nothing to it. It seems almost incredible that Negroes should be able to pass soldiers who were patrolling that district without being detected. The houses burned were far removed from the colored districts. No Negroes have been arrested in connection with the crime. Of course, it was quite clever for the owners to charge the burning to riotous Negroes so that they might get damage from the city.
18. Your opinion as to how the riot will affect future relations between the races.
The riot will make the future relations between the races decidedly better. It will bring about “a meeting of the minds” to the effect that the colored man must not be kicked about like a dumb brute. Our white friends, seeing the danger that besets the nation, will become more active in our cause, and the other whites will at least have a decent respect for us based on fear.
CAUSE OF RIOT
The riot was precipitated Sunday afternoon while the beaches were crowded with white and colored bathers. At 29th Street and the Lake Shore a colored boy on a raft crossed, or was carried by the wind, into the territory arbitrarily established for the white bathers. The boy was stoned and was seen to fall into the water. The whites refused either to rescue him or to permit his rescue by colored persons. A white man by the name of Stauber was pointed out to a white patrolman as the person responsible for the boy’s death. The policeman refused to make the arrest, and the crowd seized and pummelled him. They gave chase to Stauber, caught him and caused arrest.
The crowd became infuriated by the failure of the white patrolman to make the arrest and the brutality of Stauber in attacking the boy. Police reserves were dispatched to the scene. A colored policeman shot and killed a colored rioter after seeing him fire upon a fellow white officer. News of the incident spread and soon a free-for-all fight was on. By Sunday night the situation spread to white and colored sections and both white men and Negroes were beaten. On Monday colored people were mobbed, dragged off the cars, (particularly at transfer points in white districts) wantonly fired at from flying automobiles, and stoned and beaten into unconsciousness going to and from work. In the colored sections, policemen were seized and beaten, and an ineffective police force tried in vain to disperse the crowds of colored men numbering as high as 5,000. Mobs gathered on corners in white and colored sections, waylaying and beating members of the opposite race. Glass in the windows of business places was wantonly smashed and white and colored people were ejected from street cars. Late Monday the riot spread to the Stockyards District where colored men were not permitted to leave their work except under heavy guard. During the early morning Tuesday, two colored men were killed in the loop and scores chased and wounded. It is reported that a colored woman with a baby in her arms was attacked and that both were killed. A small Negro section on the North side has been invaded and in many of the outlying districts where Negroes are in the minority violence has resulted in one or more deaths. No information has come to us of the bombing of homes or other property owned or occupied by Negroes since the riot began. Though the immediate cause was the refusal of police to make the arrest following the stoning of the boy on Sunday, and of the white bathers to permit the colored people to rescue the boy, the general feeling of unrest which has been hovering over Chicago for two or more months is undoubtedly at the bottom of the present outbreak. The bombing of homes of colored persons who have recently moved into white districts, an attempt to enforce segregation by certain real estate agents and organizations with which they are connected, the unwarranted killing of Negroes in outlying districts, the recurrence of violence in Washington Park and the widespread belief on the part of Negroes that the police have winked at these conditions, are admittedly the responsible factors.
The Messenger 2 (September, 1919): 11–13.
By Walter White77
Many causes have been assigned for the three days of race rioting, from July 27 to 30 (1919) in Chicago, each touching some particular phases of the general outbreak. Labor union officials attribute it to the action of the packers, while the packers are equally sure that the unions themselves are directly responsible. The city administration feels that the riots were brought on to discredit the Thompson forces, while leaders of the anti-Thompson forces, prominent among them being State’s Attorney Maclay Hoyne, are sure that the administration is directly responsible. In this manner charges and counter-charges are made, but, as is usually the case, the Negro is made to bear the brunt of it all—to be “the scapegoat.” A background of strained race relations brought to a head more rapidly through political corruption, economic competition and clashes due to the overflow of the greatly increased colored population into sections outside of the so-called “Black Belt,” embracing the Second and Third Wards, all of these contributed, aided by magnifying of Negro crime by newspapers, to the formation of a situation where only a spark was needed to ignite the flames of racial antagonism. That spark was contributed by a white youth when he knocked a colored lad off a raft at the 29th Street bathing beach and the colored boy was drowned.
Four weeks spent in studying the situation in Chicago, immediately following the outbreaks, seem to show at least eight general causes for the riots, and the same conditions, to a greater or less degree, can be found in almost every large city with an appreciable Negro population. These causes, taken taken after a careful study in order of their prominence, are:
1. Race Prejudice
2. Economic Competition
3. Political Corruption and Exploitation of Negro Voters
4. Police Inefficiency
5. Newspaper Lies about Negro Crime
6. Unpunished Crimes Against Negroes
8. Reaction of Whites and Negroes from [sic] War.
Some of these can be grouped under the same headings, but due to the prominence of each they are listed as separate causes.
Prior to 1915, Chicago had been famous for its remarkably fair attitude toward colored citizens. Since that time, when the migratory movement from the South assumed large proportions, the situation has steadily grown more and more tense. This was due in part to the introduction of many Negroes who were unfamiliar with city ways and could not, naturally, adapt themselves immediately to their new environment. Outside of a few sporadic attempts, little was done to teach them the rudimentary principles of sanitation, of conduct, or of their new status as citizens under a system different from that in the South. During their period of absorption into the new life, their care-free, at times irresponsible and sometimes even boisterous, conduct caused complications difficult to adjust. But equally important, though seldom considered, is the fact that many Southern whites have also come into the North, many of them to Chicago, drawn by the same economic advantages that attracted the colored workman. The exact figure is unknown, but it is estimated by men who should know that fully 20,000 of them are in Chicago. These have spread the virus of race hatred and evidences of it can be seen in Chicago on every hand. This same cause underlies each of the other seven causes.
With regard to economic competition, the age-long dispute between capital and labor enters. Large numbers of Negroes were brought from the South by the packers and there is little doubt that this was done in part so that the Negro might be used as a club over the heads of the unions. John Fitzpatrick and Ed Nockels, president and secretary, respectively, of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and William Buck, editor of the New Majority, a labor organ, openly charge that the packers subsidized colored ministers, politicians and Y.M.C.A. secretaries to prevent the colored workmen at the stockyards from entering the unions. On the other hand, the Negro workman is not at all sure as to the sincerity of the unions themselves. The Negro in Chicago yet remembers the waiters’ strike some years ago, when colored union workers walked out at the command of the unions and when the strike was settled, the unions did not insist that Negro waiters be given their jobs back along with whites, and as a result, colored men have never been able to get back into some of the hotels even to the present day. The Negro is between the “the devil and the deep blue sea.” He feels that if he goes into the unions, he will lose the friendship of the employers. He knows that if he does not, he is going to be met with the bitter antagonism of the unions. With the exception of statements made by organizers, who cannot be held to accountability because of their minor official connection, no statements have been made by the local union leaders, outside of high sounding, but meaningless, protestations of friendship for the Negro worker. He feels that he has been given promises too long already. In fact, he is “fed up” on them. What he wants are binding statements and guarantees that cannot be broken at will.
With the possible exception of Philadelphia, there is probably no city in America with more of political trickery, chicanery and exploitation than Chicago. Against the united and bitter opposition of every daily newspaper in Chicago, William Hale Thompson was elected again as mayor, due as was claimed, to the Negro and German vote. While it is not possible to state that the anti-Thompson element deliberately brought on the riots, yet it is safe to say that they were not averse to its coming. The possibility of such a clash was seen many months before it actually occurred, yet no steps were taken to prevent it. The purpose of this was to secure a two-fold result. First, it would alienate the Negro set from Thompson through a belief that was expected to grow among the colored vote when it was seen that the police force under the direction of the mayor was unable or unwilling to protect the colored people from assault by mobs. Secondly, it would discourage the Negroes from registering and voting and thus eliminate the powerful Negro vote in Chicago. Whether or not this results remains to be seen. In alking with a prominent colored citizen of Chicago, asking why the Negroes supported Thompson so unitedly, his very significant reply was:
“The Negro in Chicago, as in every other part of America, is fighting for the fundamental rights of citizenship. If a candidate for office is wrong on every other public question except this, the Negroes are going to vote for that man, for that is their only way of securing the things they want and that are denied them.”
The value of the Negro vote to Thompson can be seen in a glance at the recent election figures. His plurality was 28,000 votes. In the second ward it was 14,000 and in the third 10,000. The second and third wards constitute most of what is known as the “Black Belt.”
The fourth contributing cause was the woeful inefficiency and criminal negligence of the police authorities of Chicago, both prior to and during the riots. Prostitution, gambling and the illicit sale of whisky flourish openly and apparently without any fear whatever of police interference. In a most dangerous statement, State’s Attorney Maclay Hoyne, on August 25, declared that the riots were due solely to vice in the second ward. He seemed either to forget or to ignore the flagrant disregard of law and order and even of the common principles of decency in city management existing in many other sections of the city.
All of this tended to contribute to open disregard for law and almost contempt for it. Due either to political “pull” or to reciprocal arrangements, many notorious dives [are] run and policemen are afraid to arrest the proprietors.
During the riots the conduct of the police force as a whole was equally open to criticism. State’s Attorney Hoyne openly charged the police with arresting colored rioters and with an unwillingness to arrest white rioters. Those who were arrested were at once released. In one case a colored man who was fair enough to appear to be white was arrested for carrying concealed weapons, together with five white men and a number of colored men. All were taken to a police station; the light colored man and the five whites being put into one cell and the other colored men in another. In a few minutes the light colored man and the five whites were released and their ammunition given back to them with the remark, “You’ll probably need this before the night is over.”
Fifth on the list is the effect of newspaper publicity concerning Negro crime. With the exception of the Daily News, all of the papers of Chicago have played up in prominent style with glaring, prejudice-breeding headlines every crime or suspected crime committed by Negroes. Headlines such as “Negro Brutally Murders Prominent Citizen,” “Negro Robs House” and the like have appeared with alarming frequency and the news articles beneath such headlines have been of the same sort. During the rioting such headlines as “Negro Bandits Terrorize Town,” “Rioters Burn 100 Homes—Negroes Suspected of Having Plotted Blaze” appeared.
In the latter case a story was told of witnesses seeing Negroes in automobiles applying torches and fleeing. This was the story given to the press by Fire Attorney John R. McCabe after a casual and hasty survey. Latter the office of State Fire Marshal Gamber proved conclusively that the fires were not caused by Negroes, but by whites. As can easily be seen, such newspaper accounts did not tend to lessen the bitterness of feeling between the conflicting groups. Further, many wild and unfounded rumors were published in the press—incendiary and inflammatory to the highest degree. . . .
For a long period prior to the riots, organized gangs of white hoodlums had been perpetrating crimes against Negroes for which no arrests had been made. These gangs in many instances masqueraded under the name of “Athletic and Social Clubs” and later direct connection was shown between them and incendiary fires started during the riots. Colored men, women, and children had been beaten in the parks, most of them in Jackson and Lincoln Parks. In one case a young colored girl was beaten and thrown into a lagoon. In other cases Negroes were beaten so severely that they had to be taken to hospitals. All of these cases had caused many colored people to wonder if they could expect any protection whatever from the authorities. Particularly vicious in their attacks was an organization known locally as “Regan’s Colts.”
Much has been written and said concerning the housing situation in Chicago and its effect on the racial situation. The problem is a simple one. Since 1915 the colored population of Chicago has more than doubled, increasing in four years from a little over 50,000 to what is now estimated to be between 125,000 and 150,000. Most of them lived in the area bounded by the railroad on the west, 30th Street on the north, 40th Street on the south and Ellis Avenue on the east. Already overcrowded, this so-called “Black Belt” could not possibly hold the doubled colored population. One cannot put ten gallons of water in a five-gallon pail. Although many Negroes had been living in “white” neighborhoods, the increased exodus from the old areas created an hysterical group of persons who formed “Property Owners’ Associations” for the purpose of keeping intact white neighborhoods. Prominent among these was the Kenwood-Hyde Park Property Owners’ Improvement Association, as well as the Park Manor Improvement Association. Early in June the writer, while in Chicago, attended a private meeting of the first named at the Kenwood Club House, at Lake Park Avenue and 47th Street. Various plans were discussed for keeping the Negroes in “their part of the town,” such as securing the discharge of colored persons from positions they held when they attempted to move into “white” neighborhoods, purchasing mortagages of Negroes buying homes and ejecting them when mortgages fell due and were unpaid, and many more of the same calibre. The language of many speakers was vicious and strongly prejudicial and had the distinct effect of creating race bitterness.
In a number of cases during the period from January, 1918, to August, 1919, there were bombings of colored homes and houses occupied by Negroes outside of the “Black Belt.” During this period no less than twenty bombings took place, yet only two persons have been arrested and neither of the two has been convicted, both cases being continued.
Finally, the new spirit aroused in Negroes by their war experiences enters into the problem. From Local Board No. 4 embracing the neighborhood in the vicinity of State and 35th Streets, containing over 20,000 inhabitants of which fully ninety per cent are colored, over 9,000 men registered and 1,850 went to camp. These men, with their new outlook on life, injected the same spirit of independence into their companions, a thing that is true of many other sections of America. One of the greatest surprises to many of those who came down to “clean out the niggers” is that these same “niggers” fought back. Colored men saw their own kind being killed, heard of many more and believed that their lives and liberty were at stake. In such a spirit most of the fighting was done.
The Crisis, 16 (October, 1919): 293–97.
“First, the Negro is urged to come North, and is exploited as a source of cheap labor. Then he is mobbed, either because he works too cheaply or because he prospers. Exploitation summarizes the roots of the race difficulty in New York.”
In a statement prepared exclusively for The Call the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, yesterday laid responsibility for the race riots in Chicago upon the packers and railroads of that city who had induced a great number of Negroes to go North during the war. The interests then “shirked their responsibility when real readjustment of labor and industrial conditions began.”
In reply to the charge that Negroes are being infected with “Bolshevism,” the association points out that the “Negro is not to be blamed for turning to those who offer him at least sympathy,” and that the present form of government present him with little happiness.
“Even the excuse that was offered for the assaults upon colored people in Washington—alleged assaults on white women—was absent in Chicago,” the statement says. No measures taken by authorities in Chicago to prevent clash.
“The North must recognize its responsibility to the Negroes who come from the South. In Chicago the packers and the railroads induced them to come during the war. They were promised higher wages and better living conditions. When they came they were robbed by real estate agents and landlords. The people who induced the Negroes to migrate shirked their responsibility when readjustment of labor and industrial conditions began.” The “black belt” became overcrowded so when Negroes sought residence in white districts “bitter feeling was created by white property owners’ associations which tried to keep the Negroes out of their districts.”
“The history of the conditions which led to race trouble in Chicago is a history which could be duplicated in a number of northern industrial cities. First the Negro is urged to come North and is exploited as a source of cheap labor. Then he is mobbed, either because he works too cheaply or because he prospers. ‘Exploitation’ summarizes the roots of the race difficulty in the North. . . .”
“To talk about Bolshevism among Negroes as does the New York Times is to falsify and misrepresent. Having received nothing but misrepresentation from the New York Times and the class of people that newspaper represents, the Negro is not to be blamed for turning to those who offer him at least sympathy. If Negroes are turning to Bolshevism, whatever that may mean, it is because the present form of government seems to offer him little indeed of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
New York Call, August 5, 1919.
In that sporadic warfare waged over some days and nights between the whites, blacks, and police force of Chicago, newspaper reporters became war-correspondents, with a good many opportunities to experience some of the perils of war-corresponding on the recent battle-fronts of Europe. One reporter, “his taxicab shattered with bullets,” returned from a night of dashing from riot-center to riot-center, where men died much as they did “over there,” “sat down at a typewriter,” according to the editor of the Chicago Tribune, which employed him, “and calmly began to write” a first-hand account of the fighting along the “dead-line,” as the boundaries of the negro district were called. To quote as it appeared in The Tribune:
At the “dead-line” on Wentworth Avenue, twilight brought a strange sight. To the west every street was filled with great crowds of whites, some standing silent, watching every move, others swirling and eddying in a maelstrom of pregnant mob rule. At the crossing at Thirty-seventh Street a cry was heard.
A shot came; the quick, sharp impact breaking into the riot murmur like a call to arms. There was a roar. Dust was flung into the air from thousands of trampling feet. The crowd surged forward.
The clang of a gong followed and a big blue wagon rolled up. Out of it poured a score of men in blue—the city police force. From down the street one heard the clatter of hoofs. A score of mounted men arrived. On horseback and on foot they charged. Clubs flashed in the air. Here and there a curse, a blow. The crowd retreated slowly, then ran for their lives, for these men which they faced were in earnest that peace should once more reign over a city troublous.
On the pavement lay a boy of eighteen, the life-blood staining his white shirt in an ever-widening circle. Came the ambulance—he passed from the scene
Then, down Wentworth, squads of patrolmen appeared. “Where did those shots come from?” inquired one, and his voice was ominous of things to come.
“From that house over there”—the cry welled upward from a thousand throats.
Slowly, carefully, they circled the place, a big brick structure. They entered. Out of the door ran a woman sobbing.
In a moment the faces of the men in blue appeared from the windows of the upper story. “Nothing doing here!” they yelled to the watchers below.
Half an hour later a tall, sunburned sergeant picked up the phone at Deering station. “What’s that?” he said. Then bang went the phone.
“Hustle to Thirty-first and Wallace,” he yelled. “There’s a riot on there.” Bluecoats poured out of the building, jumped into the waiting machines—the police had answered the call of duty again.
The streets seemed silent, deserted. For blocks the wagon rushed on, seing nothing but little knots of people with scared faces and a strained attitude of expectancy.
At their destination a single policeman was waiting. He pointed mutely to a great pile of broken glass on the street and sidewalk.
“They passed in an auto, shooting right and left. Look at those windows,” he said. Great pieces of jagged glas stuck up in the panes which once were Pittsburg plate.
“Up at Thirty-ninth and Wentworth there’s something doing,” some one yelled. “Let’s go! cried the lieutenant. And over the short distance they rushed. As they neared the block a rattle of shots was heard and one shrill cry. Around the corner. Men fled in all directions as the wagon appeared. But seven were caught even as they were disappearing from sight.
“Throw up your hands! Get ‘em quick! Hear me!”
In the pockets of two were found revolvers loaded. In the others pieces of brick, stones, a railroad spike or two, and a pair of brass knucks.
“To the wagon with ‘em!” And they went away.
A pair of motor-cycle police were riding slowly down Thirty-first Street at State Street. From a building a few flashes of light, a few sharp cracks. One of the riders gasped, his machine wavered. Straight to the ground, over the handle-bars, he plunged.
“My God! I’m done for!” he gasped as his partner reached him. The answer was another burst of shots from the windows above. The windshield on a taxi which had followed the cyclemen burst into a thousand fragments. The door-glass followed. Then the deep roar of the police .45 joined in the conflict.
Some one somewhere phoned a riot-call to the Stanton Police Station, and three wagons and an ambulance responded. As the first wagon came to a halt and the men started to get out, the battle was renewed from above. The second man that backed out of the “Black Maria,” which is a Chicago name for a police-wagon, “pitched forward in a pathetic huddle.” “They got me!” he mumbled, as the blood rose in his throat and choked his utterance to a startled gasp.” After that:
The bluecoats stormed the buildings. In one two-story brick affair, which housed a tailor-shop on the first floor and apartments on the second, a wounded man was found. Six others were captured. A woman joined the procession. Revolvers were dug up from their poorly hidden places “ditched” after the cops had outnumbered the rioters.
Men rushed into the building next door. They could be heard trampling around. To the watchers on the outside came the tiny gleam of a search-light or the sudden flare of a gas-lamp. Then at the back of the house was heard a curse.
“Coom out av there! Put up yer mitts! Come down and come down quick!” The brogue in it was as thick as the mud of a peat bog.
In the dim glare of an alley incandescent a man appeared with his hands stretched to the sky.
“Ossifer, I ain’t done nothing’; truly I ain’t” he repeated over and over. “Take him along!” was his fate, and he was hustled to the wagon.
“Somebody get up them stairs to the roof and see if you can’t find a lot of guns!”
With a tiny flash-light two policemen and a reporter journeyed up the rickety stairs in the blackness. Every corner was searched. Into the top-floor rooms they went.
The cover in front of the fireplace was pulled off. It revealed a 30–30 Winchester. A quick thrust and a shell was ejected.
“W-w-w-hy, the barrel is hot!” stuttered the man who held it. Comprehension began to dawn in the faces of his listeners. They had the man who had shot their comrades. A woman, in a cheap cotton shimmy, came running into the room. “Befor’ Gawd,” she moaned, “I didn’t have nuthin’ to do with it; honest, I didn’t!”
“Get on your clothes and come along,” they told her. Another rifle and two revolvers were added to the loot of the officers.
A man lay in the gutter at Thirty-second and State streets. From the elevated tracks above a sniper was pot-shotting. Across the street a Yiddish shoemaker knelt behind a counter and prayed.
From far-off came the stroke of distant chimes. The clatter of a railroad-train somewhere in the distance, the clang of an ambulance-bell, the muffled roar of passing autos, the silently flitting forms as denizens of the night sped quickly from door to door along the street—all that was part of that story which that reporter saw but could not write—the story of Chicago’s race riot in the dead-line district.
Literary Digest, 62 (August 23, 1919): 44,46.
Mr. Dooley might almost have been a Southerner when he remarked to Mr. Hennessy, “I’m not so much throubled about the maygur whin he lives among his opprissors as I am whin he falls into th’ hands iv his librators.” Strike out “opprissors” and substitute a word implying regulation, restraint, and benevolent discipline and you have the Southern point of view to a nicety; what Northerners call “oppression,” in the South the Southerners regard as measures essential to the welfare not only of the whites but also of the blacks; they believe that Northern freedom from restraint injures both races, and the Houston (Texas) Chronicle, commenting on race-riots in the North, observes: “The immediate cause, like the immediate result, is an old, old story, but both are rooted in a background of silly pampering which leads, and will always lead, to atrocious acts on the one hand and to illogical spasm of temper on the other.” So it is natural that race-riots in Washington and Chicago should be widely discust throughout the South. To the Southerners’ way of thinking, they demonstrate the fallacy of the Northern attitude toward the negro. The Chronicle maintains that “in Washington, more than any other place, negroes have been petted into an attitude of lazy conceit,” and that “the uniform has been permitted to give them an unprecedented degree of protection and consideration,’ while “high wages and allotments have tended to make them shiftless and irresponsible.” And when Southerners declare themselves “the negro’s best friends there is no disingenuousness about it. They believe what they say. They are skeptical when Northerners lay claim to a more generous regard for the negroes, and the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal speaks for the South in general in asserting: “The clash of whites and negroes in Chicago, coming hard on the heels of a similar disturbance in Washington, should be a warning to the negroes of the South that the supposed benevolent treatment of their race in the Northern States is largely a myth.” As The Commercial Appeal informs its readers:78
“The scarcity of labor in the North during the war caused the big employers of labor there to turn their attention to the negro labor of the South. They imported a number of negroes from the Southern States, who were paid big wages. The negroes were not so informed at the time, but it has developed that their employment was merely temporary. When the white soldiers began to return, the negroes were let out. With the usual African improvidence a great many of these Southern blacks spent practically all of the money they made on city luxuries, so that when their employment was taken away from them they were penniless.
“Facing privations and want, a number of these negroes turned criminals in order to support themselves. There was an outbreak of robberies and other crimes by these imported colored men, and the result was that resentment of the white people was aroused. The supposed friends of the black man became his worst enemies and the war of races was the inevitable result. It has been pursued with a relentlessness that could not be possible in the South.
As bad for law and order as lynchings may be, they can in no way compare with the racial outbreaks that occur with a persistent frequency in Northern cities housing a considerable negro population. Mobs in the South vent their revenge only upon the negro who has been guilty of some foul crime. The innocent seldom if ever suffer. Of course, any mob law is bad, but it is infinitely worse when this develops into a clash of races where the innocent suffer with the guilty. Such racial disorders as have occurred during the last few weeks in Washington and Chicago are possible in the Southern States, but they are hardly probable.”
Such is likewise the contention of the Southern press in general. As one Southern paper puts it, “too often, alas, in our own section is heard from mobs of white men the shout of ‘Kill the coon!” but never ‘the coons.’” The Mobile (Ala.) Register meanwhile remarks:
“It is characteristic of mobs north of Mason and Dixon’s line to class all of the colored race as offenders, and to beat them up indiscriminately. This is the result of racial animosity. In the South where the negroes are known, and where the fact is fully recognized that there are many good negroes and but few bad ones, there is seldom any showing of actual race animosity. Mob action generally confines itself to the individual criminal. It is commonly charged by Northern writers at the South that the negro is lynched because he is a negro. If such has happened, we do not know of a case.”
In the same spirit, the Nashville Tennessean reminds us:
“The Southern mob seldom, if ever, directs its violence against the negro race, but is satisfied when it wreaks vengeance upon the offender of virtue. The Northern mob does not stop there, but directs its lawless attacks on the race. Both mobs are lawless, and the press of the South have condemned them as such.”
Somewhat less sweeping in its claims as regards the South, but not less convinced in principle, the Norfolk (Va.) Ledger-Dispatch says:
“There have been times when race-riots of varying sizes have taken place in a few Southern communities, but they have all been due to flashing outbreaks against an individual or several individuals, and occasionally these outbreaks have spread before they could be checked. But conditions have never been of such a character as to lead any considerable part of the population to indulge in what the calm and uncolored Associated Press describes as ‘an orgy of hatred.’”
The Knoxville (Tenn.) Journal and Tribune, after calling the situation in Chicago “an utter disgrace to that city and a shame to the nation,” marvels that “there are those with white faces and black hearts who would persecute a negro because he is a negro, and who give the law-abiding negro no consideration, lumping all together as a whole as having no rights the white criminals need give any respect,” and the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer says that,
“In race troubles in the South always some sympathy is developed for the negroes and there is an element that is ever inclined to give them protection. In Washington not a hand appears to have been raised in their behalf and for the whole of one night they appeared on the streets at their own peril. When the negro gets into trouble in the North he is in trouble bad. The whole population turns on him and the disposition is to ‘clean him up.’ If it should develop that during the troubles in Washington any man came to the rescue of the negro we are going to venture that it was a white man from the South.”
Very little in the way of rancorous or abusive comment appears in the Southern press concerning the outbreaks at Washington and Chicago, and if the Nashville Banner has something to say about Northern ‘hypocrisy,” the charges are tempered by a willingness to understand and forgive. Says The Banner:
“The Northern people have maintained a hypocritical attitude in respect to negroes, and outbreaks like that in Chicago, now that negro populations are becoming uncomfortably large there, tear off the mask. The hypocrisy in a great many instances was unconscious. A large number of Northerners had hereditary prejudice on the subject arising out of the old crusade against slavery and the Civil War. They didn’t recognize the inevitable race antagonism wherever a dark race obtrudes on the white man, and the difficulties under which the South labored in keeping that antagonism within bounds.”
However, the Vicksburg (Miss.) Herald takes a shot at Chicago in an editorial entitled, “Chickens Coming Home to Roost,” and asserts that—
“’Not only is Chicago a receiving-station and port of refuge for colored people who are anxious to be free from the jurisdiction of lynch law, but there has been built here a publicity or propaganda-machine that directs its appeals or carries on an agitation that every week reaches hundreds of thousands of people of the colored race in the Southern States. The State Street blocks south of Thirty-first Street are a “newspaper row,” with The Defender, The Search-light, The Guide, The Advocate, The Whip, as weekly publications, and there are also illustrated monthly magazines such as The Half-Century and The Favorite,’
“The ‘propaganda’ of this ‘receiving-station and port of refuge,’ the inevitable precursor of race-war, cuts both ways. Its poison indeed is more deadly upon such negro centers as Chicago and Washington than with the negro masses of the South.”
Far from contenting itself with merely tracing the Northern race-riots to what it believes to be their causes, the Southern press give serious attention to the measures a community should take when threatened with such outbreaks. The Savannah (Ga.) Press advises a prompt “show of firmness.” The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News and Times-Gazette deprecates anything savoring of “supine inefficiency.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune maintains that a community “must act vigorously from the beginning,” and in Richmond, Va., the News-Leader goes in for preparedness in an editorial reprinted by a Richmond negro paper, The Planet. Says the editorial:
“Determined that the good sense and good will of the better classes shall prevail, Richmond people have agreed upon a very definite policy. The precise details of this we shall not, of course, disclose; the main facts should be set down here and now that every man may understand Richmond is to do strict justice, but is to suppress with the utmost severity every disturbance. If white rowdies pick a quarrel with negroes, they are to be punished instantly. If negroes should start trouble, precisely the same punishment will be meted out to them. The News-Leader expects Colonel Myers to instruct his men to shoot without hesitation into the ranks of any mob that may start. We expect him to use all the reserve forces at his command and to continue as long as may be necessary the prudent arrangements made in recent days. We expect him, further, to keep the machine guns supplied with abundant ammunition and in perfect order as at present, so that if trouble starts in any street, the machine guns may be brought up instantly in the waiting motor-trucks and after warning has been given can be used to sweep the street from end to end. We indorse all the director has done in preparing to use fire-apparatus, but we are frank to say we do not expect him to stop with water, if any mob opens fire. Fortunately we need not call upon him to avoid the mistake made in Washington of placing a single officer or a single sentry on a street corner. We have enough forces at hand to throw a cordon around any district where disorder may start and then to scour every street and every alley.
“But, above all else, Richmond people insist that precisely the same treatment be measured out to all that may attempt trouble.”
Literary Digest, 62 (August 16, 1919): 17–18.
By Graham Taylor
The lightning that set Chicago’s race antagonisms aflame did not strike out of a clear sky. Only those who did not care or want to see could have failed to be aware that the storm clouds had been gathering a long while, and that the very air was charged with electricity. There were more who served their own supposed interests by obscuring the situation than there were those in official or private positions who were willing to serve the public by disclosing the facts which might have aroused and rallied preventive and protective measures.
So little was said of the rapid and large increase of the Negro population during the war that some of the great industries which invited and profited by the immigration from the South are suspected of concealing the figures. The Chicago Daily News, however, presented facts and a forecast in 1916 which was verified and brought down to date by another investigator just before this outbreak. Within five years the Negro population was shown to have doubled and now to have reached a total of 125,000, registering Chicago as the third or fourth city in the United States in the number of its colored people. All but about one-tenth of these are crowded into the “black belt” on the south side of the city, extending over eight square miles, within which the outbreak occurred and to which for the most part it has been confined. To the other three small colonies and to a fourth, numbering about 12,000, on the west side the disturbances spread sporadically. Some of the boldest assaults and murders were committed upon inoffensive colored men in the crowded central district of the loop.
No such reports of the gathering and bursting of the storm have appeared as the stories told me by some of the ablest and best informed Negroes, whose public and professional work has kept them in continuous contact with the rapidly developing situation. Out of their crowded district, which has become a No Man’s Land to all white people kept out of it by the rioting, they brought sharp-edged facts such as could be told only by those who had witnessed or experienced them.
East St. Louis sounded the alarm two years ago. When it went wild against the influx of southern Negroes, every Negro community at northern industrial centers took warning. As with the Jews in Russia when the pogroms started, the dread of others to follow struck home to their hearts. But unlike the Russian Jews, or Negroes who have hitherto suffered such fear south and north, these Chicago Negroes prepared. Here, as probably elsewhere, they had been taking counsel together and more and more of them armed themselves to protect their lives and their homes, some of which are suspected of being “private arsenals.”
Meanwhile aggressions increased. Colored children on their way to school were terrified, put to flight and roughly treated by young hoodlums. Colored people of any age, who were found in Washington Park, 371 acres lying just to the south of the black belt, were attacked and driven off with increasing violence. Late in June threats were posted on fences and trees in the Negro quarter announcing, “We will get you July 4.”
Then and ever since increased preparations were made for defense. But that offense was avoided is claimed by the reminder that no clash occurred on the holiday. The picnic baskets that were carried about the streets, or by groups further afield, contained weapons which were regarded as more of a necessity of life than lunches. Thus somewhat thrown off their guard, the Negro workers continued steadily at work, and great crowds of them resorted to the bathing beaches where sections of the shore were informally set apart for their use, although without any warrant for segregation either by ordinance or statute. Across this watery line a Negro boy on a raft drifted Sunday afternoon, July 27, when the beach was thronged both by whites and blacks immediately adjacent to each other. A white man threw a stone at the lad which knocked him into the water. Some of the Negroes demanded the arrest of the assailant and, when a white patrolman refused, he was beaten, and later suspended by the chief of police. The fugitive was captured by other Negroes, placed under arrest by other officers, and held under $50,000 bail, to be tried for murder. Meanwhile those seeking to save the boy from drowning were prevented by the whites from rescuing him. Then and there came the first clash which led to the week of rioting. The first man killed was a Negro shot by a Negro officer for firing at a white policeman. Great credit is given the police by Negro citizens, with very few exceptions, for standing up to their duty, especially when and where contending with very insufficient force against overwhelming odds in the midst of mobs of infuriated blacks and whites numbering as many as three thousand. This is the more creditable since many of them are Irishmen and had to contend with the most aggressive element from an Irish district bordering the Negro quarter.
The fury spread like wild-fire, first back in the “black belt” where safeguards disappeared as rapidly as the perils to life and property increased. Workers in the stockyards, 10,000 or more of whom are Negroes, were at first guarded as they entered and left, but few of them could get to their work when rioting made passage through the streets unsafe and the street-cars were completely stopped by the carmen’s strike. Groups and crowds gathered, grew and loitered. Gangs of white and black hoodlums appeared and ran amuck. Armed men of either color dashed through the district in automobiles and beyond, firing as they flew. Two white men, wounded while shooting up the district, were found to carry official badges, one being thus identified as in the United States civil service and the other as a Chicago policeman. White men firing a machine gun from a truck were killed. White and Negro policemen were in turn attacked and badly beaten by mobs of the opposite color. The torch followed attacks upon Negro stores and dwellings, scores of which were set on fire.
Fighting the Fire
At last the mayor, recognizing the inadequacy of the police force to cope with the situation, called upon the governor for the assistance of the state troops, seven regiments of which are at this writing in Chicago under arms, five of them on patrol duty in the most disturbed district. While a suspension of organized hostilities has thus been secured, sniping continues. Like a prairie fire the flames of hatred leap over all such barricades to other parts of the city, not only where Negroes live and work, but in some instances where they are passing through the thoroughfares, more thronged than ever by pedestrians and vehicles while all streetcars were strike-bound. A colored soldier wearing a wound stripe on his sleeve was beaten to death while limping along one of the main streets. He was heard to exclaim, “This is a fine reception to give a man just home from the war.” One cannot but wonder what might have happened if any of these outrages had occurred a day or two before when a Negro regiment of Chicago men, 1,800 strong, carrying their rifles, marched through these same streets on their way direct from France to the demobilization camp.
The situation within the military lines has been temporarily relieved at many points. Negro stockyard employees received wage payments at their homes. Their return to work has been postponed till the responsibility for incendiary fires in the Lithuanian district has been fixed. Deliveries of food and fuel which had been suspended for several days were restored, the wholesale grocers uniting to relieve many families who could not get supplies. The district office of the United Charities kept open, but its visitors were not permitted to expose themselves to the violence on the streets in making their rounds. The playgrounds were also closed. The vacation session of the public school was forced to suspend, being at the very center of the disturbance. The Provident Hospital, served by Negro physicians and nurses, ministered to wounded blacks and whites alike, which exposed them to the threats and even raids of blacks seeking vengeance upon wounded white. The buildings of the Y.M.C.A. and the League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, managed respectively by two very courageous and capable colored men, A. F. Jackson and T. Arnold Hill, have throughout the crisis been the centers within the district for communication and cooperation for philanthropic and civic effort and have promoted understanding, interpretation and mediation among many influential groups in the city at large.
Causes and Remedies
Both the causes and remedies are considered by whites and blacks alike to be psychological, economic, moral and political. They agree that the psychical differences between the two races are neither understood nor considerately taken into account by either, especially at points of irritation. They must therefore be acknowledged and reckoned with until education, ethics and religion rear generations that can discriminate between the better and worse members of each race and thus learn to agree to differ concerning tastes and temperaments, as members of the same race measurably succeed in doing with each other. The family, the school, the playground and the church must be depended upon for this rearing of future generations, which in turn must be promoted by fair-minded and intelligent people of both races conferring and working together for these ends. The failure of these primary social agencies to fulfill this higher function should stimulate parents and teachers, social and church workers to much more direct effort to counteract indiscriminate race prejudice.
Insufficient and unsuitable housing provision for the industrial classes is considered to be the economic factor of the race problem which gave occasion for the outbreaks of resentment and violence, because it bears hardest upon the Negroes and most irritates the whites. The district in which the great majority of Chicago Negroes can find dwellings available for them is unfortunately located at the older center of a growing section of the city which affords no space for the spread of the increasingly congested colored population. With the doubling of that population the congestion became intolerable, and its families were forced to seek residence elsewhere. Despite an overcharge to Negroes of from 15 to 25 per cent on rentals and sales of real estate, adjoining property occupied by whites depreciated in value. Resentment against those thought guilty of this intrusion and loss not only prevented neighborship, but incited persecution. Bombs were the deterrents used before the riot and the torch when the mob got control. Capitalists interested in the solution of this housing problem insist that the rentals which colored laborers can pay will not return 5 per cent on the investment, which therefore cannot be considered as a business proposition in real estate. Self-respecting colored people resent its consideration upon any other basis and insist that a single demonstration that such an investment might meet with a warrantable return would be followed by others to the speedy solution of the deadlock that now exists. The building and rental of dwellings by municipalities at a return less than is satisfactory to private capital might be undertaken in this country as in some European cities. In any event, this crisis forces the conviction that some way must be found other than this worst laissez faire policy, which proves to be no way at all.
Community morals are recognized as responsible for much personal immorality of the most dangerous type. For years the segregated vice district was forced upon this residential section where Negroes practically had to live. Since the break-up of segregated vice, the vicious resorts and practices which were permitted to survive have been tolerated and protected by the city administration where the population was weakest and most helpless in protecting itself.
Gambling, which is suppressed almost everywhere else, is allowed to run wide-open there. A recent survey of this situation and its disastrous effects upon family life disclosed two blocks with 83 families, 96 per cent of whose boys were truants, 72 per cent of whom were retarded in their development. The fathers had deserted 31 of these families and were heavy drinkers in 28 of them. Forty mothers worked all day away from home and 20 were heavy drinkers. Fifty-one per cent of these “homes” were broken by death, desertion, divorce, drink, promiscuous living and degeneracy. Appalled as the city may well be at the savage brutality of young hoodlums from sixteen to twenty-one years of age, both black and white, who with equal aggression have wreaked the worst vengeance upon life and the most destruction upon property, are they anything but the outgrowth of the seeds we have allowed to be planted in these hotbeds of vice and crime?
The political depravity which is responsible not only for the failure to prevent, but for the actual promotion of such conditions, is directly chargeable to a situation which has existed not only in Chicago but in East St. Louis and everywhere else where racial necessity is exploited as a partisan asset. The most eminent Negro physician and surgeon in Chicago publicly charged that the present situation is possible “by reason of the fact that the two colored aldermen are responsible to white politicians rather than to the voters who elected them; that the colored people have simply been sold out by colored leaders who are in the hands of white politicians.” He might have added that some of the colored ministers have played the part of the very worst of these politicians, even going so far as publicly to urge the men of their congregations to arm themselves against the whites. An army officer at a public conference hinted at the political source of a concerted propaganda that led directly to lawlessness and violence.
Many powerful organizations are lining up to help meet the present emergency and also to take far-reaching measures for the prevention of its recurrence. The trade unions have not always welcomed Negroes to membership and not all of them do yet, but they have been unionizing colored workers for the past year or two on a larger scale than ever. The official organ of the Chicago Federation of Labor in an editorial For White Union Men To Read, urges the unions “to protect colored fellow workers from the unreasoning frenzy of race prejudice, so as to decide whether the colored workers are to continue to come into the labor movement or are to feel that they have been abandoned by it and lose confidence in it. Since in the past organized labor has gone further in eliminating race hatred than any other class, it is up against the acid test now to show whether this is so.”
The Association of Commerce and groups of merchants and manufacturers are acknowledging their share of the community’s neglect of a situation which might have been prevented by earlier attention, and are seeking measures both for temporary relief and the permanent improvement of conditions.
A conference of eighty representatives connected with forty-eight civic, social, commercial and religious bodies was held at the Union League Club to enlist Red Cross emergency aid, to discuss the housing crisis and to petition Governor Lowden to appoint a state committee to investigate the causes and occasion of the race riots in the state and recommend measures for racial adjustment.79
The Chicago Church Federation has issued a statement to be read in the churches prefaced by the warning that “if the Church has no message of assurance, confession and goodwill in a time of peril like this, it has lost an opportunity which will not soon recur.”
In justice to Chicago, its citizens and those of other cities should recognize this humiliating experience to be a local symptom of a national disturbance which can be effectively remedied only by the broadest interchange of views and the most active cooperation in effort and by eliciting and applying locally all the social and economic, legislative and administrative, educational and religious resources of the whole nation.
The Survey, 42 (August 9, 1919): 695–97.
Maclay Hoyne, Illinois State Attorney, reports that “large quantities of firearms, deadly weapons, and ammunition” were stored by negroes in Chicago’s Black Belt, that negroes had been “arming themselves for months” before the recent “race war” began, that an outbreak of negro violence in Chicago had been “planned for July 4,” and that “a secret organization” is counseling the negroes “to obtain what they regard as social equality, by force if necessary.” Unless Mr. Hoyne is mistaken something altogether new has developed in the negroes’ psychology. For years they pinned their faith to the spelling-book, then for years they pinned it to the bank-book; now, as if convinced that neither education nor material prosperity could advance their cause, they appear to be putting their trust in brute strength. They will fight. In Washington’s “race war” negroes were frequently the aggressors. So also in Chicago. This “changed attitude,” as a Chicago negro puts it, would seem to have been the underlying cause of the Chicago riots, tho Mr. Hoyne informs the New York American that they came about thus:
“First Cause.—City Hall organization leaders, black and white, have catered to the vicious elements of the negro race for the last six years, teaching them that law is a joke and the police can be ignored if they have political backing. The decent colored element is as much incensed as whites at catering to colored gamblers and panderers.
“Negro politicians have even threatened the discharge of white police officers who made arrests of favored and protected black grafters.”
“Second Cause.—The continued enormous importation from the South of ignorant negroes, who, on arriving here, listened to these teachings and have thrown off all restraint.”
“Third Cause.—Insufficient housing for increased negro population. The negroes have invaded many residence districts hitherto confined to whites.”
“Remedy.—Immediate increase of police force, declaring of martial law, and searching of buildings in Black Belt and removing firearms, deadly weapons, and ammunition now stored there in large quantities.
“There should be some scheme of segregation, to which a majority of negroes will themselves consent.”
“Race feeling, when once engendered into a district, does not die out.”
“In Chicago both races are now tremendously inflamed and the situation is serious.”
“The basis of the trouble is this: The large employers of labor who lured my people to the North with high wages and the city of Chicago itself have been derelict in providing housing accommodations for them.”
“It is impossible to put 80,000 people where 50,000 lived before in utter congestion.”
“Politicians who wanted to be sure of their political futures have not looked with displeasure upon the crowding of my people into a given district so that 85 per cent of their vote might invariably be safely held under control.”
“Unscrupulous landlords and real-estate dealers have taken advantage of the shortage of houses to gouge my people, both when they rent and when they buy. My people in Chicago always have to pay $5 and up in excess of what white tenants have paid, and that, too, minus the care of the building and grounds that was given to white tenants. Negro real-estate agents have been as instrumental in bringing this situation about as white agents have.”
“Few of my people have moved into white blocks for the sheer braggadocio of being in such a community. They have moved in because white people were willing to sell or rent, because they wanted to avoid the congestion in the Second Ward, and, lastly, because they are American citizens.”
But, while much light is shed upon the Chicago riots by such testimony as this of Mr. Hoyne and Dr. Huggins—that is, in so far as their more immediate causes are concerned—it remains to determine whether the idea of advancing negro interests by recourse to violence was not an underlying cause from the first. The Chicago Defender, edited by and for negroes, frankly admits that it was:
“The younger generation of black men are not content to move along the line of least resistance, as did their sires. . . . We have little sympathy with lawlessness, whether those guilty of it be black or white, but it cannot be denied that we have much in justification of our changed attitude. . . . Industrially, our position has been benefited by the war. Socially it has grown decidely worse. On all sides we have been made to feel the humiliating pressure of the white man’s prejudice. In Washington it was a case of ‘teaching us our place.’ In Chicago, it was a case of limiting our sphere to metes and bounds that had neither the sanction of law nor of sound common sense. In both cases we resented the assumption. Hence the race riots.”
Dr. J. G. Robinson, a presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, refers to the negro’s resolve to win equality, by force if necessary, in a letter written from Chattanooga, Tenn., to President Wilson and containing the following significant paragraphs:
“Mr. President, I recall the 14th day of March, 1918, when as spokesman of a committee representing the bishops and membership of the African Methodist Episcopal Church I presented to your Excellency the pledge of loyalty and outlined the grievances of the twelve million negroes in the United States. I recall with vivid recollections your great and masterly reply to my address. Among other things you said:
“’I have always known that the negro has been unjustly and unfairly dealt with; your people have exhibited a degree of loyalty and patriotism that should command the admiration of the whole nation. In the present conflict your race has rallied to the nation’s call, and if there has been any evidence of slackerism manifested by negroes the same has not reached Washington.
“’Great principles of righteousness are won by hard fighting, and they are attained by slow degrees. With thousands of your sons in the camps and in France, out of this conflict you must expect nothing less than the enjoyment of full citizenship rights—the same as are enjoyed by every other citizen.’”
“Under the plea for democracy emphasized by you as by no other man in the world 400,000 negroes went undismayed and helped to win the war.”
“I went into six States and during great religious revivals and in great Liberty Bond and War-Savings Stamp drives I told my people that Mr. Wilson gave us the assurance that full democracy will be enjoyed by all Americans; we rolled up our share of money, etc., to prosecute the war.”
“I fear, Mr. President, before the negroes of this country again will submit to many of the injustices which we have suffered in this country, the white man will have to kill more of them than the combined number of soldiers that were slain in the great world-war.”
The publication of this letter while the race war in Chicago was at its height might be taken as indicative that the writer put a somewhat broad interpretation upon the President’s phrase, “full citizenship rights.” Where does citizenship begin? Where does it leave off? Does it imply social equality as well as political equality? The Chicago Tribune believes not, and reads the negroes a lecture. At the time of the riots precipitated by black soldiers early in the war, The Tribune told negroes to see that that sort of thing stopt immediately. Moreover, it told them that brilliant behavior during the war would tend to advance the negro cause. Now, when brilliant behavior is succeeded by what it looks upon as a hopeless struggle to win social equality by violence, The Tribune denounces the “changed attitude” among negroes and declares:
“We are swiftly getting to the point where our thoughtful colored fellow citizens must look the facts in the face. There will be no political injustice. There will be social differences. They need not be unjust. They do exist, and they will. The thinking negroes must use their influence with their race. They must realize the facts and conditions. The race problem will not be settled by these outbursts, nor by expedient adjustments brought about by military forces. The enduring settlement will come only out of agreement.”
Literary Digest, 62 (August 9, 1919): 11.
In reviewing the race riots, Dr. George C. Hall, Chicago’s eminent Negro physician, who is a director of the League on Urban Conditions among Negroes and a leader of his race, had unstinted praise for one element in the city’s white population. He said:
Organized labor, by its conduct in Chicago during the race riots and since, has clearly demonstrated the fairness of its attitude toward the Negro. Union leaders labored to prevent friction between whites and blacks; union men refrained from joining in the rioting. After the riots the unions went back as a body to work with non-union Negroes in the stockyards. Negroes have participated in the benefits which organization has obtained for the workers, and now that we have this conclusive proof of the good-will of the unions every thoughtful Negro ought to be convinced of the necessity of joining the unions.
Dr. Hall added: “The packers also acted fairly in reemploying all Negro workers after the riots.” Ten to fifteen thousand Negroes work in the Chicago stockyards, and the importance of the stockyards labor situation as a factor in race relations has been emphasized since the riots. The Chicago Federation of Labor issued on August 9 a proclamation which charged that the packers had deliberately attempted to fan race prejudice for the purpose of keeping the Negroes unorganized and declared that it was the efforts of union people, working day and night, that had prevented the spread of race hatred among stockyards workers and had kept the rioting from becoming far more serious than it was. The week’s strike of union stockyards workers subsequent to the riots was a protest against the use of the militia to “protect” non-union Negroes when they returned to work. Union leaders declared that the presence of the soldiers, in the tense situation, would have brought on clashes, and they called off the strike when the militia were removed.
A prominent social worker who is in close touch with the stockyards workers said:
The race situation is simply hushed up now. All the underlying causes of serious outbreaks are still present. If the packers were willing to welcome the organization of the Negroes into the unions which are eager to take them in, the situation would be hopeful. Our Lithuanians and Poles feel no race antipathy for the Negro, but they say, “He must not take our jobs or lower our wages.”
Investigations into the riots are getting into full swing. The grand jury, after holding up proceedings for a day because no charges against whites had been presented to it, resumed work and is still sitting. The following indictments have been returned: murder, 11 Negroes; assault to kill, 25 Negroes, 15 whites; manslaughter, 1 white; carrying concealed weapons, 14 Negroes, 9 whites; arson, 4 whites. Twenty-one Negroes, as against sixteen whites, were killed in the riots, but no white person has yet been indicted for murder. At the state’s attorney’s office it is said that the investigation is only beginning and that cases against whites will undoubtedly come up later. State’s Attorney Maclay Hoyne has issued a statement placing responsibility for the riots on “black belt” politics. He charges that city hall organization leaders encourage lawless Negro elements in an effort to hold the black vote solid, and his activities threaten to develop into a city-wide political and police graft expose. Governor Lowden has appointed a commission of six Negroes and six white men to investigate race relationships in Chicago.
The Survey, 42 (August 30, 1919): 782.