It was 100 years ago that East St. Louis was the setting of not just one, but two related race riots of differing levels of violence. Collectively known as the East St. Louis Riots, they took place on May 28 and were reignited on July 2. The origin of the first riot was also similar others that were ignited by Blacks moving into new areas and new industries during the Great Migration. Companies across the country opened up the new growing Black workforce as a result of a gap due to the First World War. In St. Louis, Illinois, Black people were filing into the city at a rapid pace.
In transportation and manufacturing jobs, Blacks filled numerous spots and sometimes were moved up as needed. This was all done at costs that kept them underpaid in relation to White counterparts. Despite that, the usual fears persisted. Following a May 28 labor meeting, things came to a head with a rumor of Black men mingling with White women. As expected things reached the expected course of action of the times: the majority rioted.
THE EAST ST. LOUIS RIOTS
Later that evening, roughly 3,000 White men headed into downtown East St. Louis and targeted Black citizens. Governor Frank O. Lowden called for the National Guard to restore order. An investigation into the labor conflict concluded that Black people were coming in from the South were misled about job opportunities in St. Louis. Nothing further was done about the conflict. Tensions flared up again over a month later on July 2.
A car filled with White men rolled through a Black part of East St. Louis and fired into a group of Black residents. Later that day, two White police officers driving through were shot. The shooting was in retaliation for the earlier shooting with the officers mistaken for the aggressors. One detective was killed at the scene and the other died later.
White rioters returned and began burning property and attacking Black residents. They also took the step to cut fire hoses. By the end of this second riot, several Black people were lynched with total deaths listed between 40-200.
In the wake of the massacre, the NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois and others organized a protest march that saw thousands of Black people take to the streets of New York in what is known as the Silent Parade.