Remembering the ‘East St. Louis Massacre’ 104 years later

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EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – The 104th anniversary of the “The 1917 East St. Louis Massacre” happens around this time. Historians call this one of the bloodiest race riots of the 20th century.

Two violent moments happened in May 1917 and in July 1917. It began when 470 African-American workers were brought in by the aluminum ore company to replace striking white workers.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that over 10,000 Black people were living in East St. Louis in 1917. Many moved there from the south to work in factories.

In May 1917 the white workers at the Aluminum Ore Company went on strike and then hundreds of Black people were hired. The white workers filed formal complaints. But, things got violent after a rumor of attempted robbery of a white man by an armed black man started to spread.

The next day East St. Louis exploded in the worst racial rioting the country had ever seen. Much of the violence focused on the African-American community. Several were killed but thousands of Black people fled the city after fears that the violence may happen again. The National Guard was called in but dispersed in June.

In July white men in a Ford automobile shot into the homes of Black people. Armed African Americans shot into another Ford car and killed two men who turned out to be police officers investigating the shooting into the homes.

The next day, after a labor meeting, thousands of white men started burning Black people’s homes, lynching some, and beating others. Around 1,500 Black people made it across the river to St. Louis but there are reports of the neighborhood burning and the violence lasting for weeks.

Thousands of African Americans were left homeless after their neighborhoods were burned. The exact death toll is still not known but it may have been over 100 people.

The anniversary of the Tulsa massacre was just a few weeks ago. People are searching for more information about the similar events in East St. Louis and elsewhere.

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