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Wells-Barnett, Mrs. Ida B. The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century . Chicago: The Negro Fellowship Herald Press, 1917. [format: book], [genre: report; narrative]. Permission: Public domain
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=wells-stlouis.html


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Chapter I — History of The East St. Louis, Illinois, Riot.

On Tuesday morning, July 3rd, 1917, the daily papers had big headlines announcing a riot which had been in progress in East St. Louis, Ill., for twenty-four hours previous. It stated that upwards of a hundred Negroes had been killed and that thousands had been driven from their homes; that more than sixty homes in Black Valley, the Negro district, had been burned and that nearly a half million dollars worth of property had been destroyed by fire.

The Negro Fellowship League immediately got out bills announcing a meeting to be held at the Reading Room, 3005 State Street, for that evening. Although the notice was short and the bills had been on the streets only two hours, the place was packed by 8:30 o'clock. At that meeting the following resolution was passed:

"RESOLVED, That we, the colored citizens of Chicago, in the shadow of the awful calamity at East St. Louis, hereby express our solemn conviction that the wholesale slaughter of colored men, women and children was the result of the reckless indifference of public officials, who, with the power of the police, sheriff and governor, could have prevented this massacre if they had discharged the duty which the law imposed upon them, and we call upon press, pulpit and moral forces to demand the punishment of the officials who failed to their duty.

RESOLVED, That we insist upon the right of every American citizen to work in every field of honest labor, demanding the fullest protection of the law. We protest against the published recommendation of the state defense council as the peaceful exhibition of the same vindictive spirit which was expressed by the bloodthirsty riot at East St. Louis.

RESOLVED, That the situation which has just written the darkest pages in the annals of Illinois, calls for the most intelligent, courageous and conservative co-operation of all citizens, white or black, and we recommend a conference of white and colored citizens which should consider every phase of our present wrongs and strive to find a remedy."

Signed,
A. H. ROBERTS, Chairman.
B. W. FITTS
L. W. WASHINGTON
ATTY. F. L. BARNETT, Secretary.

These men all spoke to the resolution and the daily papers gave good reports of their expressions the following morning. L. W. Washington voiced the opinion that not only ought these resolutions be sent to Governor Lowden, but that the president of the Negro Fellowship League should be the one to carry them. The idea was unanimously adopted, but as chairman of the meeting, I expressed the hope that whoever was sent, should go to East St. Louis and get the facts and then take the same to the governor, with the resolutions.

The audience agreed and quickly raised $8.65 toward paying the expenses of the trip. Wednesday evening, July 4th, the writer took the train to East St. Louis, reaching there next morning. Against the advice of both the Pullman and the train conductors, I got off at East St. Louis. They told me that the porters had been locked in the cars while the train passed through the town. But I felt that if Governor Lowden had been on the scene, also Adjutant General Dickson, together with eleven companies of militia, they certainly ought to have been able to get control of the situation in forty-eight hours time.

I found that I was correct in my surmise. No one molested me in my walk from the station to the City Hall, although I did not see a single colored person until I reached the City Hall building. I accosted the lone individual in soldier's uniform at the depot, a mere boy with a gun, and asked him if the governor was in town. When he said no, he had gone to Washington the night before, I asked how the situation was and he said, "bad." I asked what was the trouble and he said, "The Negroes won't let

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the whites alone. They killed seven yesterday and three already this morning." It was only 7 o'clock in the morning and I decided he was lying, so said nothing more on that score. I then asked him to show me where Adjutant General Dickson was, and he directed me to the City Hall.

An interview with General Dickson followed and he told me that it was perfectly safe to go about and get the information that I had come in search of, and that he would be glad to send a guard with me whenever I got ready for it. He also promised to see that I had the opportunity to be present at the ten o'clock meeting of the Chamber of Commerce and to have an interview with Mayor Mollman.

While waiting at the City Hall for General Dickson, a number of colored women came in bareheaded and their clothing dirty. Hearing it was safe to do so, they had come back from St. Louis that morning where they had gone the day of the riot to get military escort to go to their homes and get some clothing. A Red Cross man ordered one of Swift's biggest motor trucks, put a soldier with a loaded gun in front and one on the back of the truck, with thirty rounds of ammunition each, and told the women to get in and go to their homes and get what stuff they could.

I went with them and in that way went inside a dozen of their three and four room houses and saw the mob's work of destruction. In every case, the houses had been fired from the rear and as soon as the occupants came out, they were then shot at or beaten. In most of the homes in which I went, the inmates had gone before the mob got there. When these cottages were found to be empty, the mob went into them, threw the mattresses, quilts, blankets and wearing apparel that was not new, on the floor and then cut, tore and trampled these things under foot and set fire to them. Pictures, bric-a-brac, everything that they could destroy, they did.

Most of these houses had brass or iron bedsteads, and the mattresses were good, worth $4.00 or $5.00 a piece. In two of those homes, I saw a piano. In one of them the woman found a few of her records, but her victrola and most of the records had been taken away. The windows were broken and doors had been split open, evidently with an ax. One woman found her pictures and some of her wearing apparel in a white neighbor's house, and when she accused the woman of taking them, this woman said that all the others were taking things and she did so too.

We crossed the bridge into St. Louis four different times that day, taking women with trunks of their wearing apparel which they were able to find. These women told me the following stories as we rode around the town:

Mrs. Ballard's Story.

Mrs. Emma Ballard, with her husband George Ballard had lived in East St. Louis seven years. They had been married twenty-four years and came there from Jackson, Tenn. He worked in the Kansas City R. R. warehouse as freighter and trucker, loading and unloading cars and boats. He got $2.25 a day. They had a six room house, nicely furnished. In this home was a piano. They had four children. She and the children heard the first of the mob between 12 and 1 o'clock Monday night. Men and boys were in the street hollering, "Come out, niggers" as they roamed up and down in the Negro district. They shot and beat every Negro found on the streets Monday night. She saw fourteen men beaten and two killed. (In the excitement she and her children took their feather beds and pillows and some of their best wearing clothes across the alley to the barn of a white saloon keeper.) She took her children and got away with what they had on, after trying to hide some of their best things. She did not come back to East St. Louis until the morning of the 5th when I went with her to her home in the auto truck. The windows were broken, bedding and clothing thrown on the floor, all wet and much of it scorched. After getting together a few wearing clothes, she went out and closed the door, leaving furniture and mattresses which must have cost five hundred dollars. After a day of uncertainty she found her husband who had already found a home in St. Louis and they were going to stay there.

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Mrs. Lulu Thomas' Story.

Mrs. Thomas has a husband and mother. She too had a very nice home. She is a nice looking stylish woman and had some very good clothing which she left in three rooms of handsome furniture. Her husband was a boiler washer on the Illinois Central railroad. He makes $80.00 a month. They have been living in East St. Louis six years. The Illinois Central yard officials kept her husband in the fire box of one of the engines from Monday night to Wednesday morning, afraid to let him go out on the street even to go to his home. It was this woman who saw some of her good clothes on one of her white women neighbors. Mrs. Thomas' house had been set on fire, the mob had broken in the door, broken out the windows, dragged some of the mattresses out and set fire to them, and left others in the room, cut, torn and burned. Her pictures and bed clothes, wearing clothes, furniture, all broken and torn and thrown about. She too could only get a few wearing clothes together to enable her to have a change.

Mrs. Willie Flake's Story.

Mrs. Flake is a widow with three children, 11, 8 and 6 years old. She is a laundress who came to East St. Louis four year ago from Jackson, Tenn. She took care of her little family by taking in washing, and she worked from Monday morning until Saturday night at the ironing board. She too had three rooms full of nice furniture. Both of the two front rooms having nice rugs on the floor, a brass bedstead and other furniture to correspond. She had about a hundred dollars worth of furniture ruined, fifty dollars worth of clothing and about fifty dollars more of bedding, mattresses, etc. The mob had taken a phonograph for which she had paid $15.00 and twenty-five records for which she had paid 75 cents and $1.00 each. She got away with her children before the mob reached her house and she too came back that morning to get some clothes for herself and children. The mob hadn't left much, but out of the debris, she was able to pack one trunk with some clothing and quilts for herself and children. It was in this house that I picked up one child's new shoe and although we looked the house over, we couldn't find the other. In its spasm of wanton destruction, the mob had doubtless carried it away. Mrs. Flake also had life insurance policies for herself and children, but she couldn't find any of the books. She too had already found a flat in St. Louis and was only too anxious to get away from the town where such awful things were transpiring, and where not even widows and children were safe from the fury of the mob bent on killing everything with black skins.

Mrs. Dolly Bruton, another widow, came to East St. Louis from Mississippi, December 8th, 1915. She had left two trunks full of clothes at 513 Collinsville Ave., because she had been told that the worst of the riot was over and it was alright for her to stay in East St. Louis. But on this very morning of July 5th, a soldier had come into this house and began to search for weapons. He found nobody there but Mrs. Mary Howard and three other women, one of whom was ill. When he could find no gun, he arrested everyone of those women and brought them to the City Hall. They were bare headed and in the soiled clothing they had worn about their work at home. Mrs. Howard said, that she had lived in East St. Louis eighteen years. Her husband, Douglass Howard, was a grader, making $19.35 a week. They owned four houses and lots in East St. Louis. She had seen a good part of the rioting Tuesday, but had not been disturbed herself. She thought it was because her house was right between the homes and stores of some of the white people. Just as she had thought the whole thing was over, it both frightened and humiliated her to be subjected to this outrage at the hands of the soldiers at the time that General Dickson was in charge of the situation and everybody had been assured that the danger was over.

That was the last straw with her. She too wanted protection to go out to her home and get her things so she could leave town. She said that during the riot a young fellow whom she had sent to the grocery to get a chicken, was knocked off his wheel by the mob. Then the mob took his

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wheel and struck him on the side of his head with a brick and knocked a hole in it. His name was Jimmie Eckford, eighteen years old and roomed at her house. He ran into the nearest yard which happened to be that of white people. When the mob said they would burn this house down if they didn't make Eckford come out, the tenants picked him up and threw him out in the street to the mob where he was kicked and stamped on and beaten till they knocked his teeth from his head and killed him.

The street cars ran right along in front of her house, and she saw white women stop the street cars and pull colored women off and beat them. One woman's clothes they tore off entirely, and then took off their shoes and beat her over the face and head with their shoe heels. Another woman who got away, ran down the street with every stitch of clothes torn off her back, leaving her with only her shoes and stockings on. Mrs. Howard saw two men beaten to death. She had escaped all excepting having rocks thrown at the house, until this soldier humiliated her by coming into her house and arresting her and the other women there, because they couldn't find any guns concealed. This happened on the morning of the 5th.

Mrs. Lizzie Holmes was another women who was run out of her home by the mob and her household goods destroyed. She had six children, the youngest a sixteen months old baby. She too gathered up what she could save from the wreck and took it over to St. Louis where she had already placed her children. She said her husband C. A. Holmes is living at 1951 West Lake street, Chicago, and that she had not heard from him during all this trouble. I promised to write him for her and give him her St. Louis address and tell him how badly she needed help for the care of those children. I have done so over two weeks ago and have had no word from him in response. As the letter did not come back, I am hoping that he has written to her or still better, has gone to look after his family.

Mrs. Ella Moss and husband John came from Pensacola, Florida, in March. He had been employed at once by the M. & O. Railroad Company, washing engines at $60.00 a month. Every bit of Mrs. Moss' furniture was brand new, and I was very glad to be able to help her save a brand new ice box, which she had stuffed full of clothes, two brand new mattresses, beside a trunk full of wearing apparel. This was on our last trip on the truck. As we had already carried two loads before, there was more room for Mrs. Moss' things than there would have been if there had been other women to look after. She too went over into St. Louis, Mo., and found a home there, because she felt more secure from mob violence there than she did in the state of Abraham Lincoln.

Clarrissa Lockett's Story.

Mrs. Lockett lived in the house with her brother where she had been ever since both he and she came from Mississippi. Her brother worked nights, so that all during the rioting Monday night she was alone. They didn't get to set fire to her house that night, but she sat up all night long waiting. She was unwilling to leave her household goods until she had to. She went to work at the packing house Tuesday morning early, but quit at 9 A. M. The soldiers who were guarding the plant took her and the other colored women home. Tuesday night the mob came to her number, 48 Third street, rear. After they had set fire to it and run her out, she ran into a Polish saloon not far away and the saloonkeeper and his wife agreed to let her stay there that night, although they knew the risk they ran in so doing. They told her to crouch down behind the piano and to stay there quietly all night. This she did, glad of the chance. She had been able only to bring her dog and her gun when she ran out of her home. After the saloonkeeper and his wife had gone upstairs to bed about 1 o'clock in the morning, the barkeeper and a man friend of his came back behind the piano and attempted to assault her. She drew her pistol and drove them off. When they found she had a gun, they left her in peace until morning. Early Wednesday morning, the day of our national independence, she found a man who hauled her trunk containing her own and her brother's clothes over into St. Louis, Missouri. She left two rooms filled with new furniture. She saw soldiers take guns and knives from colored men, and then the mob would set on them and beat or murder them.

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When I saw her at St. Louis, Missouri, she had not yet recovered from the shock. Her brother had come straight out of the packing plant for which he was working and went straight to the train in his working clothes and went to Meridan, Mississippi, his former home. She was very anxious until she got a card letting her know where he was.

Mrs. Josie Nixon whose husband Samuel and daughter Pearl had lived in their home in East St. Louis thirteen years. The family is well known and respected. Her husband is a carpenter and contractor. Her daughter has finished her third year in high school and she had been working at Swift's for nine months. The mob did not harm her or her husband at her home, but the excitement was so great, she was still suffering from the nervous strain. She said, that although they knew about the excitement and the burning of homes the night before, that on Tuesday morning at 5:30 o'clock, she and a man and his wife started to work that early, thinking that they would avoid the mob. They met a young fellow about nineteen or twenty years old, walking down the street with a soldier who had a gun. "This young fellow held up the man who was with us and searched him, and asked him where he was going, told him not to come back this way and that he had better be out of town by night, if not, he, the white man, would get him if he had to set his house afire." All this while the soldier in Uncle Sam's uniform was standing by with his gun, and he said too, "Yes, you'd better get out of town."

She went back home and she and her daughter sat there nearly all day, fearing attack at any moment. She had not seen or heard of her husband since the day before. Fearing that some harm had come to him and having not a nickel in the house, she borrowed carfare from the druggist across from her home and leaving her comfortable home, went over into St. Louis. Late that evening, her husband came home and finding them gone, he hunted all over town, but nobody could tell him about her. He stayed in his house Tuesday night and saw two sons of a white neighbor of his set fire to his house. He ran and put out the fire himself, thus saving his home.

Mrs. Nixon saw a woman whose tongue was shot off when she was shot through the mouth, being taken to the hospital. She begged the police to go back for her son who was in the house. They found him lying behind a trunk shot dead. She said that woman was still in the hospital.

The mob went into one house near her, beat the man who was at home until he fainted. He begged them to spare him on account of his wife and new born baby who were in a rear room. When he revived he found both wife and baby dead in the bed where the mob had killed them. They only left him because they thought he was dead. She knew of another case, where as the mother came rushing out of the flames of her home, with her baby in her arms, the baby was shot through the head and thrown back into the fire. Many children were killed in this way.

Mrs. Nixon had three gardens planted besides having this nice home and she felt that the mob would not harm her because she was so well and she felt that the mob would not harm her because she was so well known. After they told her that the excitement was all over, she went back to East St. Louis on Thursday morning and went again to her job. While she was at work that morning, a white man standing talking to a bunch of other men said, loud enough for her to hear, "If I have to leave here and give my place to a nigger, I'll certainly kill me a lot of niggers before I go, to pay for it." All the white men in the crowd turned and glared at her in so menacing a fashion that she lost her nerve completely, threw up her job, went back to St. Louis, Missouri, and had rented her a house for the purpose of living over there.

Many of the women complained that the soldiers would not let them go into their homes except to get a few clothes. These and many other such stories all testify to the same thing, that the soldiers did not offer any protection to colored people, but did search them and take their fire arms from them and then stand aside and left them helpless before the mob.

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Wells-Barnett, Mrs. Ida B. The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century . Chicago: The Negro Fellowship Herald Press, 1917. [format: book], [genre: report; narrative]. Permission: Public domain
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=wells-stlouis.html
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