“They were killing all the Negroes they could find.” Henry Douglas was only nine years old when racist mobs broke out in a murderous rampage across East St. Louis, Illinois, but when interviewed by a local newspaper reporter seventy-five years later, he still vividly recalled the moment when white rioters descended upon his family’s home on Market Street. He could still picture his father warning his frightened family, as they hid in their home, that the police and the National Guard were out on the streets, but that they were not coming to help: they were with the whites, “helping kill people.” Henry’s father, a worker at the local Swift meatpacking plant, must have known when the mobs arrived that he had no choice but to fight back: “my father had a pistol,” Henry recalled and the last time Henry saw him, he was “shooting out the window.” He kept the whites at bay, but, hopelessly outnumbered, a bullet fired by one of the rioters struck his head: “he fell backwards, right by my bed.” Henry’s father died where he lay. Yet, by holding the rioters back, he had bought enough time: his family, at least, escaped with their lives, finding shelter with a local white physician whom they knew. They survived. Many decades later, at the century’s close, memories of that day continued to haunt Henry Douglas—the day that his hometown and family were consumed by a storm of racial violence. His story reveals one searing vision of a tragedy that engulfed an entire community. It is a horrific glimpse of one of the worst racial atrocities in American history: the East St. Louis race riot of 1917.
KeywordsBurning Turkey Defend Toll
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- 3.Toni Morrison, Jazz, London, Chato and Windus, 1992, esp. pp. 53–61.Google Scholar