The Structure of Power
As discussed in chapter 1, from the 1870s, East St. Louis was transformed by rapid industrialization, fuelling an explosion in its population. Known as an “industrial offshoot of St Louis” by the early twentieth century, the East St. Louis that emerged was a city largely defined by industrial production. In this sense, the city owed its existence to the large corporate employers who had built factories and plants there.1 As factories came to dominate the city physically, so the corporations who owned those factories became the dominant power in the city. This was not seen in a positive light by all. “East St Louis”, wrote Roger Baldwin, a former secretary to the St Louis Civic League in the wake of the 1917 race riot, “is probably the most finished example of corporation owned city government in the United States.” He argued that all these corporate interests demanded, “is a city government that will give them the privileges they want and then let them alone. The politicians and underworld can have the rest.”2 Indeed, as will be seen, East St. Louis was a city gripped by powerful capitalist interests—interests served by City Hall. Moreover, as Roger Baldwin observed, organized crime was allowed to take root in the city—in the Valley vice district downtown—and this constituted a violent presence at the heart of the city. As will be seen later, when the moment of the riot is considered, that presence would have a significant bearing on the trajectory of the violence of 1917.
KeywordsOrganize Criminal Black Worker Select Committee White Worker Black Voter
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