Anatomy of the Killing

  • Malcolm McLaughlin


During the summer of 1917 in East St. Louis, racial hostility increasingly began to take a violent turn. There were sporadic racist attacks, and an embryonic race riot erupted on 28 May. The city seemed constantly to be on the edge of some sort of violent explosion. Even before the May riot, smaller incidents had seemed to threaten to spark wider disorder. On 24 May, the East St Louis Daily Journal reported that a “race riot” had broken out, after a large fight erupted between two groups of blacks and whites: “the hatred is increasing daily,” the newspaper warned.1 And, after the May riot, the atmosphere remained febrile. A headline on 10 June reported that a black man had been chased by an “INCIPIENT MOB” near 10th Street2 This, and similar attacks, led the Daily Journal to suggest that “race rioting [had] resumed” in late June.3 However, even if a violent eruption of some sort was anticipated in the summer, the scale and brutality of the riot on 2 July was not. This chapter focuses on that vio­lence. By considering the composition of the riot crowds and the social psychology of the atrocities, it seeks to explain the meaning of the East St. Louis race riot and why so many local whites supported the killings. However, to begin, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the chronology of events. For, timing will prove crucial to an understanding of the riot.


White Woman Black Woman Police Officer National Guard White Worker 
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  1. 44.
    Jeremy Krikler, “The Inner Mechanics of a South African Racial Massacre,” in The Historical Journal, 42,4 (1999), pp. 1068–1071.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 138.
    Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black–White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation, New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 187.Google Scholar
  3. 206.
    Dominc J. Capeci and Martha Wilkerson, Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters of 1943, Jackson and London, University Press of Mississippi, 1991, p. 69.Google Scholar
  4. 223.
    Cecilia Elizabeth O’Leary, To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1999, p. 226.Google Scholar
  5. 253.
    See Elliott M. Rudwick, Race Riot at East St Louis, July 2, 1917, Cleveland and New York, World Publishing Co., 1964, pp. 95–132.Google Scholar

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© Malcolm McLaughlin 2005

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  • Malcolm McLaughlin

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