Anatomy of the Killing
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.
KeywordsBurning Migration Steam Assure Smoke
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