The East St. Louis race riot of 1917 was a moment of singularly brutal violence. Indiscriminately, from morning until nightfall on 2 July, white mobs murdered black men, women, and children in the streets of their city and set their homes and businesses alight. The brutality of the violence—culminating in a visceral orgy of bloodletting in the evening— was all the more shocking for the apparent good humor of the mobs, who laughed and joked as they murdered, and for the presence of numerous white children among the crowds of supportive onlookers. The violence went largely unchecked by the authorities: many officers of the white-dominated local police force sympathized with the rioters and assisted them; many of the white National Guardsmen who were called to the city to quell the riot deserted their posts and joined in the killing. Ultimately, it would be African Americans’ own actions—in repelling the white mobs by force and by evacuating their families from the city—and not the authorities that would hamper the devastating progress of the riot. At the end of the day, at least thirty-nine black people had been killed, although, very likely, the actual number of dead was far higher but would remain unknown because of the lack of an adequate official record. Countless African Americans were left injured and many more lost their homes or fled the city.
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