At no point in its nearly 140 years of publication has the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had to tell its readers of more savage events within the region than those that played out on July 2, 1917, in East St. Louis.
With a barbaric and even bloodthirsty rage, white mobs killed dozens of African-Americans. The victims were pulled from streetcars, burned out of their homes, stoned in the streets and hanged in broad daylight. Dozens, and perhaps more than 100, were slain. “Men were killed simply because they were black, and the only limit on the slaughter was the ability of the crowd to find Negroes,” the Post-Dispatch reported at the time. Scores of homes were destroyed. Hundreds fled the city, crossing the Eads Bridge to St. Louis under military protection, never to return.
The riots erupted following months of labor-related tension. Blacks from the South had been lured to the region by the promise of jobs, only to learn later that management had likely recruited them to take the jobs of white union members. The killing of two white police officers by men who were black was the final spark.
The text contained in this special section — save for a map that documents key sites related to the events — are the words as they appeared in the afternoon edition on July 3, 1917, and in subsequent editions that month. Only minor changes have been made to correct typographical errors and syntax. The stories include the first-person reporting of famed reporter Carlos Hurd, who stepped off a streetcar and into a massacre “where black skin was a death warrant.”
The accounts hold back nothing in terms of graphic detail and gore. Even today, this reporting must run with a disclaimer cautioning readers to the violence contained herein. So too, must readers be warned of ugly racial terminology of the era, including the use of a racial epithet.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is republishing this reporting, in its uncensored entirety, so that the region may remember. In doing so, it joins the East St. Louis community, where a committee of civic leaders is working to ensure that this often overlooked episode is not forgotten.
It is said that newspapers are a first draft of history. Historians take it from there. But on this day, the first and rawest words may speak the most powerfully of those bloody events precisely a century ago.
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