Primary Sources: The Conspiracy Of The East St. Louis Riots
Speech by Marcus Garvey, July 8, 1917
The East St. Louis Riot, or rather massacre, of Monday [July] 2nd, will go down in history as one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind for which any class of people could be held guilty. (Hear! hear.) This is no time for fine words, but a time to lift one's voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy. (cheers) I do not know what special meaning the people who slaughtered the Negroes of East. St. Louis have for democracy of which they are the custodians, but I do know that it has no literal meaning for me as used and applied by these same lawless people. (hear! hear!). America, that has been ringing the bells of the world, proclaiming to the nations and the peoples thereof that she has democracy to give to all and sundry, America that has denounced Germany for the deportations of the Belgians into Germany, America that has arraigned Turkey at the bar of public opinion and public justice against the massacres of the Armenians, has herself no satisfaction to give 12,000,000 of her own citizens except the satisfaction of a farcical inquiry that will end where it begun, over the brutal murder of men, women and children for no other reason than that they are black people seeking an industrial chance in a country that they have laboured for three hundred years to make great. (cheers) For three hundred years the Negroes of America have given their life blood to make the Republic the first among the nations of the world, and all along this time there has never been even one year of justice but on the contrary a continuous round of oppression. At one time it was slavery, at another time lynching and burning, and up to date it is wholesome [wholesale?] butchering. This is a crime against the laws of humanity; it is a crime against the laws of the nation, it is a crime against Nature, and a crime against the God of all mankind. (cheers)
Somewhere in the book of life we are told that "God created of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth," and after mankind, in scattered groups, had for thousands of years lived in their own spheres without trouble or molestation, promoting in their own way the course of peace and happiness, the white race, a party of this group, went out to enslave, conquer and rob the rights of the Peaceful. Through that system of enslavement, conquest and robbery, the black man was taken into this country where he was forced against his will to labor for the enrichment of the white man. Millions of our people in the early days of slavery gave their lives that America might live. From the labours of these people the country grew in power, until her wealth to-day is computed above that of any two nations. With all the service that the Negro gave he is still a despised creature in the eye of the white people, for if he were not to them despised, the 900,000,000 of whites of this country would never allow such outrages as the East St. Louis massacre to perpetuate themselves without enforcing the law which provides justice for every man be he black or white.
The black man has always trusted the white man. He has always clung to him as a brother man, ever willing to do service for him, to help him, to succor him, yet with all this the white man has never found it convenient to live up to the principles of brotherhood which he himself teaches to all mankind. (hear! hear!) From the time of Livingstone to the present day the black man has always been kind to the white man. When there was no white man in Africa to help the sickly and dying Livingstone, the black man, ever true, even as Simon the Cyrenian was true, in bearing the cross of the despised Jesus, came to the rescue of the suffering Englishman, and when he was dead, faithful as they were, they bore his body for hundreds of miles across the desert and plains of Africa until they deposited his remains at a place where other white men could reach him to convey him to England and inter his bones in the Cathedral of Westminster Abbey. The Negro in American history from the time of Crispus Attucks at Boston, the 10th Cavalry at San Juan Hill which saved the day for Roosevelt, up to the time when they stuck to Boyd at Carrizal, has demonstrated to the American Nation that he is as true as steel. (cheers) Yet for all his services he receives the reward of lynching, burning and wholesale slaughter (hear, hear). It is even strange to see how the real American white people, the people who are direct de[s]cendants from the Pilgrim Fathers, allow the alien German, the Italian and other Europeans who came here but yesterday to lead them in bloody onslaught against the Negroes who have lived here for over three hundred years. When I say that the Aliens are leading the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers against the Negroes in this country I mean to support it with as much facts as possible.
Mayor Mollman of East [S]t. Louis, if [no]t himself a German, descendant of German immigrants, he is the man to be blamed for the recent riots in East St. Louis. I say so because I am convinced that he fostered a well arranged conspiracy to prevent black men migrating from the South much the loss of Southern Farmers who for months have been moving heaven it seems to prevent the exodus of the labor serfs of the South into the North.
Two months ago I was in New Orleans completing a lecture tour of the United States, and on the 26th of April Mayor Fred W. Moflman arrived in the city on a trip from St. Louis. In New Orleans he was met by Mayor Behrman and the New Orleans Board of Trade. For months the Farmers of Louisiana were frightened out of their wits over the everyday migration of Negroes from great farming centers of the State. They wrote to the papers, they appealed to the Governor, the Mayor and the Legislature and the Board of Trade to stop the Negroes going away, but up to the 26th of April nothing was done to stop the people excepting the Railway Companies promising to use certain restraint on the rush of people obtaining passages on the trains by Railway orders sent to them from the North. At this time Mayor Mollman arrived and the Farmers and Board of Trade met him and asked his help in discouraging the Negroes from going North and especially to East St. Louis. In an interview given out to the New Orleans press he said that the Negroes from the South were reaching St. Louis at the rate of 2,000 per week, and that they were creating a problem there. He said that some of the largest industries in the country were established in East St. Louis and there were strikes for the last few months. He believed the labor conditions in East St. Louis were responsible for the number of Negro laborers going to that city. When the strikes started, he said, United States District Judge Wright issued an injunction restraining the strikers from intimidating the laborers who took their places. This order prevented uprisings and riots. "Conditions are very bad in East St. Louis," he said, "because many plants are suffering for the want of labor. However, our city is growing and we have a population of 85,000 persons. During 1916 we gained 1,600 in population." His interview did not make pleasant reading for the Farmers and others interested in labor in New Orleans and Louisiana so that the very next day he appeared at the Board of Trade where he met the Farmers and others and in discussing the labor exodus with them, he promised that he would do all he could to discourage Negroes from Louisiana going into East St. Louis as the city did not want them. His interview on the first day was an encouragement to the Negroes to go to East St. Louis, as there was work for them, owing to the inability of the various plants to get labor. On the second day when he was approached he said East St. Louis did not want the Negroes, and he then promised to do all in his power to prevent them going there. His remarks to the people whom he met were published under big headlines in the News papers, so that the Negroes could read that they were not wanted in East St. Louis, but that did not deter the blackmen of Louisiana who were looking for better opportunities in the land of their birth going about the country looking for better conditions than the South offered with lynching and Jim Crowism. The Negroes still continued their migration North. The Mayor of East St. Louis returned to the city after making his promise to the Farmers, Board of Trade and others who were interested in Negro labor.
On the 5th of May the New Orleans Board of Trade elected Mr. M. J. Sanders its president, and Mr. W. P. Ross as delegates to attend a transportation conference at St. Louis to be held on May 8-9. You will remember that Ma[y]or Mollman appeared before the Board of Trade on Friday the 27th of April where he made his statement of promise. The transportation conference was held at St. Louis on the 8th and 9th of May at which several prominent men interested in the labor condition of the South were present as also Messrs. Sanders and Ross, from New Orleans. It isn't for me to suggest that Mayor Mollman met these gentlemen again; it is for you to imagine what further transpired while these gentlemen from the South who were so deeply interested in keeping the Negro below the Mason and Dixon line said and did among themselves while in that vicinity where Mayor Mollman held sway so much so as to be able to make a promise to keep out citizens of the United States who were not born in Germany, but in the Southland. One thing I do no[w?] know; the first riot started on May 28 after a conference of labor leaders with Mayor Mollman. On that day, May 28, crowds of white men after leaving the City Council stopped street cars and dragged Negroes off and beat them. Then the night following three Negroes and two white men were shot. An investigation of the affair resulted in the finding that labor agents had induced Negroes to come from the South. I can hardly see the relevance of such a report with the dragging of men from cars and shooting them. The City authorities did nothing to demonstrate to the unreasonable labor leaders that they would be firmly dealt with should they maltreat and kill black men. No threat was offered to these men because Mayor Mollman himself had promised to do all he could to drive the Negroes out of East St. Louis, and to instill fear in the hearts of the people in the South so as to prevent them coming North. On the 29th of May, a day after the first disturbance, and when three Negro men had been killed, Mayor Mollman sent a dispatch to Governor Pleasant of Louisiana advising the Negroes of Louisiana to remain away from East St. Louis. This news item from the "Call" of May 31 which I will read will speak for itself.
Negroes Asked To Stay Away.
["]Baton Rouge, La., May 30. An order advising all Louisiana Negroes to remain away from East. St. Louis, Ill., was issued to-day by Governor Pleasant, following a request from Mayor Mollman of the Illinois city."
I have not seen the Louisiana papers that published that order but you, can imagine for yourselves how the papers made prominent news of it so as to bring home to the Negroes of the State the very discouraging situation which the Mayor of East St. Louis helped to create. Because nothing was done to crush the originators and leaders of the first riot the Negro haters of East St. Louis took fresh courage and made their final attack on our defenseless men, women and children on Monday July 2nd and which resulted in the wholesale massacre of our people. When we read in the white press a report like what I will read to you, we can conjure to our own minds the horror of the whole affair.
"East St. Louis, July 2nd. Negroes are being shot down like rabbits and strung up to telegraph poles."
"The official police estimate at 9 o'clock put the number of dead at 100. They reach this total partly through reports that many victims have been pursued into creeks and shot, burned in buildings or murdered and thrown into the Mississippi. The exact number of dead will probably never be known. Six Negroes were hanged to telegraph poles in the south end of the town. A reliable white man reports having counted nineteen Negro corpses on a side street.
"A reign of terror prevails. The police and the tow companies of the National Guard are powerless. The companies of soldiers were powerless as they had orders not to shoot. The whites took their rifles from them telling them they might hurt some one whilst these very whites took the rifles and shot Negroes." The whole thing my friends is a bloody farce, and that the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is a conclusive proof of conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes. (hear! Hear!) In this report we further read that as the flames of fire would drive a Negro man, wom[a]n or child from a dwelling, their clothes burning, the mob would set up a great shout and rifles and pistols would be fired. So far no Negro was known to escape as the whites had a merciless net about the Negroes, and the cry was "kill 'em all." Negro faces were seen at frames of windows and when they say what happened to those who flew from the burning structures, they dropped back into the fire rather than tempt a similar fate. (deep groan) An example of what the guardsmen encountered, and themselves enjoyed, was the beating of colored women by white girls. This sort of thing was common. It resulted in the death of several Negro women. Six girls, according to the report pursued a colored girl around the main railway station. A mbo formed behind the girls who were screaming frantic epithets at the terrified black girl. "Send them back to Africa." "Kill them all." "Lynch them," shouted the young amazons. Suddenly the crowd swept from the trail of the girl. A yell then arose. "There is one." It was a Negro walking on the railroad track. Before he realized his peril he was killed. Half a dozen pistols cracked and the man dropped without a chance to run. (groans) Two white girls, neither more than 17 years old, the report said, were cheered when they dragged a colored girl from a street car, removed her slippers and beat senseless with the sharp wooden heels. Some reports said black women were stripped by white women for the amusement of the crowd. (Cries of shame!)
The mob and entire white populace [o]f East St. Louis had a Roman holiday. They feasted on the blood of the Negro, encouraged as they were by the German American Mayor who two months ago went to New Orleans and promised to keep the Negroes out of East St. Louis. That this man did absolutely nothing to let the people know that the law would be enforced to preserve order and ensure the peaceful lives of the black people is amply demonstrated by a report which comes from East. St. Louis, and was published in the "New York Tribune" of Saturday, July 7. Under the caption: "Citizens Blame Long Reign of Lawlessness for Riots" the paper published this bit of news.
"East St. Louis, Ill., July, 6. Resignation of Chief of Police Payne of East. St. Louis and of Cornelius Hickey Night Chief of Police or of radical reforms will be demanded of Mayor Mollam by the citizens' committee of the Chamber of Commerce. This determination is a result of the race riots here Monday in which thirty-seven persons lost their lives. Maurice Joyce, vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, declared to-day the rioting was the direct result of the long reign of lawlessness in East St. Louis. We have a police department that is incompetent and inefficient if not worse. Not only was the word sent out that law would not be rigidly enforced but the impression was allowed to spread that law violations would be winked at." This gallant vice-chairman of the Chamber of Commerce who knew this even before one Negro was shot, never said a word and did nothing to bring the delinquent Mayor who rules the city to a realization of these facts until great property damage was done to the Southern Railway Company, when their warehouse of over 100 car loads of merchandise was consumed by the flames causing a loss to the company of over $500,000, and a white theatre of over $100,000 was destroyed. It was not until property was destroyed in which the Chamber of Commerce was most interested, that the officers of the body let the Mayor know that he must do his duty. It was not through over-population or through scarc[i]ty of work why East. St. Louis did not want Negroes. It was simply because they were black men. For Mayor Mollman himself said months ago that East St. Louis was badly off for laborers as many of the plants could not get hands to operate them.
I can hardly see why black men should be debarred from going where they choose in the land of their birth. I can not see wherefrom Mayor Mollman got the authority to discourage black men going into East St. Louis, when there was work for them, except he got that authority from mob sentiment and mob law. It was because he knew that he could gain a following and support on the issue of race why he was bold enough to promise the white people of Louisiana the he would keep Negroes out of East. St. Louis. He has succeeded in driving fully 10,000 in one day out of the city, and the South has gone wild over the splendid performance in so much so that the very next day after the massacre the Legislature of Georgia sent out the message that their good Negroes must come home as they will treat them better than East St. Louis did. Can you wonder at the conspiracy of the whole affair? White people are taking advantage of black men to-day because black men all over the world are disunited. (Loud and prolonged cheers)
(This bit of news was published in the New York Globe, July 11th, which goes to prove the state of affairs in Louisiana.)
Excerpts from Robert A. Hill, ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume I, 1826 - August 1919. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.