CONNECTIONS OF SOME OF THE RACE RIOTS TO OTHER ISSUES
Besides the pervasive connections of the race riots to the Great Migration and the images in the popular realm, as reflected even in the World’s Fairs, many of the race riots have very specific connections to other people and events.
New York City Draft Riot
• connects to Irish / Black relations in St. Louis, re: the song Duncan and Brady
Memphis race riots
• connects to Black / White police relations, also Black soldiers, Union and freedmen history
Wilmington, North Carolina race riot
• connects to African-American literature: Charles Chesnutt, the Marrow of Tradition
Atlanta race riot
• connects to Paris, Le Petit Journal
Springfield, Illinois race riot
• connects to Niagara Movement, W.E.B. DuBois, and the founding of the NAACP
East St. Louis race riot
• connects to James Weldon Johnson (African-American lit), NAACP
• connects to New York City march, Madame C.J. Walker (re: Annie Malone, the Ville)
• connects To Josephine Baker (see below)
• connects to W.E.B. DuBois
“Of Work and Wealth,” – W.E.B. DuBois
Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, 1920
St. Louis sprawls where mighty rivers meet,—as broad as Philadelphia, but three stories high instead of two, with wider streets and dirtier atmosphere, over the dull-brown of wide, calm rivers. The city overflows into the valleys of Illinois and lies there, writhing under its grimy cloud. The other city is dusty and hot beyond all dream,—a feverish Pittsburg in the Mississippi Valley—a great, ruthless, terrible thing! It is the sort that crushes man and invokes some living superman,—a giant of things done, a clang of awful accomplishment.
Three men came wandering across this place. They were neither kings nor wise men, but they came with every significance—perhaps even greater—than that which the kings bore in the days of old. There was one who came from the North,—brawny and riotous with energy, a man of concentrated power, who held all the thunderbolts of modern capital in his great fists and made flour and meat, iron and steel, cunning chemicals, wood, paint and paper, transforming to endless tools a disemboweled earth. He was one who saw nothing, knew nothing, sought nothing but the making and buying of that which sells; who out from the magic of his hand rolled over miles of iron road, ton upon ton of food and metal and wood, of coal and oil and lumber, until the thronging of knotted ways in East and real St. Louis was like the red, festering ganglia of some mighty heart.
Then from the East and called by the crash of thunderbolts and forked-flame came the Unwise Man,—unwise by the theft of endless ages, but as human as anything God ever made. He was the slave for the miracle maker. It was he that the thunderbolts struck and electrified into gasping energy. The rasp of his hard breathing shook the midnights of all this endless valley and the pulse of his powerful arms set the great nation to trembling.
And then, at last, out of the South, like a still, small voice, came the third man,—black, with great eyes and greater memories; hesitantly eager and yet with the infinite softness and ancient calm which come from that eternal race whose history is not the history of a day, but of endless ages. Here, surely, was fit meeting-place for these curiously intent forces, for these epoch-making and age-twisting forces, for these human feet on their super-human errands.
Yesterday I rode in East St. Louis. It is the kind of place one quickly recognizes,—tireless and with no restful green of verdure; hard and uneven of street; crude, cold, and even hateful of aspect; conventional, of course, in its business quarter, but quickly beyond one sees the ruts and the hollows, the stench of ill-tamed sewerage, unguarded railroad crossings, saloons outnumbering churches and churches catering to saloons; homes impudently strait and new, prostitutes free and happy, gamblers in paradise, the town “wide open,” shameless and frank; great factories pouring out stench, filth, and flame—these and all other things so familiar in the world market places, where industry triumphs over thought and products overwhelm men. May I tell, too, how yesterday I rode in this city past flame-swept walls and over gray ashes; in streets almost wet with blood and beside ruins, where the bones of dead men new-bleached peered out at me in sullen wonder?
Across the river, in the greater city, where bronze St. Louis,—that just and austere king—looks with angry, fear-swept eyes down from the rolling heights of Forest Park, which knows him not nor heeds him, there is something of the same thing, but this city is larger and older and the forces of evil have had some curbing from those who have seen the vision and panted for life; but eastward from St. Louis there is a land of no taxes for great industries; there is a land where you may buy grafting politicians at far less rate than you would pay for franchises or privileges in a modern town. There, too, you may escape the buying of indulgences from the great terminal fist, which squeezes industry out of St. Louis. In fact, East St. Louis is a paradise for high and frequent dividends and for the piling up of wealth to be spent in St. Louis and Chicago and New York and when the world is sane again, across the seas.
So the Unwise Men pouring out of the East,—falling, scrambling, rushing into America at the rate of a million a year,—ran, walked, and crawled to this maelstrom of the workers. They garnered higher wage than ever they had before, but not all of it came in cash. A part, and an insidious part, was given to them transmuted into whiskey, prostitutes, and games of chance. They laughed and disported themselves. God! Had not their mothers wept enough? It was a good town. There was no veil of hypocrisy here, but a wickedness, frank, ungilded, and open. To be sure, there were things sometimes to reveal the basic savagery and thin veneer. Once, for instance, a man was lynched for brawling on the public square of the county seat; once a mayor who sought to “clean up” was publicly assassinated; always there was theft and rumors of theft, until St. Clair County was a hissing in good men’s ears; but always, too, there were good wages and jolly hoodlums and unchecked wassail of Saturday nights. Gamblers, big and little, rioted in East St. Louis. The little gamblers used cards and roulette wheels and filched the weekly wage of the workers. The greater gamblers used meat and iron and undid the foundations of the world. All the gods of chance flaunted their wild raiment here, above the brown flood of the Mississippi.
Then the world changed; then civilization, built for culture, rebuilt itself for wilful murder in Europe, Asia, America, and the Southern Seas. Hands that made food made powder, and iron for railways was iron for guns. The wants of common men were forgotten before the groan of giants. Streams of gold, lost from the world’s workers, filtered and trickled into the hands of gamblers and put new power into the thunderbolts of East St. Louis.
Wages had been growing before the World War. Slowly but remorselessly the skilled and intelligent, banding themselves, had threatened the coffers of the mighty, and slowly the mighty had disgorged. Even the common workers, the poor and unlettered, had again and again gripped the sills of the city walls and pulled themselves to their chins; but, alas! there were so many hands and so many mouths and the feet of the Disinherited kept coming across the wet paths of the sea to this old El Dorado.
War brought subtle changes. Wages stood still while prices fattened. It was not that the white American worker was threatened with starvation, but it was what was, after all, a more important question,—whether or not he should lose his front-room and victrola and even the dream of a Ford car.
There came a whirling and scrambling among the workers,—they fought each other; they climbed on each others’ backs. The skilled and intelligent, banding themselves even better than before, bargained with the men of might and held them by bitter threats; the less skilled and more ignorant seethed at the bottom and tried, as of old, to bring it about that the ignorant and unlettered should learn to stand together against both capital and skilled labor.
It was here that there came out of the East a beam of unearthly light,—a triumph of possible good in evil so strange that the workers hardly believed it. Slowly they saw the gates of Ellis Island closing, slowly the footsteps of the yearly million men became fainter and fainter, until the stream of immigrants overseas was stopped by the shadow of death at the very time when new murder opened new markets over all the world to American industry; and the giants with the thunderbolts stamped and raged and peered out across the world and called for men and evermore,—men!
The Unwise Men laughed and squeezed reluctant dollars out of the fists of the mighty and saw in their dream the vision of a day when labor, as they knew it, should come into its own; saw this day and saw it with justice and with right, save for one thing, and that was the sound of the moan of the Disinherited, who still lay without the walls. When they heard this moan and saw that it came not across the seas, they were at first amazed and said it was not true; and then they were mad and said it should not be. Quickly they turned and looked into the red blackness of the South and in their hearts were fear and hate!
What did they see? They saw something at which they had been taught to laugh and make sport; they saw that which the heading of every newspaper column, the lie of every cub reporter, the exaggeration of every press dispatch, and the distortion of every speech and book had taught them was a mass of despicable men, inhuman; at best, laughable; at worst, the meat of mobs and fury.
What did they see? They saw nine and one-half millions of human beings. They saw the spawn of slavery, ignorant by law and by deviltry, crushed by insult and debauched by systematic and criminal injustice. They saw a people whose helpless women have been raped by thousands and whose men lynched by hundreds in the face of a sneering world. They saw a people with heads bloody, but unbowed, working faithfully at wages fifty per cent. lower than the wages of the nation and under conditions which shame civilization, saving homes, training children, hoping against hope. They saw the greatest industrial miracle of modern days,—slaves transforming themselves to freemen and climbing out of perdition by their own efforts, despite the most contemptible opposition God ever saw,—they saw all this and what they saw the distraught employers of America saw, too.
The North called to the South. A scream of rage went up from the cotton monopolists and industrial barons of the new South. Who was this who dared to “interfere” with their labor? Who sought to own their black slaves but they? Who honored and loved “niggers” as they did?
They mobilized all the machinery of modern oppression: taxes, city ordinances, licenses, state laws, municipal regulations, wholesale police arrests and, of course, the peculiarly Southern method of the mob and the lyncher. They appealed frantically to the United States Government; they groveled on their knees and shed wild tears at the “suffering” of their poor, misguided black friends, and yet, despite this, the Northern employers simply had to offer two and three dollars a day and from one-quarter to one-half a million dark workers arose and poured themselves into the North. They went to the mines of West Virginia, because war needs coal; they went to the industries of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, because war needs ships and iron; they went to the automobiles of Detroit and the load-carrying of Chicago; and they went to East St. Louis.
Now there came fear in the hearts of the Unwise Men. It was not that their wages were lowered,—they went even higher. They received, not simply, a living wage, but a wage that paid for some of the decencies, and, in East St. Louis, many of the indecencies of life. What they feared was not deprivation of the things they were used to and the shadow of poverty, but rather the definite death of their rising dreams. But if fear was new-born in the hearts of the Unwise Men, the black man was born in a house of fear; to him poverty of the ugliest and straitest type was father, mother, and blood-brother. He was slipping stealthily northward to escape hunger and insult, the hand of oppression, and the shadow of death.
Here, then, in the wide valley which Father Marquette saw peaceful and golden, lazy with fruit and river, half-asleep beneath the nod of God,—here, then, was staged every element for human tragedy, every element of the modern economic paradox.
This is the stage for the tragedy: the armored might of the modern world urged by the bloody needs of the world wants, fevered today by a fabulous vision of gain and needing only hands, hands, hands! Fear of loss and greed of gain in the hearts of the giants; the clustered cunning of the modern workman, skilled as artificer and skilled in the rhythm of the habit of work, tasting the world’s good and panting for more; fear of poverty and hate of “scabs” in the hearts of the workers; the dumb yearning in the hearts of the oppressed; the echo of laughter heard at the foot of the Pyramids; the faithful, plodding slouch of the laborers; fear of the Shadow of Death in the hearts of black men.
We ask, and perhaps there is no answer, how far may the captain of the world’s industry do his deeds, despite the grinding tragedy of its doing? How far may men fight for the beginning of comfort, out beyond the horrid shadow of poverty, at the cost of starving other and what the world calls lesser men? How far may those who reach up out of the slime that fills the pits of the world’s damned compel men with loaves to divide with men who starve?
The answers to these questions are hard, but yet one answer looms above all,—justice lies with the lowest; the plight of the lowest man,—the plight of the black man—deserves the first answer, and the plight of the giants of industry, the last.
Little cared East St. Louis for all this bandying of human problems, so long as its grocers and saloon-keepers flourished and its industries steamed and screamed and smoked and its bankers grew rich. Stupidity, license, and graft sat enthroned in the City Hall. The new black folk were exploited as cheerfully as white Polacks and Italians; the rent of shacks mounted merrily, the street car lines counted gleeful gains, and the crimes of white men and black men flourished in the dark. The high and skilled and smart climbed on the bent backs of the ignorant; harder the mass of laborers strove to unionize their fellows and to bargain with employers.
Nor were the new blacks fools. They had no love for nothings in labor; they had no wish to make their fellows’ wage envelopes smaller, but they were determined to make their own larger. They, too, were willing to join in the new union movement. But the unions did not want them. Just as employers monopolized meat and steel, so they sought to monopolize labor and beat a giant’s bargain. In the higher trades they succeeded. The best electrician in the city was refused admittance to the union and driven from the town because he was black. No black builder, printer, or machinist could join a union or work in East St. Louis, no matter what his skill or character. But out of the stink of the stockyards and the dust of the aluminum works and the sweat of the lumber yards the willing blacks could not be kept.
They were invited to join unions of the laborers here and they joined. White workers and black workers struck at the aluminum works in the fall and won higher wages and better hours; then again in the spring they struck to make bargaining compulsory for the employer, but this time they fronted new things. The conflagration of war had spread to America; government and court stepped in and ordered no hesitation, no strikes; the work must go on.
Deeper was the call for workers. Black men poured in and red anger flamed in the hearts of the white workers. The anger was against the wielders of the thunderbolts, but here it was impotent because employers stood with the hand of the government before their faces; it was against entrenched union labor, which had risen on the backs of the unskilled and unintelligent and on the backs of those whom for any reason of race or prejudice or chicane they could beat beyond the bars of competition; and finally the anger of the mass of white workers was turned toward these new black interlopers, who seemed to come to spoil their last dream of a great monopoly of common labor.
These angers flamed and the union leaders, fearing their fury and knowing their own guilt, not only in the larger and subtler matter of bidding their way to power across the weakness of their less fortunate fellows, but also conscious of their part in making East St. Louis a miserable town of liquor and lust, leaped quickly toward the gathering thunder from their own heads. The thing they wanted was even at their hands: here were black men, guilty not only of bidding for jobs which white men could have held at war prices, even if they could not fill, but also guilty of being black! It was at this blackness that the unions pointed the accusing finger. It was here that they committed the unpardonable crime. It was here that they entered the Shadow of Hell, where suddenly from a fight for wage and protection against industrial oppression East St. Louis became the center of the oldest and nastiest form of human oppression,—race hatred.
The whole situation lent itself to this terrible transformation. Everything in the history of the United States, from slavery to Sunday supplements, from disfranchisement to residence segregation, from “Jim-Crow” cars to a “Jim-Crow” army draft—all this history of discrimination and insult festered to make men think and willing to think that the venting of their unbridled anger against 12,000,000 humble, upstriving workers was a way of settling the industrial tangle of the ages. It was the logic of the broken plate, which, seared of old across its pattern, cracks never again, save along the old destruction.
So hell flamed in East St. Louis! The white men drove even black union men out of their unions and when the black men, beaten by night and assaulted, flew to arms and shot back at the marauders, five thousand rioters arose and surged like a crested stormwave, from noonday until midnight; they killed and beat and murdered; they dashed out the brains of children and stripped off the clothes of women; they drove victims into the flames and hanged the helpless to the lighting poles. Fathers were killed before the faces of mothers; children were burned; heads were cut off with axes; pregnant women crawled and spawned in dark, wet fields; thieves went through houses and firebrands followed; bodies were thrown from bridges; and rocks and bricks flew through the air.
The Negroes fought. They grappled with the mob like beasts at bay. They drove them back from the thickest cluster of their homes and piled the white dead on the street, but the cunning mob caught the black men between the factories and their homes, where they knew they were armed only with their dinner pails. Firemen, policemen, and militiamen stood with hanging hands or even joined eagerly with the mob.
It was the old world horror come to life again: all that Jews suffered in Spain and Poland; all that peasants suffered in France, and Indians in Calcutta; all that aroused human deviltry had accomplished in ages past they did in East St. Louis, while the rags of six thousand half-naked black men and women fluttered across the bridges of the calm Mississippi.
The white South laughed,—it was infinitely funny—the “niggers” who had gone North to escape slavery and lynching had met the fury of the mob which they had fled. Delegations rushed North from Mississippi and Texas, with suspicious timeliness and with great-hearted offers to take these workers back to a lesser hell. The man from Greensville, Mississippi, who wanted a thousand got six, because, after all, the end was not so simple.
No, the end was not simple. On the contrary, the problem raised by East St. Louis was curiously complex. The ordinary American, tired of the persistence of “the Negro problem,” sees only another anti-Negro mob and wonders, not when we shall settle this problem, but when we shall be well rid of it. The student of social things sees another mile-post in the triumphant march of union labor; he is sorry that blood and rapine should mark its march,—but, what will you? War is life!
Despite these smug reasonings the bare facts were these: East St. Louis, a great industrial center, lost 5,000 laborers,—good, honest, hard-working laborers. It was not the criminals, either black or white, who were driven from East St. Louis. They are still there. They will stay there. But half the honest black laborers were gone. The crippled ranks of industrial organization in the mid-Mississippi Valley cannot be recruited from Ellis Island, because in Europe men are dead and maimed, and restoration, when restoration comes, will raise a European demand for labor such as this age has never seen. The vision of industrial supremacy has come to the giants who lead American industry and finance. But it can never be realized unless the laborers are here to do the work,—the skilled laborers, the common laborers, the willing laborers, the well-paid laborers. The present forces, organized however cunningly, are not large enough to do what America wants; but there is another group of laborers, 12,000,000 strong, the natural heirs, by every logic of justice, to the fruits of America’s industrial advance. They will be used simply because they must be used,—but their using means East St. Louis!
Eastward from St. Louis lie great centers, like Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and New York; in every one of these and in lesser centers there is not only the industrial unrest of war and revolutionized work, but there is the call for workers, the coming of black folk, and the deliberate effort to divert the thoughts of men, and particularly of workingmen, into channels of race hatred against blacks. In every one of these centers what happened in East St. Louis has been attempted, with more or less success. Yet the American Negroes stand today as the greatest strategic group in the world. Their services are indispensable, their temper and character are fine, and their souls have seen a vision more beautiful than any other mass of workers. They may win back culture to the world if their strength can be used with the forces of the world that make for justice and not against the hidden hates that fight for barbarism. For fight they must and fight they will!
Rising on wings we cross again the rivers of St. Louis, winding and threading between the towers of industry that threaten and drown the towers of God. Far, far beyond, we sight the green of fields and hills; but ever below lies the river, blue,—brownish-gray, touched with the hint of hidden gold. Drifting through half-flooded lowlands, with shanties and crops and stunted trees, past struggling corn and straggling village, we rush toward the Battle of the Marne and the West, from this dread Battle of the East. Westward, dear God, the fire of Thy Mad World crimsons our Heaven. Our answering Hell rolls eastward from St. Louis.
Chicago Race Riot
• connects to Red Summer
• connects to W.E.B. DuBois
“Let Us Reason Together” – W.E.B. DuBois
The Crisis 18 (September 1919)
Brothers we are on the Great Deep. We have cast off on the vast voyage which will lead to Freedom or Death.
For three centuries we have suffered and cowered. No race ever gave Passive Resistance and Submission to Evil longer, more piteous trial. Today we raise the terrible weapon of Self-Defense. When the murderer comes, he shall not longer strike us in the back. When the armed lynchers gather, we too must gather armed. When the mob moves, we propose to meet it with bricks and clubs and guns.
But we must tread here with solemn caution. We must never let justifiable self-defense against individuals become blind and lawless offense against all white folk. We must not seek reform by violence. We must not seek Vengeance. Vengeance is Mine,” saith the Lord; or to put it otherwise, only Infinite Justice and Knowledge can assign blame in this poor world, and we ourselves are sinful men, struggling desperately with our own crime and ignorance. We must defend ourselves, our homes, our wives and children against the lawless without stint or hesitation: but we must carefully and scrupulously avoid on our own part bitter and unjustifiable aggression against anybody.
This line is difficult to draw. In the South the Police and Public Opinion back the mob and the least resistance on the part of the innocent black victim is nearly always construed as a lawless attack on society and government. In the North the Police and the Public will dodge and falter, but in the end they will back the Right when the Truth is made clear to them.
But whether the line between just resistance and angry retaliation is hard or easy, we must draw it carefully, not in wild resentment, but in grim and sober consideration: and then back of the impregnable fortress of the Divine Right of Self-Defense, which is sanctioned by every law of God and man, in every land, civilized and uncivilized, we must take our unfaltering stand.
Honor, endless and undying Honor, to every man, black or white, who in Houston, East St. Louis, Washington and Chicago gave his life for Civilization and Order.
If the United States is to be a Land of Law, we would live humbly and peaceably in it—working, singing, learning and dreaming to make it and ourselves nobler and better: if it is to be a Land of Mobs and Lynchers, we might as well die today as tomorrow.
“And how can man die better
“Than facing fearful odds
“For the ashes of his fathers
“And the temples of his gods?”
Tulsa Race Riot / “Black Wall Street”
• connects to Roaring Twenties
THIRD OF FEBRUARY, 1952
THE JOSEPHINE BAKER HOME COMING DAY
It was not until Mr. Woods and Attorney Grant came to Chicago to speak to me about the need of money for our schools that I decided to come . . . My people needed me, that was enough to make me decide.
Ladies and gentlemen believe me when I say that it makes me profoundly happy…it makes my heart swell with pride to see in this beautiful audience tonight, salt and pepper . . . I mean by that colored and white brothers mingling. This brings tears to my eyes and I . . . I want to get on my knees to thank God for letting me see this sight today. Friends and brothers, God is good…powerful . . . understanding. And now I have hope that St. Louis will not be the last city to join in with the other American cities that are so strongly fighting against discrimination for all Americans.
Strange, it seems just like yesterday that I ran away from home, not because I lived in poverty or that I was living in the slums for I have never been ashamed of my childhood surroundings. On the contrary, I have been very proud of my start, because it has made me remain human, and in that way understand my fellow brothers of misery. Friends, did not our Lord Jesus Christ live in poverty? Did he not? Then I believe it a great privilege to have suffered during my childhood.
I ran away from home. I ran away from St. Louis, and then I ran away from the United States of America, because of that terror of discrimination, that horrible beast which paralyzes one’s very soul and body. Those in this audience that felt discrimination know what I am talking about and those who understand human beings understand what I am talking about too.
The hate directed against the colored people here in St. Louis has always given me a sad feeling because when I was a little girl I remember the horror of the East St. Louis race riot. I was very tiny but the horror of the whole thing impressed me so that here today at the age of forty five years I can still see myself standing on the west bank of the Mississippi looking over into East St. Louis and watching the glow of the burning of Negro homes lighting the sky. We children stood huddled together in bewilderment, not being able to understand the horrible madness of mob violence but here we were hiding behind the skirts of grown ups frightened to death with the screams of the Negro families running across this bridge with nothing but what they had on their backs as their worldly belongings. Friends, to me for years St. Louis represented a city of fear…humiliation…misery and terror . . . A city where in the eyes of the white man a Negro should know his place and had better stay in it.
So with this vision I ran and ran and ran. I wanted to find freedom of soul and spirit. I wanted to do things to help freedom come to my people. I was ready to fight, if necessary to obtain it. I wanted to feel that I was a human being and that we were all human beings. I got on my knees asking God, in whom I profoundly believe, to show me the light…to give me the power to help my people…to put me in a position where the sunshine that I bring would serve to enlighten the whites of the existence of colored? people throughout the world in which there are over 600 million. I wanted to get far away from those who believed in cruelty, so then I went to France, a land of true freedom, democracy, equality and fraternity. There my soul was at ease but after a certain time I started to wonder why it was that in St. Louis which, was at one time, a French colony that the colored people of St. Louis have no equal rights . . . wherein Paris we are loved and respected as human beings and both cities where the population is preponderantly white. I tried to understand why this was…I asked various people…sometimes Americans of the white race. Oh, we had interesting conversations on that subject but never were they able to give a plausible reason.
This problem became an incurable disease and between my great triumphs throughout France and Europe I could not feel satisfied. The race situation kept gnawing at my heart, paralyzing my brain . . . I could not stop thinking of the suffering of my people here in America. I was continually unhappy, no one could understand why I should be because at that time I was considered the greatest success in Europe but that glow in the sky of burning houses, the screams, the terror, the tears of the unfortunate children that had lost their parents – this kept coming before me on the stage, in the streets, in my sleep.
I was haunted until I finally understood that I was marked by God to try to fight for the freedom of those that were being tortured. Here tonight I am thinking of our men over there in Korea fighting, dying so that the American flag can wave in pride throughout the world.
These men want to love America which has become their country. They also want to love the white race, but, want to be respected by them. They want their wives, their mothers, children and family to be happy and at ease here in America while they are giving their blood over there. My people have a country of their own to go to if they choose . . . Africa…but, this America belongs to them just as much as it does to any of the white race . . . in some ways even more so, because they gave the sweat of their brow and their blood in slavery so that many parts of America could become prosperous and recognized in the world. I must admit they are right, this land does belong to them as much as it belongs to anyone apart from the real Americans which are the Indians, and who poor souls are having a hard time because they have no right to their country.
I believe if the white and colored people could get together and be let alone, they would understand each other and consequently love each other. There is good and bad in every race, no man in any race is perfect. But it grieves me to know that St. Louis is among some of the cities of North America that practice discrimination…St. Louis, the city which a Negro, Mr. W. C. Handy helped to make famous throughout the world, and where a few months ago he came to do a charity benefit, only to be refused accommodations in a white hotel. Not that it is so important to be in a white hotel, but, Americans of all races should have the right to go where they please. I remember when Lindbergh arrived in Paris, I was one of the first persons to know about his landing, because as the French people know that I was born in St. Louis, thinking I would be very proud to announce it to the public, they gave me the news first. I was then starring in the Folies Bergere. I was told to announce the great news to the public, which I did…the show stopped.
I forgot that Lindbergh was a white man and that he came from St. Louis and might not have liked Negroes. I only remembered that he was an American and that he had done something great for the progress of the world. This happened at the height of the American tourist season in Paris. There were fifty percent of Americans in the audience.
My heart almost burst with pride and joy, both the American and French people were delirious with happiness. This celebration went on all night. My joy had no bounds. I kept thinking, he is an American from St. Louis. Paris was going mad with joy.
Friends of mine invited me to one of the most fashionable restaurants in Paris at that time. The word had got around, both Lindbergh and America were on the tongues of every person…this was indeed a great victory for America. The room was packed with people and all around us champagne corks were popping. Everybody was drinking to the health of Lindbergh from St. Louis and America, when all of a sudden a clear and loud voice sounded . . . A white couple called the head waiter and told him not to serve me because in America this is not done . . . at home they said a nigger woman belongs in the kitchen.
This brought a great silence in the restaurant. I felt that if the floor could have opened and swallowed me this would be a blessing. The manager, on hearing the disturbance from the white couple came over to find out what was going on, and the white woman said: I have never sat beside a nigger in my life . . . I never will. In reply the manager reminded them that they were in France where human beings were equal and I was in my country, and if they wanted to leave he could give them their bill. He also let it be known to the other American guests present that it was a shame that the North Americans believed that their almighty dollar could rule the world.
Americans, the eyes of the world are upon you. How can you expect the world to believe in you and respect your preaching of democracy when you yourself treat your colored brothers as you do? The south will never, never be able to live down the shame of the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Moore recently in Florida.
People are dying so that you will be able to live in peace. Try to understand and love each other before it is too late. Don’t let the same thing happen to America through hate and misunderstanding that happened to Germany . . . Believe that it can happen . . . It would be a shame for good thinking members of the white race to suffer for the bad. God dislikes evil and no happiness can be built on hate. Love one another as brothers. God said that you should make this country a good and powerful one, where our forefathers came with hope. Let us stop saying white Americans and colored Americans, let us try once and for all saying…Americans. Let human beings be equal on earth as in heaven. I thank you for coming tonight . . . May God bless you.
Source: UMSL Black History Project (1980 – 1983)
Western Historical Manuscript Collection
Note: Below this text are images of postcards depicting lynchings. If you do not wish to see such images, don’t scroll down below the following two paragraphs.
“They’re selling postcards of the hanging . . . ”
–– Bob Dylan
A frequent aspect the race riots was the production of post cards. Sometimes these were “real photo” post cards, in which original photographs were used on postcards; in other cases, and less frequently, printed editions were published.
At the time postcards depicting lynching were made, many did not see them as depicting a heinous crime but as glorifying justice served. While this view is based on the tradition of Lynch Laws that allowed the administration of justice without resorting to the inefficiencies of the legal system, it most often functioned as the ritual murder of Blacks, especially by hanging, to maintain white supremacy through the use of terrorism. Between 1882 and 1968, newspapers alone reported on 4743 cases of lynching in the United States. A lynching was usually a festive community activity that attracted local photographers. They in turn would try to produce as many real photo postcards of the event as possible with attendees posing with the mutilated body so they could be sold as souvenirs while still fresh in people’s minds. Though some of these images eventually made their way on to printed cards the vast majority issued were as real photos. Even though President Teddy Roosevelt began making public anti lynching statements in 1903 little could be done as the efforts of those denied political and social equity only went so far in the Jim Crow South. In 1912 they managed to get Congress to officially prohibit postcards depicting lynching from being mailed, though they refused to make the act itself a federal crime. There would not be a conviction for a lynching until 1946.
The above postcard includes the following poem:
This is only the branch of a Dogwood tree; An emblem of WHITE SUPREMACY.
A lesson once taught in the Pioneer’s school, That this is a land of WHITE MAN’S RULE.
The Red Man once in an early day, Was told by the Whites to mend his way.
The negro, now, by eternal grace, Must learn to stay in the negro’s place.
In the Sunny South, the Land of the Free, Let the WHITE SUPREME forever be.
Let this a warning to all negroes be, Or they’ll suffer the fate of the DOGWOOD TREE.