By 10:00 A.M. on July 2, 1917, the crowd surrounding the burned out police car at 10th and Bond grew more agitated. Cries went up from the crowd to avenge the two police officers who had been attacked.
A reporter from the Post-Dispatch reported that the crowd roiled with violent sentiments, calling on all blacks to be “wiped out.”
This was it. This was the tipping point. There was no reason left in the world for this angry mob.
Within fifteen minutes, the first black East St. Louisan lie dead in the streets.
Rampaging mobs descended on any African-American in the street. On Collinsville Avenue, the marauding mobs halted streetcars, dragging black passengers into the street and beating them to death.
Along the infamous Whiskey Chute leading to the National Stockyards, white prostitutes ganged up on black women in the area.
Buildings in downtown and the predominantly African-American South End were looted and then set alight. The sky darkened with the acrid smoke billowing from these destroyed buildings.
With the city descending into chaos, Mayor Mollman and Col. Tripp, the National Guard Commander, were nowhere to be found. They were locked away in City Hall meeting room, debating whether to declare martial law. They decided against it, but took no further steps to quell the violence.
Mollman went to his office and Col. Tripp went to lunch, sitting down to eat as death and fear reigned in the streets outside. His troops, who had come from Springfield earlier in the day, stood idly by as people were shot, beaten, and burned.
The violence raged unchecked into the afternoon and early evening. The two people with any authority to do something about it chose to stand by and do nothing.
East St. Louis was destroying itself and its citizens could only plumb the recesses of their worst fears in considering what the rest of the day might bring.
(Author’s note: A version of this story appeared on the Facebook page of the St. Clair County Historical Society, http://www.facebook.com/stcchs)