As the sun began to sink in the sky on July 2, 1917, scores of African-Americans realized that their only choice might be to leave East St. Louis.
They streamed over the Municipal Bridge, the Eads Bridge, and along the roads headed out of town. Some, like the Kennedy family, took to the water, fashioning a quick raft out of the wreckage of downtown buildings.
Samuel Kennedy, a seven year old boy, recalled floating across the river on such a raft, looking back at the wall of smoke and fire on the eastern shore. His hometown was engulfed in smoke and flames.
They had become refugees in their own land.
Late in the evening of July 2nd, the Illinois National Guard finally received orders to round up rioters and clear the streets. When another raging mob attempted to hang a black man at 4th and Broadway, the guardsmen arrested the men and marched them to City Hall to be detained.
This show of authority quickly dispersed the mobs. Peace once again began to creep over the streets of East St. Louis.
This show of force, however, was much too little and much too late. By the evening of July 2nd, scores of black East St. Louisans had been killed. Even more had fled the city, some never to return.
As July 3rd was on its way, the world was about to learn about the violence in East St. Louis. The reaction that began on that day echoes down to us today.
(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)