Live-Tweeting the East St. Louis Race Riot of 1917

Front page of the St. Louis Argus newspaper on July 6, 1917.Front page of The St. Louis Argus, July 6, 1917. Image courtesy of The St. Louis Argus.

In less than 48 hours—from the evening of July 1, 1917, to midday on July 3, 1917—East St. Louis descended into one of the deadliest race riots in U.S. history. As many as 200 African Americans were killed, hundreds more were left homeless, and large sections of the city were ruined. The national response ranks among the foundational moments of the modern civil rights movement, but like much so of our region’s civil rights history, the East St. Louis race riot's legacy has faded outside of museums and history textbooks.

Color photo of boxes containing the East St. Louis race riot investigation transcriptsA copy of the transcripts from Congress’s investigation of the 1917 East St. Louis race riot can be found at the Missouri History Museum’s Library and Research Center.

On the surface, the riot’s troubling story can be difficult to understand. But unlike many other outbursts of violence in the early 20th century, we have a doorway of insight thanks to a congressional committee that investigated the East St. Louis riot. Over a four-week period in October 1917, the committee questioned more than a hundred witnesses, including riot victims, police officers, business owners, journalists, and even the mayor.

The Missouri History Museum has used these testimonies to create a timeline for the riot and provide a sense of how decisions—or the lack of them—changed the fate of East St. Louis. We'll commemorate the centennial of this nationally significant story by “live-tweeting” the hour-by-hour events of the 1917 race riot from July 1 through July 3, using #ESTLRiot100. These tweets will allow you to experience the riot’s happenings via the words and perspectives of people who saw them unfold, exploring this tragic piece of regional history in a uniquely 21st-century way. We'll also share modern-day images of places of significance during the riot. Although many of the buildings are gone now and streets have long since changed, these images of East St. Louis in 2017 will help orient you throughout the three days of events from a century ago.

For a deeper dive, consider clicking through to the following articles. The first unpacks the circumstances that led to the riot, the second outlines the events of July 2, and the third explores the national reaction as Americans discovered the shocking news.

—Andrew Wanko, Public Historian

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