Updated: Oct 19, 2020
2020 marks the 103rd year commemoration of the East St. Louis Race Riots. The impact upon residents of East St. Louis and St. Louisans is still being felt. The families, their descendants and hundreds of supporters lined the Eads Bridge to commemorate the July 2nd date several years ago. Enjoy the reprint of the 100th Year Commemoration:
EAST ST. LOUIS • The bridge between the line between Missouri and Illinois on the Eads Bridge, two mayors and a few hundred people honored the lives of the men, women and children who died 100 years ago trying to flee race-related riots in East St. Louis.
They walked there in the 90-degree heat Sunday evening. It wasn’t a parade — that sounds too light. And it wasn’t a march — too heavy. It was a processional, an organizer told the crowd. It was a chance to honor the lives of the up to 250 people, according to some accounts, who died in the East St. Louis riots 100 years ago. They walked from the East St. Louis Community College Center to the state line on the bridge.
At least 7,000 African-Americans fled across the Eads and MacArthur bridges to St. Louis to escape the violence. The grandmother of St. Louis Alderman Terry Kennedy is among those who successfully crossed the river, along with her nine children, including Kennedy’s father.
He shared a piece of his family’s plight,
including the four-hour journey across the Mississippi River on a makeshift raft. By the time they tried to cross, the bridges were blocked.
“We’re here to make sure a history that’s been hidden too long isn’t hidden anymore,” Kennedy told the crowd. Walking to the river on July 2 each year is a 20-year tradition for Kennedy’s family.
During the processional, two East St. Louis police officers shared stories their grandparents once shared with them about seeing blood flow down the streets and people running for safety past a man who had been hanged.
It was as much of an educational experience for the dozens of children walking with their parents and grandparents as it was a reflection opportunity for those who are two or fewer generations removed from the riots.
After helping carry a wreath across the bridge toward the end of the processional, East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson reflected on the violence.
“The history of East St. Louis speaks to many issues we still face today,” Jackson-Hicks said, pointing to systemic racism and other injustices that she said disproportionately affect African-Americans. “Our work must continue.” It’s about staying accountable to the those who died 100 years ago, and those who have died since because of the color of their skin.