Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement [NOOK Book]


In the 1910s, half a million African Americans moved from the
impoverished rural South to booming industrial cities of the North in
search of jobs and freedom from Jim Crow laws. But Northern whites
responded with rage, attacking blacks ...

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Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

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In the 1910s, half a million African Americans moved from the
impoverished rural South to booming industrial cities of the North in
search of jobs and freedom from Jim Crow laws. But Northern whites
responded with rage, attacking blacks in the streets and laying waste to
black neighborhoods in a horrific series of deadly race riots that
broke out in dozens of cities across the nation, including Philadelphia,
Chicago, Tulsa, Houston, and Washington, D.C. In East St. Louis,
Illinois, corrupt city officials and industrialists had openly courted
Southern blacks, luring them North to replace striking white laborers.
This tinderbox erupted on July 2, 1917 into what would become one of the
bloodiest American riots of the World War era. Its impact was enormous.
"There has never been a time when the riot was not alive in the oral
tradition," remarks Professor Eugene Redmond. Indeed, prominent blacks
like W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Josephine Baker were forever
influenced by it.

Celebrated St. Louis journalist Harper Barnes
has written the first full account of this dramatic turning point in
American history, decisively placing it in the continuum of racial
tensions flowing from Reconstruction and as a catalyst of civil rights
action in the decades to come. Drawing from accounts and sources never
before utilized, Harper Barnes has crafted a compelling and definitive
story that enshrines the riot as an historical rallying cry for all who
deplore racial violence.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With this account of the East St. Louis, Ill., race riot, "the deadliest of a series of devastating racial battles that swept through American cities in the World War I era," Barnes (Blue Monday) chronicles one of the devastating assaults on African- American communities across the nation that culminated in the Red Summer of 1919. Barnes's account of the 1917 riot is a tale of labor unrest as blacks were used as strikebreakers, of the power of rumor, of corrupt local politics, of the ineffective (when not complicit) response of police power (local and military) and of sickening savagery. Barnes is attentive to the role of the press, citing both the national and black press, but he focuses most sharply upon two St. LouisPost-Dispatchfigures, Paul Y. Anderson and Carlos Hurd. Between their dispatches and the "military and congressional hearings in the aftermath of the riot," Barnes offers a nearly block-by-block, minute-by-minute account, solid in reportage, pedestrian in the telling, useful to students of American and African-American history and accessible to the general reader. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Barnes (Blue Monday), a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writes of the truly senseless race riots that took place in East St. Louis, IL, in the summer of 1917, resulting in the deaths of nearly 100 people and the burning of over 200 buildings. The riots were the tragic legacy of slavery, Reconstruction, and its aftermath-compounded by circumstances of organized labor, strikes, business competition, and municipal corruption. Rioting white union members focused not on those circumstances but singled out victims on the basis of skin color. Mobs of African Americans reacted violently in self-defense. Judicial inquires in the aftermath placed blame on local businesses and union agitation. Local police and the Illinois militia were complicit and were shown to have actually spurred on violence toward those they were charged to protect. The legacy of these events is evident in the city to this day, yet among much blight there are pockets of sustained rebuilding and a community not without hope. Malcolm McLaughlin's Power, Community, and Racial Killing in East St. Louis is a dryer, more scholarly treatment than Barnes's, with more tables, maps, and citations. Barnes offers an essentially populist account, crafted with an eye on newspaper reporting and municipal politics. It is most fitting for public and undergraduate library collections.
—Jim Hahn

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

Barnes does a fabulous job of providing the broad cultural context of the violence that took place in East St. Louis, IL, in 1917, exploring both what led up to it and how it became a symbolic rallying cry for civil rights activists. The city was one of the main migration points for Southern blacks searching for jobs and equality during an era when labor unions were organizing and workers were striking for employee rights; many companies took advantage of African Americans willing to work for less money by using them to cross picket lines. Spurred by job loss and old racism, the white population blamed the black residents for their problems, both real and imagined. Violence erupted between the two groups, culminating in coordinated lynching that ended with the murder of at least 150 black residents. It becomes clear, however, that racism was not just a local issue, as evidenced by the strong anti-black coverage in leading newspapers, actions by leaders as high up as Woodrow Wilson, and other riots across the nation. Key features of the volume include photographs of the major political players of the time and a detailed bibliography. Based on key academic sources and original research, this is a work of strong scholarship. But just as important, Barnes's journalistic style brings this nearly forgotten tragedy of U.S. history to a wide audience in an accessible and meaningful way.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA

Kirkus Reviews
St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Barnes (Standing on a Volcano: The Life and Times of David Rowland Francis, 2001, etc.) recreates the deadliest racial melee in American history until the Rodney King riots. The author deftly sets the stage with a brief history of racial tensions in the United States. Her chronicle of the riot that gripped East St. Louis, Ill., on July 2, 1917, relies heavily upon the contemporaneous research of W.E.B. Du Bois, newspaper reports and court documents. East St. Louis was a transit hub for Southern African-Americans as they began their migration to the North in the wake of the Civil War, seeking economic opportunity and social freedom. Many opted to settle in the industrial city, heightening competition for jobs that led to several racial skirmishes early that spring. Total anarchy erupted on the morning of July 2 after the murder of a policeman. Bloodthirsty white mobs stormed black neighborhoods, seeking revenge as they burned, beat and shot indiscriminately. The bloodletting left at least 48 dead with hundreds more injured, thousands displaced and more than 300 businesses and homes consumed by fire. The incident drew unprecedented national outrage: A flood of activists arrived on the scene, while thousands descended upon New York to participate in The Silent Parade, the country's first civil-rights march. Barnes's straightforward prose delivers richly textured portraits of those caught up in the fracas, most notably in the chapter entitled "A Drama of Death," which stitches together eyewitness accounts of the riots. A highly engaging subplot follows Post-Dispatch journalist Paul Y. Anderson, who landed on the battle's front lines as he struggled to compilereports throughout the day. The final chapter, though an interesting profile of the city's luminaries, seems an afterthought attempting to brighten an overwhelmingly dark period in East St. Louis's past. Authoritative account of a criminally overlooked incident in American history. Agent: Matthew Carnicelli/Carnicelli Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802779748
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 423,530
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Harper Barnes worked in St. Louis for more than 25 years as a reporter, editor, and critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Atlantic Monthly, and Rolling Stone. A former editor of the Boston Phoenix, he is the author of Blue Monday and Standing On A Volcano.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: A History of Violence     1
Brotherly Love     5
Reconstruction and Redemption: From Hope to Despair     19
A Harvest of Disaster     41
East St. Louis and the Great Exodus     54
A Nest of Crime and Corruption     71
The May Riot     83
Shots in the Dark     106
The July Riot Begins     123
"This Was the Apocalypse"     138
A Drama of Death     149
Legacy of a Massacre     169
Judgment Days     201
The Deal with the Devil     223
Epilogue: The East St. Louis Blues     237
Acknowledgments     249
Notes     251
Bibliography     267
Photo Credits     275
Index     277
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