On May 28, 1917, in East St. Louis, Illinois, a meeting of 3000 white union members marched on the Mayor’s office to make demands about the job competition resulting from the city’s growing African American population. The disgruntled union members were upset that African Americans who had migrated from the South were being hired by companies who wanted to weaken the bargaining power of white unions. The large group quickly devolved into an angry mob, and rioted through the streets of East St. Louis, destroying property and physically assaulting African Americans at random.
Local law enforcement was unable to control the large crowd and the National Guard was deployed to regain order in the community. After the riots were calmed, little action was taken to prevent the violence from restarting and none of the union’s participants were arrested. New agreements were not established with white unions and local police were not better equipped to handle large mobs.
The National Guard withdrew in mid-June despite the fact that racial tensions in the city remained high. In July, attacks began again; this time they lasted for four days and resulted in the deaths of more than 100 African Americans. Another 6000 were forced to flee their homes to escape the violence.