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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [[Image]] CLERK | FOSS | RAKER | CHAIRMAN JOHNSON | COOPER | FOSTER OFFICIAL REPORTER THE CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION OF EAST ST. LOUIS By LINDSEY COOPER, Special Representative of THE CRISIS. THE committee appointed by Congress to investigate the East St. Louis riots met in East St. Louis, October 18, 1917. It was composed of Representatives Ben Johnson, of Kentucky; Martin D. Foster, of Illinois; and John D. Raker, of California. Witnesses were heard from all classes. Many came voluntarily to tell what they knew of the rioting. Others were subpoenaed. Every side of the East St. Louis business men, Negroes from all walks of life, professional men, policemen, and day laborers, civil and military authorities-all appeared before the inquiry committee. The primary business of the committee was to ascertain whether or not the laws of interstate commerce were broken, or interstate travel interfered with by the rioting of May and July. Having established these facts, it was then at liberty to push the inquiry into details of labor and race conflict. In view of this provision, the first witnesses called before the committee were those parties whose business was of a nature such as to experience interference in a case of the interstate violation. The heads of the large East St. Louis industries, the traffic manager of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, and the manager of the East St. Louis Relay Depot testified to the fact that commercial traffic and personal travel had been interfered with by the rioting. Each of these witnesses told the committee what he knew of the rioting, in addition to detailing the effect the conditions had upon individual business. It was [[Page number]] 116 [[/Page number]] [[Next page]] N. A. A. C. P. [[Page number]] 117 [[/Page number]] learned that in a number of instances contracts with the Federal Government had been delayed because of shortage of labor, due to the Negroes having been so thoroughly intimidated by the rioting as to be unwilling to return to the city. One manufacturer stated that he had offered his colored men higher wages than they had ever received before if they would return, but that he was unable to get them to do so. In those cases where they did come back to the city to work, they insisted on retaining St. Louis as their place of residence and demanded that they be released from work an hour sooner than customary, in order that they might be out of East St. Louis before dark. It was one of these witnesses, Charles Roger, of the J. C. Grant Chemical Company, who first told the committee of the shooting of Negroes by the soldiers. Upon being asked by the committee if he had seen any soldiers on the day of July 2, Mr. Roger replied that he had. Inquiry was made as to what the soldiers were doing. Mr. Roger replied: "Shooting Negroes." He then related that he with several others was standing at a window of his plant when a soldier came out of a near-by door. A crowd was in the street below and a group of Negroes was standing not far away. The soldier was armed. Someone in the crowd taunted him, saying: "You can't shoot!" The soldier replied: "Like hell I can't!" and, raising his rifle, fired into the group of unmolesting Negroes. One of the Negroes fell. The story of the race riots as revealed through the mass of evidence procured by the investigating committee is almost the history of East St. Louis itself. Twenty years after the establishment of the city, she had the reputation of being a centre of lawlessness. Conditions seem not to have improved since that time. Although the seat of immense money-making industries, East St. Louis has been forced to support herself by means of saloon licenses. The population of the city is 75,000. At the time of the July riots she maintained, or was maintained by, 376 saloons. Over thirty of these have been closed since the July riots. Barrel-houses, gambling resorts, and dives of all descriptions were allowed open operation in the city. While some of these places have been closed, others may continue to exist. Situated on the Mississippi River, and the terminal of twenty-eight main lines of railroad, it is only natural that East St. Louis should attract a large floating population. Such a population requires the most efficient government. East St. Louis has had the worst. The immense plants of Swift, Armour, and Morris are not technically located in East St. Louis and pay no tax to the city. They were originally established just outside the city limits. Upon being threatened with absorption by the neighboring town of Lansdowne, they procured a charter from the State of Illinois and became incorporated as a village. This village is called National City, and in addition to the great plants named includes the National Stockyards, owned by Morris and Company. The territory covered by National City is not more than two miles square and includes not more than thirty-two residence houses. The heads of the great plants live in St. Louis, and the majority of the laboring men in East St. Louis. The result is that National City bears the distinction of being the richest municipality per capita in the world. While her population is only two hundred, the property included within her limits has an aggregate value of not less than $10,000,000. These plants maintain open shop, and since the strikes of 1916, the majority of their employees have been Negroes. An immense industry of East St. Louis, which is not the National City, is the Aluminum Ore Works, a subsidiary branch of the Aluminum Ore Company of America popularly known as the Aluminum Trust. The plant of the Aluminum Ore Works in East St. Louis is valued at over a million dollars. The Aluminum Ore Company of America was capitalized at $20,000,000 and now has an investment of $80,000,000. It would seem that the seat of such industries would be able to maintain a properly paid police force and would be, at least, comfortably independent as to funds wherewith to meet her community responsibilities. Yet such has not been the case. East St. Louis has had to depend on the proceeds of her saloon licenses, and her government has been so corrupt that they entire truth of its viciousness will probably never be revealed. It is necessary to understand these conditions in order to grasp the truth of the Negro's situation in the city. Dating from the packing house strikes of 1916, and continuing through the Aluminum Ore strikes of October 1916 and
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