Metro-east leaders and community members gathered Friday morning outside the courthouse in Belleville for “A Day of Honor” to kick off a weekend commemoration of the East St. Louis Race Riots’ 100th anniversary.
The event included a list of guest speakers and an honorary lowering of the St. Clair County flag.
Retired St. Clair County Judge Milton Wharton led the hourlong program, which featured speakers, including Chief Judge Andrew Gleason, U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle, State’s Attorney Brendon Kelly, the Rev. Joseph Brown and East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks.
“We stand here now, grateful to be called ... to remember, to understand, to change the world we live in,” said Brown, who is chairman of the East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission and Cultural Initiative.
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The riots erupted July 2, 1917, when 400 black workers replaced white workers on strike against the Aluminum Ore Company. Historians have described the riot as one of the bloodiest in American history.
Jackson-Hicks noted the social issues that led to the 1917 riots are still present today.
“The history of the race riots in East St. Louis were from many issues that we still struggle with today,” the mayor said. “Racial inequalities, systemic racism ingrained in the fiber of our society — social, political and economic injustices that we still face today — all speak to the work that we have as leaders of a community.”
Kelly spoke about economic disruption, violence against journalism and the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy. He likened it to today’s social landscape and said the community must choose to act productively and work to reverse the social ills that plague society’s disadvantaged.
“Are the riots of 1917 a vision of the past or a vision of our future? The choice is ours,” Kelly said.
Boy Scouts presented the flags, and Lil’ Ralph sang the National Anthem.
Weekend commemorative events
- 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday — “A Day of Remembrance” with speakers, exhibits, documentary previews, poetry, music, dance, theater, refreshments and a youth luncheon with the Bow Tie Boys at SIUE East St. Louis Center, Building D, 601 James Thompson Boulevard.
- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday — “A Day of Reconciliation” with a worship service at Truelight Baptist Church, 1535 Tudor Ave. in East St. Louis.
- 2-3 p.m. Sunday — 1917 Centennial Monument site blessing with speakers, singing, prayer, poetry and libation at East Riverfront MetroLink station, 100 S. Front St., near the Eads Bridge entrance (park at Casino Queen).
- 4:30 p.m. Sunday — “The Gathering: East St. Louis Born Again” with speakers, including author Harper Barnes; spiritual readings, poetry, dance and libation at SIUE East St. Louis Center, 601 James Thompson Boulevard, between Building A and Obama Boulevard.
- 6:30 p.m. Sunday — Procession patterned after 1917 “silent” New York City protest with drumming only; leaving from SIUE East St. Louis Center, going north on Obama Boulevard and left on Park and continuing to the middle of the Eads Bridge (those unable to walk can join at east entrance).
- About 7:30 p.m. Sunday — Commemorative program on bridge with East St. Louis and St. Louis mayoral proclamations, singing, a wreath drop to honor riot victims and release of sky lanterns (program at East St. Louis City Hall in case of rain).