Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Silent Protest Parade July 28, 1917

Silent Protest parade on Fifth Avenue, New York City, July 28, 1917, in response to the East St. Louis race riot. In front row are James Weldon Johnson [far right], W. E. B. DuBois [2nd from right], Rev. Hutchens Chew Bishop, rector of St. Philip's Episcopal Church [Harlem] and realtor John E. Nail.]

JULY 29th, 1917

Ten Thousand African Americans March in New York City to Protest Racial Violence

On July 29, 1917, prominent news sources reported that nearly 10,000 African American men, women, and children had staged a silent march down Fifth Avenue in New York City the previous day. In what is considered one of the first public demonstrations by African Americans in the 20th century, the NAACP mobilized thousands of members of the black community in the New York “Silent March” or “The Negro Silent Protest Parade.”
Formulated by James Weldon Johnson, this march was intended to be a public response and criticism of the racial violence that had been committed against African American communities in the United States that summer, particularly in the East St. Louise riots. Threatened by a growing African American labor force, a group of white men gathered in the downtown area of East St. Louis in May 1917 and began attacking and beating unsuspecting African Americans to death. That July, an armed white mob drove into black residential areas and opened fire on men, women, and children; when black residents shot back and accidentally killed a police officer, riots erupted. Whites flooded the black community, shooting black residents as they fled, lynching black people from street lamps, and burning black homes and businesses to the ground.
The thousands of marchers in New York City were also spurred to action by the racially-motivated murder of 17-year-old Jesse Washington, who was lynched, burned, and dismembered by a white mob in front of the Waco, Texas, City Hall on May 15, 1916.
The silent marchers communicated their frustration to the nation by holding signs and banners, but without speaking one word. Children led the march wearing white, followed by prominent NAACP members like W.E.B du Bois and a banner that read “Your Hands Are Full of Blood.” The American flag was also carried as a reminder of the democratic ideals that failed to protect African Americans. This march launched the NAACP's public campaign against lynching and racial violence.

Down  Fifth Avenue

They   piled  them  tier   by  tier  while   the  crowd   in  silence watched   them.
And  as  the  pile  rose and  spread,  to  many  it  seemed
Like  the red .blood of Russia welling  from  a mortal  wound. And  some  saw  red  fagots  of  freedom  rising  and  kindling
 fire  that  would  warm  all  the  world. But  no  man  there  could  tell  the  truth   of  it.

The   crowd  makes  way  for  them.
The mob of motors-women in  motors footmen  in  motors, Manhattan's  transients   in  motors,  life's   transients   in motors-has cleared  and  disappeared.
And   their   mothers   and ·their   children,   their   wives,  their lovers  and   friends,   are  lining   the  curb   and   knitting and  whispering.
The flags are  floating  and  beckoning  to  them,  the  breezes
are   beckoning   and   whispering   their   secrets,
That the  city  has  hushed  to  hear,  while  trade  and  trivial things  give  place.

And  through   the  crowd,  that  holds  its  breath   too  long,  a restless stir  like  the starting of troubled  breathing  says, "They are  coming."    And  the  distant   beat  of  feet  begins
to  blend  with  the  beat  of  laboring  hearts;
 And  the  emptiness  that  missed   beat  in  the  heart   of  the city   becomes  the   street   of  a   prayer   and   a   passion.
This  is a street  of  mothers  and  their  sons-for an  hour  in the  life  of  Manhattan.
And  today  makes  way  for  them.

The past  makes  way  for  them.
This morning's  discontent yesterday's  greed, last year's uncertainty,  are  muted   and   transmuted  to   surging urge  to  victory.
Spirits  that  stood  at  Bunker  Hill  and  Valley  Forge,  Ticon­
deroga,    Yorktown,      Lundy's   Lane,     Fort   Sumter, Appomatox are  resurrected   here;
With  older  fathers   and  mothers  who  farmed,   and  pushed frontiers   and  homes  for  freedom  westward   steadily;
With  freedom's   first   grandfathers  and   forerunners,   whu grew   to  hold   hill   towers   and   forest   fastnesses and range   the  sea  and   all   its  shores  and  islands  for   the right  to live  for  liberty.
And   their  blood  beats  in  these  boy hearts,  and   their  hill­
bred and  sea-bred strength is stirring in  these feet  that beat  their   measured   cadences  of  courage.

For  now  the  tide  is  turning eastward   at  last.
And   the  sound  of  the  fall  of  their  feet  on  the  asphalt   IS the sound  of  the· march  of  the  waves  of  a  tide  that  IS flooding-
Waves  that  marched  to  the  western  coast  past  forests  and plains,  mountains  and  deserts,  and  wrought   their  work in   world  gone  by.
 And  the  ripple  of  the  ranks  of  these  regiments  that  march to  suffer  and  to  die,  is  the  ripple  of   great   brown river  in  floodthat  forges  seaward;
And  the  ripple  of the light  on eyes and  lips that  watch  and work,   is  the  swelling   of   greater   flood  that   forces them  to go.
And  the  ripple  and  arrest  of light  on  dull  gun-barrels   that
crest  their   flow  are  runes  of   ritual   spelled  in  steel and  a service  enduring.
And  each  beat  of  their  feet  and  each  beat  of  their  hearts is   word   in   gospel  of  steel  that   says  the  nations through   ruins grow  one  again ;
When  God's  drill-master War  has welded  nations  in  ranks
that  their  children   may  serve  Him   together. 
For   tomorrow   makes  way  for  them.

John  Curtis  Underwood

Down  Fifth Avenue
Author(s): John  Curtis Underwood
Source: Poetry Vol. 12,  No. 3 (Jun., 1918), 
Published by:  Poetry Foundation

A report on the East St. Louis Riot

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