BLACK EAST ST. LOUIS: POLITICS AND ECONOMY IN A BORDER CITY, 1860-1945

Open Access
Author:
Lumpkins, Charles L
Graduate Program:
History
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
November 14, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, Committee Chair
  • Daniel L Letwin, Committee Member
  • Alan V Derickson, Committee Member
  • Robyn C Spencer, Committee Member
  • Lovalerie King, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • African Americans
  • industrial city
  • race riots
  • political actions
  • political activism
  • political machines
  • Illinois
  • black politics
Abstract:
This dissertation, covering from the 1860s to 1945, is the first study to center African Americans in the history of the politics and economy of the small industrial, majority white city of East St. Louis, Illinois. This investigation adds to the literature the border region concept, black people’s pivotal relation to real estate politician-businessmen whose politics and economic policies proved disastrous to city residents, and the importance of patronage and black machine politics. It examines the African American urban experience in context of continuous waves of black migrations, urbanization, industrialization, progressive era politics, the Great Depression, and the World Wars. Though black East St. Louisans, between the 1890s and the 1920s, encountered increasing segregation, discrimination, and racial violence, they experienced, not a nadir, but much ferment, building a rich institutional culture, entering the urban industrial economy in significant numbers, undergoing class differentiation, and engaging in a wide range of political and social actions, including electoral politics to secure patronage and win political seats in city and county governments. Black townspeople saw their nascent independent black political machine, but not their community, destroyed during the infamous 1917 “race riots,” which until this dissertation had been the sole topic of black history in pre-World War II East St. Louis. Black residents continued with their political and social actions after the riots, but in a more sharply segregated environment. Black East St. Louisans reentered city affairs, but only as junior partners when shifts in the national economy and politics occurred during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Research employs primary source materials in local, regional, and national archives and libraries and, to a lesser extent, secondary literature and oral history. This study concludes that black politics became acceptable to local white power holders when it no longer advanced independence from white political machines.