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This Month in History: NAACP Silent Harlem March


“In response to a deadly massacre of African-Americans in East St. Louis, Illinois, and a spate of lynchings in Waco, Texas, a coalition of Black civic and religious groups organized a silent march in Harlem on July 28, 1917.

As many as 8,000 African-Americans marched silently from Harlem, down Fifth Avenue to the sound of drums, carrying picket signs with the messages; “Mother, do lynchers go to heaven?” “Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?” “Thou shalt not kill.” “Pray for the Lady Macbeths of East St. Louis.” “Give us a chance to live.”

In East St. Louis, the city erupted into one of the country’s most violent race riots when whites, already incensed because African-Americans were employed by a factory holding government contracts, reacted to a rumor that a Black man killed a white man. For more than a week, Blacks in the city were subject to drive-by shootings, beatings and arsons, leaving hundreds dead and causing more than 6,000 Black residents to flee the city.

In 2012, opponents of New York City’s brand of stop-and-frisk policing invoked the spirit of the 1917 march as thousands marched in silence down Fifth Avenue to protest the policy.


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