On July 28, 1917, 10,000 African American men, women, and children marched in silence through the streets of New York City to protest lynching in America. 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 “Negro Silent Protest Parade” down Fifth Avenue.
Formulated by James Weldon Johnson, the silent march was intended to be a public response and criticism of lynching and racial violence committed against African American communities in the United States. Earlier that summer, violence in East St. Louis, Illinois, killed many African Americans and devastated the Black community. 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. That July, an armed white mob drove into Black residential areas and opened fire on men, women, and children; when Black residents shot back, a police officer was killed, triggering more violence. Armed white mobs flooded the Black community, shooting Black residents as they fled, hanging Black people from street lamps, and burning Black homes and businesses to the ground.
The thousands of marchers in New York City also were spurred to action by the racial terror lynching of 17-year-old Jesse Washington, who was hanged, burned, and dismembered by a white mob in front of City Hall in Waco, Texas, on May 15, 1916.
#OnThisDay in 1917 ten thousand African Americans marched down Fifth Avenue, New York City, in silent parade protesting lynchings and racial indignities. The march, called the “Negro Silent Protest Parade,” was one of the country’s first mass protests against racial violence. pic.twitter.com/EBhgt1lH8N— BCRI (@bhamcivilrights) July 28, 2020
The silent marchers communicated their frustration to the nation by holding signs and banners, but did not speak 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 carried as a reminder of the democratic ideals that failed to protect African Americans. The march launched the NAACP’s public campaign against lynching and racial violence.
It’s been decades of protests against racism, how long before it consumes us?