The East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission and Cultural Initiative will host its first educational conference, “The City that Survives: Commemorating the Past, Preparing for the Future,” May 26-28 at the East St. Louis Higher Education Center, 601 James R. Thompson Blvd. in East St Louis.
Scholars, historians, writers, documentarians and artisans will take a comprehensive look at the sociopolitical factors that influenced the 1917 Race Riots in East St. Louis in an effort to educate the public and initiate dialogue on this historical event.
An estimated 300 black residents of East St. Louis were killed during three months of racial violence, and thousands more fled the city never to return. Although the racial violence occurred 100 years ago, implications remain for the current political terrain of St. Louis metropolitan area and the United States.
The conference opens the afternoon of Friday, May 26 with a keynote by Charles Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State University lecturer and author of “American Pogrom: The East St. Louis Race Riot and Black Politics” and editor of “An East St. Louis Anthology: The Origins of a River City.” Lumpkins’ work argues that the riots were a pogrom – authority-sanctioned violence for the massacre of an ethnic group – prompted by African Americans asserting their political might through the power of the ballot.
Local high school student projects on the 1917 riots will also be featured during the afternoon.
Saturday, May 27 begins with a panel, “1917: The Storm, the Blood, and the Meaning for Today,” includes SIUE professor Andrew Theising and Washington University professor Michael R. Allen discussing the sociopolitical factors that influenced the riots and relationship to contemporary political contexts. On the second panel, “The Legacy and Gathering of Memories,” St. Louis Alderman Terry Kennedy and his brother Dhati Kennedy will share their family story of survival and loss, and East St. Louis artist and historian Anne Walker will discuss the history and struggle of her efforts to commemorate the 1917 violence and honor those killed.
The day concludes with the premiere staged reading of playwright Gregory Carr’s “Tinderbox,” an original work that explores the 1917 riots.
On Sunday, May 28, victims of the riot will be memorialized at an Arts and Cultural Festival featuring music, dance, poetry and art. East St. Louis Poet Laureate Eugene B. Redmond and the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club will perform an ensemble piece on the 1917 Riots using the poetic form the Kwansaba.
To learn more about the East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission and Cultural Initiative, visit http://www.estl1917ccci.org.