Monday, January 4, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Return to the Race Riot on July 2, 1917

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

Back in April I blogged about the Race Riot in East St. Louis on July 2, 1917. It may be the deadliest in the nation's history. According to sources I've read, the riot occurred on Collinsville Avenue between Broadway and Illinois Avenue. In April, I noted that my great grandmother had two brothers who lived in the area. I wondered:
So where were my great grandmother's brothers during the riot? I don't know. Only a generation removed from European pogroms, it's hard to believe they did anything truly regretful. There are no family stories I have heard, and their names aren't mentioned in any of the online sources I searched.
I didn't expect to find out the answer. But for one of the brothers, I did, in the St. Louis Post Dispatch 1874-1922 archives. He's actually mentioned in some of the sources I read back in April. Just not by name.

St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 19, 1917, page 2.

STATE ATTACKS ALIBI OF RACE RIOT CASE DEFENDANT
Draws From Henry Robinson Denial of Statements Made at Coroner’s Request

Harry Robinson’s alibi, in his trial with John Dow and Charles Hanna on the charge of murder in the East St. Louis race riot of July 2, was attacked by the prosecution in the Belleville circuit court today, by comparing it with the record of Robinson’s testimony at the coroner’s request.

The inquest testimony is not an official record, as the testimony was not taken verbatim by the stenographer, but was summarized. If Robinson had not taken the witness stand himself, the summarized record of his statement to the coroner could not have been placed before the jury.

His employer, Ben Cruvant, and Mrs. Cruvant, testified that Robinson was working in Cruvant’s shoe shop until noon July 2. This covered the time between 10 and 11 am., in which according to the State’s testimony, Robinson was holding up a pawnbroker and looting his shop of revolvers.

Robinson was asked, on cross-examination, if he had not said at the inquest that he was in front of the pawnshop when it was entered and that he saw the mob’s acts in the street during the morning. He made a general denial of his answers as summarized in the Coroner’s record.

Here are a few relevant quotes I've found from other sources:

"In the heat of the riot on Collinsville Avenue at about 1.15 o’clock p.m., July 2, 1917, while the mob were taking negroes from street cars and beating and shooting them a stray bullet, which had been fired at a negro boy, struck and killed a retired merchant, a white man named William Keyser."

Source: Biennial report and opinions of the Attorney General of the State of Illinois, 1918, p. 18.

“Harry Robinson, 21 year old shoe repairer, who was tried for the murder of William Keyser, a white man, but concerning whose guilt the jury was unable to agree, was taken to Chester yesterday to begin serving his five year sentence for conspiracy to which charge he pleaded guilty.”

Source: St. Louis Globe Democrat, October 31, 1917

The name of a relative can turn up in some of the unlikeliest of places. My great great uncle probably remained in his shoe shop throughout the afternoon, even if his employee left at noon. As long as it was true, his testifying on behalf of his employee can only be looked at positively, even if his employee turned out to be guilty of other crimes.

Mrs. Cruvant would have been Dora, née Goldstein, who Ben had married in 1912.

If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post below, or in the comments.

2 comments:

Debbie V. said...

Hi John,
You may or may not remember me from my forays with Google wave, which I've abandoned due to lack of interest.
However, I am interested in your blog. And I am interested in transcribing. And .....I think this might work to help me get started on my own Genealogy blog.
So the transcribing can be anything? Like a newspaper article of interest to me about my genealogy? (Franklin County Illinois)

John said...

I have been focusing on documents that mention relatives directly. Though I don't see this as a necessity.

Any documents of enough interest to your family history research that you would want to save them in hard copy are worth transcribing.