July 28, 1917 – The Silent Parade Down Fifth Avenue Spoke More than Any Words Could

In response to the brutal white mob attacks known as the East St. Louis riots, around 10,000 African Americans walked down Fifth Avenue to protest the murders, lynchings and violence that was directed towards African Americans. Women and children were dressed in white, while men followed behind in dark suits.

Organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the goal was to influence President Woodrow Wilson to pass legislation that would promote Black causes or, at the least, implement anti-lynching initiatives, which he had promised to do during his campaign.

The parade was unlike any other. Flyers and posters contained a list of phrases such as “America has lynched without trial 2,867 Negroes in 31 years and not a single murderer has suffered” & “Mothers, do lynchers go to heaven?”Shockingly, not one word was uttered as the protestors marched from Fifth Avenue to Madison Square. The only thing that was heard was the muffled drums and the marchers’ footsteps. Today it is described as “one of the most quiet and orderly demonstrations ever witnessed,” per the Herald.

The silent parade was a major beginning of the civil rights movement and demonstrated that a protest is not just about chants and songs. Silence has an immense power of its own.