The Negro Silent Protest Parade was a silent protest march of 8,000-10,000 African Americans along Fifth Avenue starting at 57th Street in New York City on July 28, 1917. The parade was in protest to murders, lynchings, and other violence directed towards African Americans and was precipitated by the East St. Louis riots in May and July 1917, when between 100 to 300 African Americans were killed by Caucasian mobs and over 6000 were left homeless (Conservative numbers from the NAACP, based on local reports at that time). The mobs were whipped into a frenzy by labor unions in order to resist strike breaking efforts.
East St. Louis riots
The brutality of the attacks by white mobs, and the refusal by the authorities to protect innocent lives contributed to the responsive measures of some African Americans in St. Louis and the nation. Marcus Garvey declared in a speech that the riot was “one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind” and a “wholesale massacre of our people”, insisting that “This is no time for fine words, but a time to lift one’s voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy.”
Protest in New York
In New York City on July 28, as many as ten thousand African Americans marched down Fifth Avenue in a silent protest march in response to the East St. Louis riots. They carried signs that highlighted protests about the riots. The march was organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), W. E. B. Du Bois, and groups in Harlem. Women and children were dressed in white; the men were dressed in black.
They hoped to influence Democratic President Woodrow Wilson to carry through on his election promises to African-American voters to implement anti-lynching legislation, and promote Black causes. Wilson did not do so and repudiated his promises; federal discrimination increased during Wilson’s presidency.
The parade was the very first protest of its kind in New York, and the second instance of African Americans publicly demonstrating for civil rights so bravely.