We usually didn’t venture over into East St. Louis, Illinois except for shipping our hogs to the stockyards. Most of the time those trips were made by others and I didn’t get to go along. However, as I got older and journeyed to other destinations such as the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois, I passed through East St. Louis on a few occasions. Eventually, as an adult, I became a truck driver for Ameren and travelled to East St. Louis frequently because of delivering things to the company facility located in that city.
Processing the sights as an adult as opposed to childhood was a bit different. I didn’t just see the grandeur of the buildings through the eyes of a child. As an adult I saw the hurt and the pain of people who were struggling. I saw more than the tourist attractions of the city. Seeing the rundown buildings, graffiti, bars on the windows of the buildings, the evidence of homeless people, and knowing all of the crime related stories on the news each evening painted a poignant portrait of city life. I grappled to understand how conditions could get to this point.
Looking back in time helps give a clue. East St. Louis has had a troubled history for at least a century. On July 2, 1917 race riots broke out and hundreds of people (according to some accounts) lost their lives. I can only imagine the trauma that was present during that week ninety-seven years ago. I invite you to read a couple of brief accounts if you are unfamiliar with this piece of history.
Another significant event took place fifty years ago when The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964. This was 47 years to the date from when the race riots broke out in East St. Louis.
As we inch closer to Independence Day let us take time to give thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy. Let us also pray for those who have suffered greatly in the process throughout history and for those who continue to suffer in modern times. We have come a long way in our country to right some of the wrongs of the past, but there is still much to do.
Marking the 97th anniversary of the race riots in East St. Louis and the 50th anniversary of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, let us intercede for all those who need our prayers.
· For those in major cities where high unemployment and high crime rates afflict the people with undue sorrow
· For immigrants seeking a better life
· For citizens along our southern borders struggling with the influx of immigrants, especially the multitude of children
· For refugees seeking asylum in our country to escape war and violence
· For Native Americans struggling with poverty and addictions
· For all who experience prejudice in any form
There are no easy answers to the complex problems related to crime, poverty, unemployment, bigotry, and hatred. However, if all of us who bear the name of Christian do our part to live a life in union with Jesus Christ, there is no limit to the positive changes we can bring to our world.