The 100th Anniversary of The Silent March (a.k.a., The Silent Protest Parade)
What was the Silent March?
The Silent Protest Parade (aka, The Silent March) took place on Saturday, July 28, 1917, exactly 100 years ago, today. The march was sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The Silent March was a protest against recent acts of violence against African Americans, to include modern day lynchings, murders, and the East St. Louis Race Riots, which saw white mobs claim the lives of up to 250 African Americans, and left nearly six thousand blacks fleeing from burning homes.
Organization for The Silent March (Silent Protest Parade)
The NAACP, led by civil rights activists, W. E. B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, orchestrated a gathering of other civil rights leaders at the historic St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
The group agreed a traditional, potentially volatile, mass protest was not desired, instead they decided upon a silent protest in the hopes that such a demonstration might lead to an end to the violence, and educate others to the idea of racial reform.
The idea for a silent protest originally came from NAACP founding member, and civil rights activist, Oswald Garrison Villard, who was also the editor for the New York Evening Post. The group agreed the protest should be carried out by all black citizens, since blacks were the target of the violence.
The Silent March Convenes
The parade was comprised of nearly ten thousand men, women and children. The children took the lead and were dressed in all white, women followed close behind in all white as well, and the men followed in dark suits. The procession marched in silence, besides the shuffling of feet, the only other audible sound from the protesters came from a muffled drum line.
The parade route began on New York’s 5th Avenue and ended in Madison Square. The marchers carried banners and signs that reflected their reasons for participating. African American Boy Scouts passed out informational flyers to onlookers, the flyers described the various forms of racial violence and racist oppression for which the NAACP fought against.
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Response (or lack thereof..)
Besides public awareness to extreme violence against blacks, the NAACP sought to impress upon President Woodrow Wilson the urgency for him and his administration to intervene and make good on his campaign promises to radically address the issues faced by African Americans.
However, the White House turned a deaf ear to the protest, and the NAACP overall, and black causes were ignored by President Wilson. In fact, in President Woodrow Wilson’s time in office, discrimination grew stronger. His response to the increasing racial discrimination under his administration was, “If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me, they ought to correct it..."
The Silent March Impresses Upon Those Who Witness
The Silent March did manage to make an impression on the thousands of onlookers in New York City, many of all races were visibly touched by the parade, and certainly hundreds of eyes, hearts and minds were opened on that day.
James Weldon Johnson would later go on to write in his autobiography, Along This Way, “the streets of New York have witnessed many strange sites, but I judge, never one stranger than this; among the watchers were those with tears in their eyes.”
The Silent March (Silent Protest Parade) was the first of its kind in New York City, and the second instance of African Americans participating in public demonstration for civil rights, the event paved the way for many to follow, and proved especially effective for future civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over time, protest marches took a detour from silence, but the method of demonstration was so successful that similar approaches were soon adopted by activists for peace, women’s issues, gay rights, and other causes.
On July 28, 2017, Google Doodle commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the Silent March, and it sparked many to explore America’s history of racial injustice. 100 years later, racial inequality and injustice still exists.
Lift Every Voice and Sing | The National Black Anthem | Written by James Weldon Johnson | Performed by Melba Moore & Friends
© 2017 Rachelle Williams