First Massive African American Protest in American History - July 28, 1917 - The riots in East St. Louis began when whites, angry because African Americans were employed by a factory holding government contracts, went on a rampage. Over $400,000 worth of property was destroyed. At least 40 African Americans were killed. Men, women and children were beaten, stabbed, hanged and burned. Nearly 6,000 African Americans were driven from their homes.