Friday, March 9, 2006, 3:00–5:00 p.m.
The Lynching of Francis McIntosh and the Boundaries of Labor Solidarity in 1830s St. Louis
Dan Graff, University of Notre Dame
Commentators: David Roediger, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and Dylan Penningroth, Northwestern University
In April 1836, Francis McIntosh, a free black boatworker from Pittsburgh, was lynched in St. Louis. His dramatic story – he murdered a police officer, and for that crime a white mob tied him to a tree and burned him alive -- achieved national notoriety in the mid-1830s. Today, if remembered at all, he is better known as the victim of mob rule denounced by the young Abraham Lincoln in an 1838 speech in Springfield, Illinois, or as the man whose violent death led to white antislavery editor Elijah P. Lovejoy's final
confrontation with proslavery St. Louis (and his own lynching a year later across the Mississippi River in Alton, Illinois). In short, while his life intersected with individuals more familiar to US historians, Francis McIntosh himself has become a footnote, at best,
in the story of antebellum America and the sectional crisis that led to the Civil War.
This paper approaches the lynching of Francis McIntosh from another perspective, exploring both his actions and the actions of those who killed him through the lens of labor history. McIntosh was one of thousands of African Americans, free and slave, who toiled alongside white workers on the boats and docks of the river economy that united
north and south, east and west, in the antebellum United States. On the night of his death, he was initially arrested for helping an unidentified, possibly white, coworker escape from police custody. His lynching was witnessed by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of white St. Louisans, although no one was indicted for the crime. Amongst leading St. Louisans, McIntosh's violent death became a crucial component in the articulation of a white identity intended to bridge the class and ethnic divisions increasingly separating white St. Louisans in the emerging metropolis.
The story of Francis McIntosh, therefore, opens a window into the racial fluidity of the labor market, the interracial interactions of workers, the boundaries of solidarity, and the violent manner in which whiteness was forged in 1830s St. Louis and the republic more
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The Newberry Library Seminar in Labor History
Co-sponsored by the History Department of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois University, Northwestern University and the Labor and Working Class History Association
The Newberry Library
Dr. William M. Scholl Center for
Family and Community History
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago, Illinois 60610
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