An immigrant and socialist, Prager was lynched by a mob of "patriots" in Illinois. They were all acquittedby Greg Bailey / August 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
Across the river from St. Louis is a region scarred by its past. The jagged scars of old strip mines tear across the land. Sealed underground mines, long abandoned, from time to time announce their forgotten existence by the collapse of their tunnels, and the breaking of any house or building above on the surface. But there is a deeper scar, nearly a century old, in this once-thriving coal country. In the anti-German hysteria during the Great War, whipped up by a national figure’s Trumpian-like call to root out traitors, a mob in Collinsville, Illinois did just that—lynching a German immigrant named Robert Prager.
More than a century ago, both sides of the metro area had strong German communities. German was the first language of many. School lessons and church services were given in German, and newspapers written in the language. On the Illinois side of the river socialism—another German import—took root in the area’s small towns. One town, called O’Fallon, elected a socialist mayor and four other socialist municipal officers. A weekly socialist newspaper named the Belleville Alarm was widely read.
Then came the “War to End All Wars.” America, which had been neutral even after the sinking of the Lusitania, changed its stance almost overnight in 1917. Germany, and all things German, became the enemy. Streets in St. Louis were renamed; Dachshunds became “liberty hounds”; sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage”; children stopped getting the German measles. In the towns of Illinois, German disappeared from the schools, churches and newspaper pages.