One incident in particular, the East St. Louis Race Riot, also called the East St. Louis Massacre, was a major catalyst of the silent parade. This horrific event drove close to six thousand blacks from their own burning homes and left several hundred dead.
James Weldon Johnson, the second vice president of the NAACP, brought together other civil rights leaders who gathered at St. Phillips Church in New York to plan protest strategies. None of the group wanted a mass protest, yet all agreed that a silent protest through the streets of the city could spark the idea of racial reform and an end to the violence. Johnson remembered the idea of a silent protest from A NAACP Conference in 1916 when Oswald Garrison Villard suggested it. All the organizations agreed that this parade needed to be composed of the black citizens, rather than a racially-mixed gathering. They argued that as the principal victims of the violence, African Americans had a special responsibility to participate in this, the first major public protest of racial violence in U.S. history.