Birmingham, AL Shiloh Baptist Church Disaster, Sept 1902

Shiloh Baptist Church, Birmingham 1902

Two white men who were in the rear of the church when the rush began escaped, and realizing the seriousness of the situation rushed to a corner nearby and turned in a fire alarm. The Fire Department answered quickly and the arrival of the wagons served to scatter the crowd which had gathered around the front of the church. A squad of police was also hastened to the church, and with the firemen finally succeeded in releasing the negroes from their pinioned positions in the entrance. The dead bodies were quickly removed and the crowd inside finding an outlet poured out. Scores of them lost their footing in their haste and rolled down the long steps to the pavement suffering broken limbs and internal injuries.
In an hour the church had been practically cleared. The sight which greeted those who had come to aid the injured was sickening. Down the aisles and along the outside of the pews the dead bodies of men and women were strewn, and the crippled uttered heartrending cries. The work of removing the bodies was begun at once.
Shiloh Church, in which the convention was held, is located just on the edge of the South Highlands, the fashionable residence section of this city, and all the physicians living in that part of the town went to the aid of the injured. At least fifteen of those brought out injured died before they could be moved from the ground.
Most of the dead are women, and the physicians say in many cases they fainted and died from suffocation. A remarkable feature of the calamity is that little or no blood was seen on any of the victims. They were either crushed or were suffocated to death.

The New York Times New York 1902-09-20




Majority of the Victims Died of Suffocation -- Vain Efforts of Leaders to Check the Panic.

Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 20 -- Up to noon to-day eighty-seven dead bodies of victims of last night's panic at the Shiloh Baptist Church, colored, had been identified. There are a number of corpses yet unidentified. As nearly as can be figured at this hour the number of dead is 115, while no accurate estimate can be placed on the number of injured. Among the dead are:
The Rev. L. R. PRICE, New Orleans.
The Rev. P. H. JOHNSON, Weir City, Kan.
The Rev. M. FORD, Pratt City, Ala.
JOHN HOUSTON, Pittsburg, Kan.
The Rev. WILLIAM STONE, Greenville.
DR. A. L. HILL, Birmingham, Ala.
Of the identified dead, sixty-five were Birmingham people, most of them women. Investigation shows that no white people were killed.
Policeman ELLEDGE, who was standing at the exit, endeavoring to quiet the mad throng, was caught between the moving multitude and the wall in a narrow passageway. His legs were crushed, but he will recover. His efforts to quiet the crowd were utterly futile, and not until the Fire Department and a large number of officers arrived on the scene was anything like order restored.
Those nearest the speakers' stand seemed to quickly realize that this was no fire and no occasion for a panic, and the speaker and leaders passed outside through a door in the rear of the pulpit and addressed the wild mob of struggling humanity in an earnest effort to restore order. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON was among the number, but even his words fell upon deaf ears.
An examination of the bodies of the victims shows that very many of them died of suffocation, the congestion of humanity in the vestibule and passageway where the crush occurred being so great. Those who received bodily injuries were the ones who were crushed and trampled under foot.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON said, discussing the disaster:
"I had just finished delivering my lecture on 'Industry' and the singing had commenced when some woman back of me was heard to scream. A member of the choir yelled, 'Quiet!' which the gallery understood to be "Fire." This was repeated and started the stampede."
"I found on investigation that a Birmingham man had stepped on the toes of a delegate from Baltimore named BALLOU. BALLOU resented it and made a motion as if to draw a gun. This caused the woman to scream."

The New York Times New York 1902-09-21