Birmingham, AL Baptist Church Disaster, Sept 1902


The negro population of Birmingham, Ala., is in mourning, and a gloom has been cast over the entire state as the people begin to realize the immaualty of the appalling disaster at Shiloh Baptist church. The number of dead has reached 110 and ninety of these have been identified. A large majority of the victims of the stampede were residents of Birmingham, and as fast as the undertakers can prepare their bodies for inspection they are being identified.

American Eagle Murray Utah 1902-09-27





Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 19 -- In an awful crush of humanity caused by a stampede in the Shiloh Negro Baptist Church, at the corner of Avenue G and Eighteenth Street, to-night, seventy-eight persons were killed and as many more seriously injured.
The disaster occurred at 9 o'clock, just as BOOKER T. WASHINGTON had concluded his address to the National Convention of Negro Baptists, and for three hours the scenes around the church were almost indescribable. Dead bodies were strewn in every direction, and the ambulance service of the city was utterly unable to move them until long after midnight. While the injured were being attended to dozens of dead bodies were arranged in rows on the ground outside the building awaiting removal to the various undertaking establishments, and more than a score were laid out on the benches inside.
Shiloh Church is the largest place of worship for negroes in Birmingham, and at least 2,000 persons were inside when the stampede began. Instructions had been issued to allow no one to enter after the building had been filled, but the negroes forced their way inside and were standing in every aisle when the cry of "Fight!" "Fight!" was mistaken for "Fire," and a deadly scramble began to get out. The entrance to the church was literally packed, and the negroes were trampled to death in their struggle to escape.
As BOOKER T. WASHINGTON concluded his address JUDGE BILLOU, a negro lawyer from Baltimore, engaged in a dispute with the choir leader concerning an unoccupied seat. Some one in the choir cried, "A fight!" Mistaking the word "fight" for "fire," the congregation rose en masse and started for the door.
One of the ministers quickly mounted the rostrum and urged the people to keep quiet. He repeated the word "quiet" several times, and motioned to his hearers to be seated. The excited congregation mistook the word "quiet" for a second alarm of fire and again rushed for the door. Men and women crawled over benches and fought their way into the aisles, and those who had fallen were trampled upon like cattle. The screams of the women and children added to the horror of the scene. Through mere fright many persons fainted and as they fell to the floor were crushed to death.
The level of the floor of the church is about fifteen feet from the ground, and long steps lead to the sidewalk from the lobby, just outside the main auditorium. Brick walls extend on each side of these steps for six or seven feet, and this proved a veritable death trap. Negroes who had reached the top of the steps were pushed violently forward and many fell. Before they could move others fell upon them, and in a few moments persons were piled upon each other to a height of ten feet, where they struggled vainly to extricate themselves.
This wall of struggling humanity blocked the entrance, and the weight of 1,500 persons in the body of the church was pushed against it. More than twenty persons lying on the steps underneath the heap of bodies died from suffocation.
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