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The Springfield Illinois Race Riot of 1908 occurred on August 14, 1908 when tension filled the air as two black men sat in the county jail, accused of unrelated sexual assault and murder crimes against whites. A large white crowd had gathered outside the jail, wanting to take matters in their own hands, chanting for vigilante justice. Sensing the eminent danger for the two prisoners, police secretly took them out through the back door and put them on a train to a jail 60 miles away. Learning that they had been tricked and that the prisoners were gone, the now-angry mob erupted in violence, destroying buildings, looting, and eventually lynching two prominent members of the black community. The rampage continued until Governor Charles Deneen called in the Illinois National Guard to control the situation.
People across the nation were shocked by racial riots and it was bitter irony that one had occurred in Springfield, IL, the hometown of Abraham Lincoln. Activists believed that if it could happen in Springfield, it could happen anywhere.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the nation’s first memorial of its kind, has the names of two Springfield Race Riot victims, Scott Burton and William Donegan listed on a corten steel monument in Montgomery, AL. There is also an upcoming documentary in the works on the story of the 1908 Race Riots called White Heat/Black Ashes. Watch a short trailer here
Located inside of HSHS St John’s Hospital Women & Children’s Clinic, view a multi-media 1908 Race Riot Mural that captures the riot events, highlights key individuals and tells the story of the development of the NAACP. Among the story is a great mural by acclaimed artist Preston Jackson as the centerpiece that depicts the Hospital Sisters caring for all the victims of the Race Riot.
Preston Jackson’s Acts of Intolerance Sculpture commemorates the centennial of the 1908 Race Riot. Preston’s inspiration for this was images from an old photograph of two charred chimney’s rising from the smoldering rubble of burned out buildings.
On “Freedom Corner” (2nd and Capitol Ave) stands the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statute. A 300 lb bronze statue of a 26 year old Martin Luther King Jr. King was the first non-Illinois resident honored with a statue in Springfield. Unveiled on January 14, 1988.
Opening its doors March 2016 the Springfield & Central Illinois African American History Museum’s exhibits tell authentic stories about African American life in Central Illinois’ past and present. Current exhibits include Early African American Pioneers of Central Illinois, Africans Within the Americas - An Enlightening Visual Voyage and President Barack Obama.
While visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, not only will you learn the life story of Lincoln but you will also take a deep dive into slavery and abolition. View a heartbreaking scene of a family being torn apart at a slave auction.
There is home located in the in Lincoln Home Neighborhood that was owned by a man named Jameson Jenkins. Jenkins played an important role as part of the Underground Railroad. He assisted freedom seekers that came through Springfield from bordering slave states. Unfortunately the home itself has been removed but the history still remains. In 2008 the lot was included into the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the National Park Service continues to share the story of Jameson Jenkins and the Underground Railroad.
Route History opened their doors February 2019 in a former Texaco gas station along Route 66. They shed light on local tragedy, resilience, and excellence of African American’s along Historic Route 66 in Springfield. These experiences serve as a reminder of struggles and consistent perseverance towards excellence in spite of overwhelming systemic racism and injustices. Along with the 1908 Race Riot history it also includes the history of Eva Carrol Monroe.