Springfield's Black History | Springfield, Illinois | Visit Springfield

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Black History Month..."A month of celebrating the achievements of African American's and taking time to recognize their central role in U.S History." -History.com

Amazing sites, telling the authentic stories, beautiful monuments throughout the city, and rich history from the Underground Railroad to a Race Riot that led to the start of the NAACP, Springfield is rich in African American history and accomplishments. 

Opening their 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. 

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.  

Located in the in Lincoln Home Neighborhood there was a home 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 Route History opened their doors February 2019 in a former Texaco gas station along Route 66. The museum sheds light on local tragedy, resilience, and excellence of African American’s along Historic Route.  Telling the story of the Route 66 Black Business Operators and featuring education on the Green-Book used by motorists throughout the U.S. to help them travel safely, 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 and a beautiful new outdoor mural.  

On “Freedom Corner” (2nd and Capitol Ave) stands the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Marker. The marker was dedicated in 1989 as a tribute to Dr. King. 

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.

Be sure you check out our blog, History of the Springfield 1908 Race Riot for more information.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has put together special tours that tell the stories of Springfield's Black community.

Join the Underground Rail Road Walking Tour, 1908 Race Riot Walking Tour, Black History Walk in Oak Ridge Cemetery, or one of the 5 or 8-mile biking tours encompassing some of the historic places including the Dana-Thomas House, First Black Fire House, Lincoln Home and more!

Individuals or groups can visit the IDNR website by clicking here to learn more and make reservations or call 217-524-3971 to request additional days and times.

Check out these Black History Month events happening around Springfield in 2024

Feb 9-11 Outraged: Terror in Springfield 1908 at UIS Studio Theatre
Feb 10 Black History Month Story Time at the Community Appreciation Day at the Kidzeum of Health and Science
Feb 10 A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr at The Hoogland Center for the Arts
Feb 15 Black History Month Lunch & Learn: Underground Railroad History at the Springfield Visitors Center
Feb 19 Black History Month Lunch & Learn: Barack Obama Campaign Speeches at the Springfield Visitors Center
Feb 22 Don't You Tell Me No: The life of Florence Price in Story and Song at First Presbyterian Church
Feb 23 In Our Little Town: A Musical Conversation about Race at the Springfield & Central Illinois African American Museum
Feb 23 The Magic of Mowtown at UIS Performing Arts Center
Feb 24 Black History Month: Black History Cemetery Walk at Oak Ridge Cemetery
Feb 24 Lincoln Walks at the Vachel Lindsay Home
Feb 24 Black History Month: 1908 Race Riot Walking Tour at Springfield Visitors Center
Feb 24 Florence Price's Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight: Festival Concert at UIS Peforming Arts Center
Feb 25 Black Children's Book Week - Kick Off Event at Springfield & Central Illinois African American Museum
Feb 25 Lift Every Voice - Black History Month Celebration at UIS Studio Theatre
Feb 26 Special Screening of PBS History Series, "Gospel" at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
Feb 29 Black History Month Lunch & Learn: Langston Hughes History at Springfield Visitors Center

Support one of Springfield's Black Owned restaurants.  Visit our Restaurant section and select "Black Owned" in the category drop down bar to find a listing.