February 10, 2023

Illinois senators reintroduce bill to make Springfield race riot site a national monument

Source: THE HILL


Illinois Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D) and Dick Durbin (D) on Thursday introduced legislation to designate the site of the Springfield race riot in Illinois as a national monument. 

The 1908 Springfield Race Riot National Monument Act would establish the site as a national monument to be managed by the U.S. National Park Service. Designating the site would help guarantee that public lands reflect the diversity and complexity of the nation, the senators said in a release.

Less than a quarter of national parks are devoted to preserving the histories of people of color. 

“By designating this area a national monument, we will help ensure that the painful lessons learned here will not be lost for the generations of Americans to come,” Duckworth said. “Making our national parks better reflect our nation’s people and history is long overdue, and it’s time we properly recognize this site and the lives that were lost here.”

In the late afternoon of Aug. 14, 1908, a mob gathered at the jailhouse in Springfield to demand the sheriff hand over two Black men — one accused of sexually assaulting a white woman and another accused of murdering a white railroad worker.

Unbeknownst to the crowd, officers had already removed the two Black men from the jailhouse and out of the town for their safety. When the crowd found out, a riot broke out.

The white rioters tore through the state capital, destroying Black homes and businesses. Many Black Illinoisans fled; others, like Scott Burton and William Donegan, stayed behind to protect their homes, only to be caught and lynched.  

The rioting would continue into September with guerilla-like attacks on Black residents. Finally, the state militia was called in to help put a stop to the violence. In the end, at least six Black Illinoisans were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands of Black residents that fled never returned to the area, according to the National Park Service.

In 2014, an excavation by the Springfield High Speed Rail project uncovered foundations and artifacts from homes destroyed during the riot, and an agreement with community members was reached in 2018 to excavate the remains and designate the uncovered site a memorial.

After a study of the site in 2019, the National Park Service recommended it be offered some protection. “The study area contains resources that likely offer a rare opportunity to interpret the national story of late 19th and early 20th century mass racial violence,” the organization said. 

The Springfield race riot would become the impetus for the creation of the NAACP, which formed less than a year later on Feb. 12, 1909, in New York. 

By:  Cheyanne M. Daniels