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Fri, 08.14.1908

The Springfield Race Riot Occurs

Burned Out Buildings

*On this date in 1908, the three-day Springfield race riot began.  This was an episode of racial violence against blacks by a mob of 5,000 white-American immigrants in Springfield, Illinois.

Two black men had been arrested as suspects in a rape and murder. The alleged victims were two young white women and the father of one of them. When a mob seeking to lynch the men discovered the sheriff had transferred them out of the city, they attacked black neighborhoods, murdered Blacks on the streets, and destroyed black businesses and homes. The state militia was called out to control the rioting.  

The riot, trials, and aftermath are said to be one of the most well-documented examples of the complex intersectionality of race, class, and criminal justice in the United States.  In 2008 a public radio report on the centenary of the race riot said that the fact that it took place in a Northern state, specifically in "The Land of Lincoln," demonstrated that blacks were mistreated across the country, not just in the South, and described the event as a proxy for the story of race in America.

At least sixteen people died due to the riot: nine black and seven white residents associated with the mob, five were killed by state militia, and two committed suicide. It was mistakenly reported for decades that blacks were responsible for white deaths and that more whites than blacks had died. Personal and property damages, suffered overwhelmingly by Blacks, amounted to more than $150,000 (approximately $4 million in 2018), as dozens of Black homes and businesses were destroyed, as well as three white-owned businesses of suspected Black sympathizers.  

As a result of the rioting, numerous Blacks left Springfield. Although over 100 riot-related indictments were issued in the following months, and some pled to minor violations, only one alleged rioter went to trial and was convicted for lesser offenses. Of the two accused black men, who were the initial focus of the lynch mob, one was eventually tried, convicted, and hanged; the other was set free. Near the 100th anniversary in 2008, the City of Springfield erected historical markers and a memorial statue. The riot was a catalyst for forming the NAACP, organized to work on civil rights for Blacks.  

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