Today the NAACP hosted activities marking the 100th anniversary of the Springfield race riot in Illinois--considered one of the pivotal events in American history that led to the formation of the NAACP.

Following the relocation of two black suspects from the local jail on alleged charges of ‘crimes against whites’ on Aug. 14th and 15th of 1908, a white mob set on vigilante justice ransacked Springfield’s small black community (known as the Badlands), forcing families to flee, decimating over 40 homes and businesses, lynching two prominent black men and injuring others. It took up to 5,000 Illinois national guardsmen to end the two-day riot.

“Our commemoration of that tragic event in American history reminds us what kind of country we used to be, and the kind of country we long to become,” said NAACP National Board of Directors Chairman Julian Bond.

The riot was most shocking, not only because of the dastardly acts perpetrated, but because it happened in a northern state capital and in the hometown of President Abraham Lincoln—known most notably for his human rights stances and the act of freeing the slaves. At the time, the Springfield riot was among a growing list of racially motivated attacks against blacks. There had been at least seven other outbreaks in towns and cities in prior years.

“From this act of American terrorism in Springfield we learned that from tragedy we can bring hope and change,” said NAACP Field Operations Chief Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III. “Who would’ve thought, that in the wake of that outrageous mob violence would come Supreme Court decisions and public policy that has changed the social, economic and political fabric of this nation.” 

To mark the day, a program was held at the old Illinois state Capitol Building, tours of the riot route were
provided and a day-long symposium titled, “Racial Justice—100 Years Later” took place at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

The Illinois State Conference of the NAACP will hold its annual convention in Springfield Oct. 10-12. “We look forward to returning to Springfield to continue to focus needed attention on this often overlooked act of terrorism that led to the birth of our great Association,” said Attorney Donald Jackson, president of the Illinois NAACP. The state NAACP was in Springfield today for its planning meeting for the upcoming state convention.

With strong backing of the Springfield Branch, NAACP and broad community support, a bronze sculpture depicting the gables of a burned out house has been commissioned to mark the historic, often forgotten riot event in Springfield. No permanent memorial currently exists. A plaque noting the connection of the riot to the formation of the NAACP will be dedicated later this year.

“It is my hope that events commemorating this year will translate into actions that will last another 100 years,” said Springfield NAACP Branch President Ken Page.

Download program (pdf)»

The Springfield commemoration is part of a series of activities aimed at raising the awareness of habitually overlooked American civil rights successes

On Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 18 & 19), the NAACP will mark the 50th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Sit-Ins. On August 19, 1958 a nationally recognized sit-in at the Katz Drug Store lunch counter was led by NAACP youth leader Clara Luper, a local high school teacher, and students. It took years but she and her students integrated Oklahoma City eating establishments.

Last Saturday, the NAACP and others celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Dockum Sit-In (in Wichita, Kansas) which led to the first successful student-led sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement. During the summer of 1958, students’ actions desegregated the Dockum drug store lunch counter and all Rexall Drug Stores throughout Kansas, and the civil rights movement gained a powerful new weapon in the fight for equal accommodations.

The Dockum and Oklahoma City sit-ins are often overshadowed by the later sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. and other places throughout the South but were just as groundbreaking.

For more on the Springfield race riot, the sit-ins and other African American history, logon to:

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors

Media Contact: Richard J. McIntire (410) 580-5787

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