WASHINGTON (WLNS) — Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt was in Springfield, Illinois, designating the site of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot in Illinois as the 30th addition to the African American Civil Rights Network (AACRN).
The designation formally recognizes the historical and national significance of a landmark event in the struggle for civil rights that served as the catalyst in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Inclusion of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot site in the AACRN was requested by U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (IL-13) in 2019.
“President Trump enacted the African American Civil Rights Network legislation to honestly tell the full and sometimes painful story of the struggle for civil rights to foster healing, tolerance and understanding among all Americans. The horrible events of the Springfield Race Riot more than 110 years ago are a part of our history and a story that must be told and remembered,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “I thank Representative Davis for his advocacy in giving this site the recognition it deserves.”
The 1908 Springfield Race Riot site provides critical insight to the history of racial violence in the United States. The riot was started by a white mob, who, after being thwarted in an attempt to lynch two black inmates in the Sangamon County Jail, went on a rampage that ended in the death of at least six, and the destruction of black homes and businesses. Black residents who fought in self-defense to protect their property and themselves were brutally attacked. During and immediately following the event, nearly 2,000 black residents fled the city and most never returned.
Most of the devastation associated with the riot was concentrated in an area between Mason and Madison, and 9th and 12th Streets. The AACRN site contains the foundations of five of the dozens of homes that were burned and destroyed during the riot as well as other archeological resources that were unearthed during a recent construction project.
The riot, trials, and aftermath of the events in President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown, a few months before the centennial of his birth, highlighted the systematic racism of early 20th century America. In February 1909 and in response to the riot, civil rights leaders formed the National Negro Committee in New York City, New York, which would later become the NAACP.
“The riot that took place in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown and led to the death of at least six African Americans and the destruction of entire neighborhoods highlighted the lack of progress in race relations in early 20th century America and sparked the creation of the predecessor of the NAACP, ” said Counselor to the Secretary, exercising the delegated authority of the NPS Director Margaret Everson. “The African American Civil Rights Network helps ensure that the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the sacrifices of the people involved are remembered and commemorated. ”
The African American Civil Rights Network Act, signed into law by President Trump in January 2018, authorizes the National Park Service to coordinate and facilitate Federal and non-Federal activities to commemorate, honor, and interpret the history of the African American Civil Rights movement; the significance of the civil rights movement as a crucial element in the evolution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the relevance of the African American Civil Rights movement in fostering the spirit of social justice and national reconciliation.
The AACRN includes properties, facilities, and programs related to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. With this addition, there are currently 30 resources in the AACRN, 18 of which are administered by the National Park Service, including Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, Pullman National Monument, and Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.