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Visions 1908


he country was shocked by the account of the race riots in Springfield, Illinois on August 14, 1908.  Mabel Hallam accused George Richardson of having raped her the night before. Tension filled the air as two black men sat in the county jail.  A large white mob had gathered outside the jail, wanting to take matters in their own hands, chanting for vigilante justice. The white mob demanded the release of George Richardson and Joe James, two black prisoners being held on counts of crimes against whites. Richardson was accused of raping Mabel Hallam, a white woman, and James was accused of the murder of Clergy Ballard, a white man.

The county sheriff, with the help of Harry Loper, a white restaurant owner, secretly transported the prisoners to Bloomington, Illinois. The realization of this escape ignited the Race Riots A large white crowd had gathered outside the jail, wanting to take matters in their own hands, chanting for vigilante justice. A mob of the “best citizens” of Abraham Lincoln’s hometown had raged for two days, killed and wounded scores of Negroes, and driven thousands from the city.

Mabel later to recant her story, absolving Mr. Richardson of any wrong-doing, her actions unleashed a fury of violent activity that was to wreck havoc with the City of Springfield.

The population in 1908 totaled about 47,000, with approximately5.5% of those black. Although this low percentage did not facilitate a large uprising against the black population here, relations were becoming more strained in large cities such as Chicago and New York where blacks were competing with whites in the same job market.  Springfield’s population today is about 120,000, with approximately 20% black.

Articles of the subject appeared in newspapers and magazines. One such article which appeared in the Independent on September 3, 1908, written by Williams English Walling, entitled “Race War in the North” ended with the sentence, “Yet who realized the seriousness of the situation, and what large and powerful body of citizens is ready to cone to their aid?” Mary White Ovington answered that charge by meeting Walling and Dr. Henry Woskowitz during the first week of 1909.

Race Riot Monument Unveiling
Members of the Springfield Community witnessed history in the making on the occasion of the unveiling of the historical Race Riot Commemorative Monument. The unveiling occurred on Saturday, February 7, 2009 at the CMS Warehouse, 1924 South 10 ½ Street. A brief program included a presentation by the artist, Preston Jackson. The monument was later permanently installed in Union Square Park with a dedication in the spring of 2009.

designate Springfield
1908 race riot

national monument

1908 Race Riot Memorial

Springfield NAACP & Public Parks Forum

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The 1908 Race Riots in Springfield lead to the establishment of the NAACP.  The NAACP was formed in 1909 in a little room of a New York apartment. The call was made to others to join the cause. The celebration of the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln was the date. “Hence we call upon all the believers in democracy to join in a national conference for the discussion of present evils, the voicing of protest, and the renewal of the struggle for civil and political liberty. “Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, Mary Church Terrell and Dr. J. Milton Waldron, Atlanta: Rev. Francis J. Grinke, Washington, D. C., was among those who signed the call.

It was at a second conference in New York in May, 1910, that a permanent body to be known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was organized.

When Dr. W.E.B. Dubois was called to the conference he brought the conference closely in touch with an organization of colored people formed in 1905 at Niagara and known as the Niagara Movement. This organization had been involved in the work of legal redress along the lines of the NAACP. In 1910, it had conducted important civil rights cases and had in its membership some of the prominent colored lawyers in the country – among them W. Ashbie Hawkins, its treasurer.

The first issue of the Crisis, the official news organ of the NAACP, was published in November 1910. Its name was suggested Lowell’s poem “ The Present Crisis.”