- Illinois State Museum, Springfield
Paul Mickey Science Series Program
Presented by Floyd Mansberger, Fever Ridge Research
On the evening of August 14, 1908, racial tensions in Springfield ignited, in part due to the allegations of a white woman (which were later recanted), that she had been assaulted by a black man. A large, vengeful crowd gathered at the Sangamon County Jail demanding justice. Fearing trouble, the sheriff had secretly whisked the prisoner out of the jail and to the safety of a nearby town. Hearing such, the crowd erupted into violence resulting in two days of rioting, which ultimately resulted in the lynching of two black men, the destruction of many downtown businesses and homes, and the death of five white men from injuries sustained during the event. One residential neighborhood in particular—referred to by the contemporary Press as the “Badlands”—was the locale where much of the violence occurred at the hands of the mob. With quick action by the authorities, the State Militia was mobilized, crowds were dispersed, and order was again returned to the streets of Springfield. Soon after this horrific weekend of violence, and incensed by the fact that this event had taken place in the hometown of the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln, a prominent group of social reformers came together in February 1909 and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The construction of the John Hay Homes, a 599-unit public housing project, in 1940-41 resulted in the clearing of a large portion of what was once the Badlands. Subsequent urban renewal has removed almost every indication of the residential neighborhood which once received the brunt of the mob violence in 1908. Except for an occasional historical marker, little is present to remind us of the people that lived in that neighborhood and the events that transpired that hot August weekend. Although little physical evidence of this event can be seen first-hand on today’s landscape, archaeological investigations conducted for the City of Springfield ahead of planned rail improvements through downtown Springfield resulted in the discovery of the well-preserved foundations of five mid-nineteenth century houses located in a row along North Tenth Street that had been destroyed by fire during the August 1908 Springfield Race Riot. The power-point presentation will discuss the results of the archaeological investigations, and will hopefully bring new insight into our understanding of the structure of this particular neighborhood at the turn-of-the century, the inhabitants that called this neighborhood home, and the quality of life of the inhabitants that experienced firsthand this historical event.