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Illinois Senators call for monument of a 1908 riot that launched the NAACP

Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin have asked Biden to designate the site of the 1908 Springfield race riot as a national monument.
African-American residents standing near some of the residences burned during the race riot in Springfield, Ill., Aug. 1908.
African Americans near some of the homes burned during the race riot in Springfield, Ill., in August 1908.Sangamon Valley Collection / Lincoln Library

Illinois' two senators have called on President-elect Joe Biden to make the site of a 1908 race riot in Springfield a national monument.

Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, both Democrats, wrote to Biden Thursday asking for the designation, citing the riot’s historic significance, especially its role in inspiring the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Illinois National Guard soldiers on duty among burned out residences.
Illinois National Guard soldiers on duty among burned out residences.Sangamon Valley Collection / Lincoln Library

In 1908, from Aug. 14 to 16, a mob of about 5,000 white people stormed Black neighborhoods to find and lynch two Black men, one charged with murdering a white man and the other with raping a white woman. When the mob learned the men had been secretly transferred to a jail in another city, it began canvassing Black neighborhoods to destroy businesses and homes. Authorities had to call on the state’s National Guard to quell the riot. At least seven black residents were killed, by most accounts, as well as several white people.

The riot in the state's capital shocked the nation. Six months later, in February 1909, the NAACP was founded, partly in response to the Springfield riot as well as other acts of racial violence across the country. It is now the nation's largest and most influential civil rights organization.

Burned out residences of the Badlands neighborhood after the race riot.
Burned out residences of the Badlands neighborhood after the race riot.Sangamon Valley Collection / Lincoln Library

Artifacts of the time and the foundations of destroyed homes remain on the site. Community members reached an agreement in 2018 to excavate any remains and designate the site a memorial.

Duckworth and Durbin said establishing it as a national monument, which the U.S. National Park Service would manage, “would represent long overdue progress” in cementing Black history as part of the country’s history.

The request comes just over a week after the deadly mob in the U.S. Capitol.

Tree where Scott Burton was lynched.
Tree where Scott Burton was lynched.Sangamon Valley Collection / Lincoln Library

"I am excited about seeing the 1908 Race Riot Site As A National Monument become a reality,” Teresa Haley, NAACP Illinois state president, said in a statement in 2019. “This is a part the Black history that needs to be preserved and shared with everyone.”

If Biden honors the request via proclamation, the monument would be the 30th in the African American Civil Rights Network, a group of monuments and memorials Congress formed to recognize the civil rights movement and the fight against discrimination and segregation.

The two senators first championed the memorial in 2019 when they introduced the Springfield Race Riot National Monument Act.

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