Photograph courtesy of UIS UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES


The Springfield Race Riot was one of the most defining moments in Springfield’s history. Occurring in August of 1908, the Springfield Race Riot took place over the span of two days, inciting a whirlwind of violence and chaos. In a time period notoriously known for brutal racism and inequality toward black people, this horribly vicious event was the response to the transfer of two black, Sangamon County inmates: Joe James, accused of killing a well-known white mining engineer, and George Richardson, falsely accused of assault.

As news spread about the arrest of both men and tensions grew higher, crowds filled the Sangamon County Courthouse with rage, looking to immediately retaliate against the two men. In an effort to avoid the massive crowds, Charles Werner, a Sangamon County Sheriff, relocated James and Richardson to a nondisclosed location. Furious that the two men were essentially off the grid in the sight of vengeance, white mobs opted to retaliate against any black people within the surrounding area. This rash decision to violently attack nearby black people was the start of an indescribably violent 48 hours.

Rooted in extreme hatred, the white mob was strategic in its various forms of inciting harm. Pervading the streets of nearby black locations and equipped with miscellaneous weapons, the mob destroyed a number of black homes and businesses. However, the mob did not stop there, as many black people were brutally tormented and beaten. Others succumbed to the gruesome injuries of foul play. By the end of the second day, black fatalities had reached a staggering 16 people as a result of the chaos that ensued. Over 100 mob participants were arrested soon after the riot.

In response to the disheartening aftermath of the Springfield Race Riot, notable figures like W.E.B DuBois and Ida B. Wells formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A year after the riot, the organization was created in efforts to work against hate crimes, rising above all racial challenges, all while improving the overall wellness of the black community.