Springfield Race Riot, Illinois


View on E Madison Street


Springfield Race Riot, Illinois


Excerpt from copyrighted material


The Sagamon County Historical Society recounts the history of this race riot on it’s blog, stating

“The riot began the evening of Friday, Aug. 14, 1908, when a white crowd gathered outside the Sangamon County Jail, apparently intending to lynch two African-American prisoners: Joe James, a vagrant accused of killing a white mining engineer, Clergy Ballard, that July 4; and George Richardson, suspected of the rape of a white woman, Mabel Hallam, on Aug. 13.

Via a ruse, Sheriff Charles Werner had the two prisoners spirited out of town. The frustrated crowd turned its anger first on restaurateur Harry Loper, who had driven James and Richardson to safety, and then to “the Levee,” a stretch of saloons and gambling parlors, many Black-operated, on East Washington Street, and “the Badlands,” a Black residential neighborhood along the Madison Street railroad tracks.

An estimated 40 homes occupied by African-Americans and two dozen Black-owned businesses were destroyed in the riot, and hundreds of African-Americans left Springfield in fear. Thousands of state militia, encamped on the Statehouse lawn, finally gained control of the streets.

James was later convicted of killing Ballard; he was executed on October 23, 1908. Richardson was exonerated after Hallam admitted fabricating her story of the rape.”

In 2019 archaeologists uncovered the remains of five houses that once stood in the historically black neighborhood. The Smithsonian Magazine describes the “carcasses of the structures” as “the last remaining witnesses to the lie that one Mabel Hallam told on a Thursday night in August of 1908 that set the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator,” aflame.

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