Rallying Cry for African-Americans: The 1908 Springfield Riot

 

In 1908, Springfield, Illinois was a fast-growing industrial center, drawing waves of poor Southern blacks seeking work. As competition for jobs grew fierce, racial tensions intensified. On Friday, August 14, when a white woman named Mabel Hallam accused a black man named George Richardson of rape, crowds surrounded the county jail where Richardson was imprisoned. The mob, learning that the sheriff had sneaked Richardson away in a car owned by a black restaurateur, destroyed the restaurant and burned the getaway car. That was just the beginning.

The angry crowd overwhelmed local authorities and drove the mayor into hiding. The governor called out the state militia, but by then the rabble had a new agenda--running all blacks out of town. After breaking into pawn shops and arming themselves with stolen guns, the mob destroyed three blocks of black businesses, torched black homes, and triggered an exodus of terrified black citizens.

By midnight, 5,000 Illinois national guardsmen finally managed to disperse a white mob numbering more than 12,000. Altogether, two blacks had been murdered, five whites accidentally killed, and more than 100 people of both races hospitalized. Much of Springfield was a smoking ruin, with 40 homes destroyed and 24 businesses ruined. Although a grand jury returned 107 indictments against 80 people, only one man was convicted--for stealing the saber of a black militiaman. Worse yet, Mabel Hallam confessed that she had invented the rape story to cover up an extramarital affair.

In response to this national disgrace, a conference was held the next year, on Lincoln's birthday, to discuss "present evils, the voicing of protest, and the renewal of the struggle for civil and political liberties." The landmark assembly led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which endures today as America's most influential civil rights organization.

 

Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: November 6, 2001
URL: http://black_and_hispanic.tripod.com/blackhistory/
Contact: Terry Muse