The 1908 race riot in Springfield, Ill. is one of those events that has lived in infamy.
On Aug. 14, 2008, two black men were held in the downtown jail, accused of raping two white women. Many white residents in town were outraged and tried to storm the jail, but the sheriff was able to transfer the men to a jail in a neighboring town. Outraged even more, their anger exploded into two days of rioting where they killed and destroyed the business of innocent black residents. A total of seven people were killed and more than a dozen injured. An estimated 117 people were indicted for rioting, arson, theft and murder.
Last Saturday, Feb. 7, a statue commemorating the riot was unveiled in Springfield. The ceremony also acknowledged the 200th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln and the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, both falling today. The NAACP was formed, in part, in the aftermath of the Springfield riot.
Seeking to pay homage to both the NAACP and the riot, Ken Page, president of the Springfield NAACP, suggested creating a sculpture based on the event.
“In 2005, we began talks with the state’s Capital Development Board about our idea to create a sculpture in remembrance of the Springfield Riot,” he said. “It was not a quick process, but the plan was finally accepted in February of . The board awarded the City of Springfield a $30,000 grant to create it and we went from there.”
But Page noted there were some delays. Originally the sculpture was going to be made of stainless steel, but that proved to be a difficult substance to fit what they wanted. It was then decided to have a bronze statue, created by artist and Peoria resident Preston Jackson.
“I was elated to have the opportunity to work on a project of such enormous historical significance to African-Americans on such a large scale,” said Jackson, a 20-year professor at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The sculpture consists of two parallel gables in the shape of burned out walls from a house destroyed in a fire. The walls have rectangular-shaped openings to represent the windows. The two structures are approximately 10 feet tall and four feet wide.
“The sculpture is pleasing to the eye and safe for the eyes of children – it is a non-violent history lesson,” said Jackson.
In May, the sculpture will be permanently installed in Springfield’s Union Square Park, adjacent to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Terry Dean contributed to this story.