Illinois Archaeology

Fever River Research 

PO Box 5234

Springfield, Illinois



The 1908 Springfield Race Riot

On the evening of August 14, 1908, racial tensions in Springfield, Illinois ignited, in part due to the allegations of a white woman (which were later recanted) that she had been assaulted by a Black man. A large, vengeful crowd gathered at the Sangamon County Jail demanding justice. Fearing trouble, the sheriff had secretly whisked the prisoner out of the jail and to the safety of a nearby town. Hearing such, the crowd erupted into violence, leading to two days of rioting during which two Black men were lynched, many downtown businesses and homes in the city were destroyed, and five white men died from wounds. Many other residents (both Black and white) were injured during the event. One residential neighborhood in particular—referred to by the contemporary press as the “Badlands”—was the locale where much of the violence occurred at the hands of the mob. With quick action by the authorities, the National Guard was mobilized, crowds were dispersed, and order was again returned to the streets of Springfield. Soon after this horrific weekend of violence, and incensed by the fact that this event had taken place in the hometown of the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln, a prominent group of social reformers came together in February 1909 and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


As part of the Springfield Rail Improvements Project, the City's Tenth Street rail corridor was slated to be widened.  Over a six month period in 2019, Phase III archaeological mitigation was undertaken at five urban house sites located in downtown Springfield, Illinois, and partially located within this new rail right-of-way. These house sites, located only a few blocks from the central business district in the capital city, were occupied by Black residents during the first decade of the twentieth century, and were completely destroyed by fire set by the white mob during the first night of rioting on August 14 or very early morning August 15, 1908.