Springfield Museum To Debut 1908 Race Riot Exhibit

Aug 6, 2018

The new exhibit about the 1908 Race Riots opens on August 11.
Credit Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum on Facebook

The Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum will debut a new exhibit detailing the 1908 Springfield Race Riots.

The exhibit will be unveiled Saturday evening as the 110th anniversary of the event approaches on Aug. 14-15, The State Journal-Register reported.

Historian Carole Merritt curated the exhibit 10 years ago for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum for the centennial commemoration of the race riots, but it's been in storage since.

"We wouldn't have been able to do this without our partnerships with other museums," said Nell Clay, the history museum's board president.

The exhibit explores the duration and aftermath of the riots. It features artifacts and photos that show the destruction of homes and businesses caused by rioters.

A map of Springfield also marks locations of destruction and violence. The locations include areas where a crowd attempted to hang prominent black businessman William Donnegan and where Scott Burton, a black barbershop owner, was lynched. Donnegan eventually died from his injuries. The Arsenal, where several black residents hunkered down during the riots, is also noted.

"Lynchings were events," Clay said. "People came out in their Sunday best. They had their kids there. You had a hanging body out there castrated and burnt, and there would be people chatting and laughing."

Some of the museum's artifacts were uncovered in 2014 during work on the Carpenter Street overpass, which is part of a federal and local multi-million dollar effort to consolidate the city's rail traffic.

The exhibit will be on display through February 2019.