Proclaim the site of the Springfield Race Riot of 1908 a national monument
The Springfield Race Riot of 1908 was an incredibly violent chapter in our nation’s history. Blocks of black neighborhoods in the Illinois city, including many businesses and residences, were destroyed and set on fire by rioting white mobs. Two black citizens were killed by lynching. After being hidden from the public for years, the site of these crimes has recently been revealed through archaeological digs. It is time for this story to be fully told.
The best way to achieve this would be the creation of a 1908 Springfield Race Riot National Monument. The monument would be a unit of the National Park Service, which preserves a variety of natural and cultural resources across the country, including all aspects of the nation’s history, even those not our proudest moments.
From this sad event came a good result, the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During a recent visit to Springfield, National Park Service Director Chuck Sams toured the Race Riot site and met with the local NAACP chapter, political leaders and other stakeholders to learn more about their work to preserve it. The goal of creating a national monument clearly has broad support, including that of Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.
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A national monument to the 1908 Springfield Race Riot would, as Senator Duckworth said, help ensure that the painful lessons learned here will not be lost for generations of Americans to come. Ensuring that our national parks better reflect the people and history of our country is long overdue, and it’s time we gave this site proper recognition.
Once the land is federally owned, it can be designated a national monument by presidential proclamation, under the Antiquities Act. This 1906 law is our nation’s oldest law protecting historic, prehistoric, and scientific features on public lands.
The Antiquities Act is a powerful, bipartisan tool that can help us preserve our country’s irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage. Since the law was passed, 18 of 22 presidents have used it.
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The Coalition to Protect US National Parks encourages President Joe Biden to use this authority to create the National Monument to the 1908 Springfield Race Riot and to preserve other cultural and natural resources across the country. As a member of the coalition, I support this effort and urge the Biden administration to take action to protect irreplaceable resources like the site of the 1908 Springfield race riot.
Norman Hellmers spent over 30 years working for the National Park Service and served as Superintendent of Lincoln Home National Historic Site for 13 years (1990-2003).