Logo Click BACK to return to Basecamp
Lost Teachers
Search Info
White beveled edge

Meet Rebecca

Rebecca Archive

Cool Links
Race riot prompted changes for city's police departmen



Newspaper Instigates! Picture Postcards Retell Riot: Part II

Some of the original postcards the newspapers made
After viewing the postcard images of the riots, I proceeded to ask Jim about Abraham Raymer, a Jewish man accused of inciting the riots and killing Donnegan. Raymer was found innocent by a local jury, because there was nothing but circumstantial evidence against him. I wonder aloud if the town had tried Raymer as a scapegoat since being Jewish made him an easy target by his white, Christian neighbors. Jim leans back and shakes his head, telling me that Raymer wasn't the one. "I can tell you who the ringleaders were," he says, "my grandma told me." My raised eyebrows ask the question that I'm thinking: "Who?"

Jim answers that of course "Bloody Kate" Howard was one of them and then, a bit uncomfortably and off the record, he added another name - a name well respected in the community, whose descendants still own a local grocery store here today. Now it's my turn to shake my head in disgust. Kate Howard had run a few boarding houses (maybe brothels) in town, and encouraged the mob's frenzy with jeers of "what the hell are you fellows afraid of?" before leading the riot into Loper's restaurant. Kate escaped justice by killing herself, and this other man was never even accused of any wrongdoing. Actually, of the 107 people that were charged with riot crimes that summer, not a single one of them was found guilty of murder, and the only sentence handed down at all was to Abe Raymer...on the insignificant charges of stealing a sword during the riot.
Over 300 black residents found safety during the riots in Springfield's Armory
Although the violence ended after the militia was called in, the racism continued. Just days after the riots, local merchants received threats by phone and letter demanding them to get rid of their black employees, and bright yellow pamphlets littered downtown asking:

"Do you want niggers to make white men's laws? If not, get busy," and, "Are little white girls and ladies safe where niggers are?"
These time's they are a changing, and there's not much left to see of the original, 1908 Springfield

Jim tells me that although these things were horrible, the true atrocity of the riots lies in everything that was covered up. He assures me that many more black people died that night, but you won't find their names in the paper since the riots were downplayed in preparation for the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday. His grandma remembered though, and his friend Earl Gassaway, a photographer who took pictures throughout the riot, did too. They told Jim of other blacks being murdered by the mob in rage and stuffed in potato sacks, to be flushed through the sewer system into the river out of town. There's no record of their death, their names are not known today.
Race Riots in a Northern State Capitol were too much for some people to bear

Something did explode that summer, but it wasn't justice. It was racism and hatred. The mob set out to take the law into their own hands, unleashing their prejudice and fear on people who were born with darker skin than their own. Oh, and they made just a teensy mistake. Mabel Hallam, you know, the stuffy white woman who cried rape? She decided to come clean after the riots, and tell the police that it wasn't really George Robinson who had raped her. In fact, she wasn't attacked by a black man at all. Robinson was just unlucky enough to work in her neighborhood, and so she accused him after she was attacked in her home...by a white man. Whoops. Robinson was eventually released from prison and the charges were dropped. Joe James, the other black prisoner, was 18, and considered a minor at the time, and should not have received the death penalty, but was hung at the gallows within weeks. The racist policies in which black men and women who murder are executed and white men and women are given life or lesser sentences for the same crimes, continue to this day.

I marvel at the irony of it all; and not just at the fact that this horrible brutality happened in the "anti-slavery" north -- in Abraham Lincoln's own town -- because that's a bit cliché. But, the part that really gets me is that the mob, angered over "murder and rape" got away with their own murder and the rape of a town without any consequences at all. An "eye for an eye" doesn't work when innocent people are the ones being attacked.

There was a bit of hope that actually did come out of the Springfield tragedy. People around the country were horrified at the lynching and riots that had gone on in towns across the country, and Springfield was their breaking point too. These riots motivated a group of educated, concerned people, both white and black, to come together to form what would become one of the most influential civil rights groups of the century: the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Check out Stephen's article to find out more.


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Rebecca - Springfield's massacre: the 1908 Race Riots Part I
Irene - Strung up, cut up, and set on fire
Stephen - "I'm African! No, I'm American! No, I'm African!" No, I'm American!
Stephanie - Poetry to stir the soul and inspire a nation
Nick - How the government ground down a community
Making A Difference - If you are dark of skin, you are guilty as sin
Stephen - Celebrating your heritage: the Black Renaissance
Irene - The largest racial killings in American history
Stephanie - Two nations, one countryE