T. David Parker said he was taken aback when he first learned about the 1908 Springfield Race Riot.
Parker, an architect with Melotte Morse Leonatti Parker, Ltd., said he remembered reading about it on signs posted on the Old State Capitol Plaza.
At a public listening and question-and-answer session hosted by the National Park Service about a proposed monument commemorating the riot in which two prominent Black men were lynched, Parker, who didn’t grow up in Springfield, gave his full-throated endorsement.
“This monument is a way to help tell the rest of that story,” Parker said. “It’s important, especially for our kids. I think this monument is important not only for the city, but for the nation and for the world. We get visitors from all over the world. They need to see this.”
Officials have been performing a special resource study on the viability of making the memorial a unit of the park service since March.
Wednesday’s session drew about 100 people to the Springfield NAACP building on 11th Street.
Tokey Boswell, an associate regional director for facilities, planning and infrastructure for the park service, said Congress ordered NPS to do a more complete study after doing a reconnaissance, or preliminary study, in 2018.
The park service is at the public outreach stage right now and will continue to gather information before drafting a report which will be presented to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland next spring, said Julie Bell, cultural resource project manager for the NPS. Haaland will eventually present it to the Congress, Bell said.
Teresa Haley, who heads the Illinois NAACP and the Springfield chapter, said it is “long past due that something happened in terms of a national monument.
“The 1908 race riots are our history,” Haley added.
The NAACP grew out of the race riot, which also included five other deaths, dozens of injuries; hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property destroyed and more than 40 Black families displaced when their homes were burned.
One of the NAACP’s original founders was Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a journalist and civil rights and women’s rights pioneer and a crusader for antilynching legislation.
Wells’ great-grandson, Dan Duster of Chicago, said Springfield deserves the monument. He said it could spark healthy discussions about race relations.
“When have dialogue, you have healthy discussions,” Duster said. “When you have healthy discussions, you can have healing. When you have healing, you can move forward in a positive and wonderful way.
“It’s crucial that it happen.”
Marcus Johnson, president and CEO of the Springfield Urban League, agreed that “tough, uncomfortable but necessary conversations of race relations are not (things) to run away from but run towards in the fight for racial and ethnic equality.”
A monument in the community would instill, Johnson added, “a greater sense of pride (and) serve as a point of reference to the progress made.”
It would include a remembrance garden boardwalk that would introduce visitors to the memorial and a contemplation space at the end.
Damond Boatwright, the president and CEO of Hospital Sisters Health System, said HSHS St. John’s Hospital donated part of the land where the monument is proposed to go up and “we are willing to donate more land to help this site be as impactful as possible.”
An archaeological team from Fever River Research found seven homes, five of which were burned during the riot, as well as artifacts from a mid-1800s immigrant neighborhood. Teams from Fever River Research, said archaeologist Floyd Mansberger, would be working around 10th and Madison for the next couple of weeks.
There is more information about the special resource study at the park service’s website, where you also can make comments.
This story will be updated.
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, email@example.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.