Op-ed: President Biden, proclaim the 1908 Springfield Race Riot site a national monument
By Norman Hellmers
The 1908 Springfield Race Riot was an incredibly violent chapter in our nation’s history. Blocks of the Illinois city’s Black neighborhoods, including numerous businesses and residences, were destroyed and burned by rioting white mobs. Two Black citizens were killed by lynching. After years of being hidden from public view, the site of these crimes has recently been revealed through archeological excavations. It is time that this story be fully told.
The best way to do that 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 that aren’t our proudest moments.
Out of this sad event came one good result, the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During a recent visit to Springfield, the director of the National Park Service, Chuck Sams, toured the Race Riot site and met with the local chapter of the NAACP, political leaders, and other stakeholders to hear about their work to preserve it. The goal to create a National Monument clearly has widespread support, including that of Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.
A 1908 Springfield Race Riot National Monument would, as Senator Duckworth has said, “help ensure that the painful lessons learned here will not be lost for the generations of Americans to come. Making our national parks better reflect our nation’s people and history is long overdue, and it’s time we properly recognize this site.”
Once the land is in federal ownership, it can be designated as a national monument through a presidential proclamation, using the authority of the Antiquities Act. This 1906 act is our nation’s oldest law protecting historic, prehistoric, and scientific features on public lands.
The Antiquities Act is a powerful and bipartisan tool that can help us preserve our nation’s irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage. Since the act’s passage, 18 of 22 presidents have used it.
The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks is encouraging President Joe Biden to use this authority to create the 1908 Springfield Race Riot National Monument 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 was superintendent of Lincoln Home National Historic Site for 13 years (1990-2003).