September 2, 2022
Mr. Tokey Boswell
Associate Regional Director
Facilities, Planning, and Infrastructure
National Park Service
601 Riverfront Drive
Omaha, NE 68102
Subject: Special Resource Study for 1908 Springfield Race Riot Site
Dear Mr. Boswell:
The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition) is pleased to submit the following comments to the National Park Service (NPS) in support of its Special Resource Study (study) of the site of the 1908 Race Riot in Springfield, Illinois. The Coalition strongly supports the designation of the site of the Springfield 1908 Race Riot as a unit of the National Park System either through passage of legislation by Congress or through designation by President Biden as a national monument. We believe the resources of the site are nationally significant, are suitable and feasible for park unit designation, and that the site should be managed by the NPS.
The Coalition is a non-profit organization composed of more than 2,200 retired, former, and current employees of the National Park Service (NPS) who collectively have over 45,000 years of experience managing and protecting our national parks. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System.
Preserving the Springfield site for future generations would help acknowledge our nation’s legacy of racial violence and would add to the story of the incredible Black leadership in Springfield, Illinois that worked to overcome that legacy. Our national parks tell the stories of not only our nation’s triumphs, but also its tragedies. Key to this process is ensuring that stories of all communities are fully represented within our National Park System, including those about slavery, the struggle for civil rights, including voting rights, along with the places where Black Americans achieved their dreams that contributed to a more just and vibrant nation.
The Coalition offers the following comments on the six specific questions asked as part of this stage of the special resource study process:
What is your vision for preserving the 1908 Springfield Race Riot archeological site and how would you like to see the site managed?
We recommend that the NPS manage the site to tell the story of racial hate directed against Springfield’s Black community and the resulting riot that was used as an attempt to eliminate this community. Having visitors understand the archeological resources found at the site from the remnants that remained after the riot, along with the impact the riot had on the area and the nation, and the subsequent establishment of the NAACP are the most important elements to be preserved and interpreted at the site. Visitors can also be told of the leadership provided by the Black community to creating a more just America while also visiting a memorial that honors riot victims and their descendants.
What types of activities and experiences would you want to see as part of the site into the future?
The Coalition encourages the use of interpretation of the site as well as the site’s relationship to other park units that commemorate similar aspects of civil rights history. This relationship is discussed further in the two questions below. Besides interpreting the site, allowing access to the existing healing garden and exhibits that are memorials to the riot victims, their descendants, and the community will be an important part of the visitor experience. Additionally, the NPS can expand the experience at the site through its partnerships with other stakeholders to interpret related sites, other local historic buildings in Springfield, as well as museums with related materials and items that can expand on the civil rights story.
Do you have any ideas or concerns that the National Park Service should be aware of and/or address in the study process?
As the reconnaissance and SRS process has proceeded, we understand there were concerns about NPS management of the site and whether it could be accomplished reasonably. The Coalition believes the proximity of the riot site to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site lends itself to common management that would not require a major change for the historic site. There are many examples of park units that manage other sites located much farther apart geographically than the two sites found here in Springfield. The study process should examine this issue and acknowledge that joint management of the two sites can be accomplished efficiently and effectively.
Additionally, we believe that NPS management would be the most appropriate approach. While the local community has been quite good in encouraging the protection of the site, the site’s preservation in perpetuity would be most assured through NPS park unit designation. Too often, these smaller sites can be lost when their early champions pass on or when organizations no longer have the resources to continue to preserve them. The story of the Springfield site is too important to let this happen. Its preservation can be accomplished by the NPS at a reasonable cost and in an efficient manner using nearby park staffing and resources.
Further, the site offers a great opportunity for the NPS to tell the story of the founding of the NAACP in 1909, along with the role played by Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s advocacy for racial justice and the NAACP’s leadership throughout the civil rights movement. This is a story not well known and the Springfield site is an appropriate place to provide for its interpretation.
What objects, buildings, remaining features, values and stories do you believe are most important at this site (or related to the riot but not at this site) and why?
At the Springfield site, it is most critical for the NPS to have visitors understand how the Black community successfully rebuilt their lives after their community was tragically destroyed in just a short period. Visitors also need to hear not only how those who survived the riot rebuilt their lives but also how, through the establishment of the NAACP, they committed to a mission of stopping such violence in the future and establishing equal rights for Black Americans.
To more fully understand the story told at the Springfield race riot site, the NPS needs to make the connection between that tragic event and the bigger picture of the long, continuing struggle for civil rights, especially as told at other national park units related to Black American civil rights such as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, the Freedom Riders National Monument in AL; the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in GA, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. While we are not sure of the exact mechanism or process for doing so, we encourage NPS to consider establishing a network of civil rights parks. It is important for the citizens of his country to understand that the quest for civil rights began long before the Civil War with the story of slavery told at numerous battlefield sites preserved as part of the park system. However, other sites such as those mentioned above demonstrate that the battle for civil rights has continued for decades, including through modern times.
Further, there are other park units that convey the story of civil rights for other minority and marginalized groups such as various Japanese American internment sites, the Stonewall National Monument in New York, and the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California, among others. Visitors need to understand that this long arc of the struggle for freedom among Black Americans and other minority groups continues today in the denial of voting rights, the rise of white nationalism, and other distinct means of targeting minority and ethnic groups in everyday life in America.
Do you support or oppose a potential national park unit designation?
The Coalition strongly supports establishing the 1908 Springfield Race Riot site as a unit of the National Park System either through passage of legislation by Congress or through designation of the site by President Biden as a national monument.
Do you have any other ideas or comments you would like to share with us?
With a committed community of individuals in the Springfield, IL area, the time is ripe for the race riot study to be told to the nation through its designation as a unit of the National Park System. Site management could easily be accomplished through the nearby Lincoln Home National Historic Site and in conjunction with partnerships with community organizations that support the designation. We look forward to Congress and the Biden administration making sure the designation is accomplished at the earliest possible time in order to preserve the story for future generations and to honor those whose lives were impacted by the riot in 1908.
In closing, the Coalition appreciates the hard work of NPS staff during the study process and we look forward to participating in any further discussions and management planning for the site should it be established as a unit of the National Park System.
Michael B. Murray, Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Teresa Haley, Springfield Branch, NAACP
John Dunmore, Sierra Club