BY SETH WILLIAMS
In August of 1908, racial tensions in the Illinois capital of Springfield would boil over into the north’s first race riot in 40 years. Northern newspapers would decimate Springfield’s image as a city devoid of the racial hostility that gripped the rest of the nation, associating it instead with bigotry and prejudice. Meanwhile, the south reveled in the proof that Yankees, too, had a “negro problem.”
The riot that gripped Abraham Lincoln’s hometown began when a white woman named Mabel Hallam leveled charges of rape against George Richardson, a black man. A white mob formed outside the Sangamon County Jail, intent upon lynching both Richardson and another black man, Joe James, who stood accused of the murder of a white railroad engineer.
However, Sheriff Charles Werner had secreted the two men from town. The mob, frustrated and determined to sate its anger, quickly turned its rage on nearby black businesses, then a nearby black neighborhood. The resulting violence left seven dead: two black, and five white. Additionally, around 40 black-occupied homes and over 20 black-owned businesses were destroyed. It took the activation of thousands of state militia to bring the town back under control.
In the aftermath, 117 indictments and almost 100 arrests led to only one conviction, a teenager named Roy Young that boasted loudly of his part in the riot. Additionally, a woman named Kate Howard, who was arrested for instigating the riot, killed herself in prison. Another man, Abrhama Raymer, was tried on four separate counts against him, including rioting and murder. The jury found him guilty of only one charge, petty larceny, and sent him the jail for 30 days. This led to the conclusion by State’s Attorney Hatch that “it would be impossible to secure a conviction in Sangamon County.”
In perhaps the saddest revelation, Mabel Hallam later recanted her accusation against Richardson and admitted to fabricating the story. The spark that ignited the events of that August night, leading to so much unnecessary violence and bloodshed, was in fact a lie. The silver lining, however, is that the event would prove a catalyst to the creation of the NAACP by black and white Civil-Rights activists.
Read more of the original article on Sangamoncountyhistory.org at http://sangamoncountyhistory.org/wp/?p=1486