Springfield, Illinois, is steeped in American history. Some of its lore is well-known: It was the home of our 16th President and to this day embodies the heart of the “Land of Lincoln.” It is the ancestral land of the Kickapoo Tribe and, of course, serves as the state capital of Illinois. But it also served as the backdrop of some of our nation’s lowest moments — nightmarish days that are as painful as they are essential to remember and reflect upon: including the 1908 Race Riots.In August 1908, a mob of white Americans and European immigrants murdered at least six Black residents then burned and looted Black businesses and communities in an effort to spread terror throughout the city and show that while Springfield was the home of the Great Emancipator, it was not immune to the racial violence that, tragically, is deeply woven into the fabric of this nation’s history.More than a century later, our country still wrestles with the legacy of these, and other, horrific events. But as an Illinoisan, I know that part of what defines Midwestern culture is the ability to speak plainly: to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes. Designating a national monument to honor the 1908 Race Riots, one of the darkest periods of our nation’s fight for racial equality, is a decidedly Midwestern thing to do — and I’m calling on President Biden to help us do just that.
Last year, along with my fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, I introduced legislation that would designate the site of the 1908 Race Riots as a national monument. And while despite our efforts, Congressional gridlock has thus far prevented the bill from passing, there is still another path forward. The President can bypass that stalemate and give the bill an alternative way ahead through the Antiquities Act: a law that empowers the President to designate federal lands as national monuments in the hope of preserving and protecting spaces of historical or cultural significance.
The site of the 1908 Race Riots is both. The Springfield Riots helped spur the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), while in 2020, the Department of the Interior designated it the 30th addition to the African American Civil Rights Network, honoring the sacrifices made and suffering endured throughout the civil rights movement. Those are just two of the reasons why there has been an incredibly wide array of support for this designation. Everyone from statewide politicians to local stakeholders, groups from the Sierra Club to St. John’s Hospital to faith-based organizations and the Springfield Branch of the NAACP have joined me in this effort. Because they know what I know: that acknowledging and understanding America’s history — all of America’s history — is critical to a healthy nation.
For far too long, our country has been all too happy to obscure or ignore the low moments in the histories of BIPOC Americans, opting to illuminate only the palatable, honorable, unobjectionable instances in our nation’s timeline. But the lighter parts of history don’t tell the entire story, and we owe it to both our older generations and the ones yet to come to shine a light on our darkest days—acknowledging past violence and oppression in the hope of never seeing a future that dark again.
So today, I’m asking us to remember the worst of yesteryear in the interest of progressing to a truly just and equitable tomorrow. Now is the time for President Biden to use the power entrusted to him through the Antiquities Act to designate this historical site a national monument, thereby safeguarding the space and its story for generations—honoring the lives lost in that dark hour and recommitting to promoting racial justice and equity for all, for all the hours to come.
Tammy Duckwoth represents Illinois in the United States Senate.
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December 13, 2022 at 07:06AM