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Thursday, April 29, 2004 08:53 am

Mob appeal

The 1908 race riot is part of Springfield's history and should not be ignored. That's the view of Tim Farley, executive director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The bureau recently published a brochure detailing the events of Aug. 14 and 15, 1908, when white rioters rampaged, forcing thousands of black residents to flee Springfield, many never to return. Two black men -- Scott Burton, a barber, and William Donnegan, a retired shoemaker -- were among those murdered during the riot.

The bureau's eight-page brochure contains five black-and-white photographs provided by the Illinois State Historical Library (now part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). The brochure encourages tourists to take "a historic and emotion-filled journey" through the central downtown area, and includes a walking tour map that shows the movement of the mob during the two-day riot.

The first stop is at Seventh and Jefferson, the site of the old county jail, where a white mob congregated to demand the release of two black prisoners accused of crimes against whites. In an effort to prevent a lynching, the county sheriff had the two men secretly transported to Bloomington. Deprived of a chance to lynch the two prisoners, the white crowd exploded, destroying black- and Jewish-owned businesses.

"The race riot brochure was the first thing I did as executive director," says Farley, who began his duties on Sept. 1, 2003. "The visitors bureau needed to produce a decent-looking piece on the riot."

Farley says it's critical for the city and its visitors to learn the history of the riot, which played a pivotal role in the nation's history.

"Let's remember that the race riots led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People," Farley says. That distinction could be an opportunity for the city, he says. "The centennial of the race riots is coming up in four years. I'm hoping that the NAACP Convention will be held here in Springfield in 2008."

The city of Springfield has erected eight markers to indicate the route of the mob during the two days of rioting. A couple markers have been temporarily removed because of construction of the presidential library, but Farley expects they'll be back soon.

Springfield needs to promote a variety of persons, places, and events, Farley says. "I was in Berlin recently. I learned that Abraham Lincoln is popular in Europe, but he is not as popular as Route 66. That's because Route 66 represents the American dream to people in Europe."

"Springfield can't be satisfied with having two or three tourist attractions. We really have to have nine or 10," Farley says.

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