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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008 04:47 am


Assembly to mark 1908 race riot draws diverse participants

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Participants in the first Solemn Assembly, held on Jan. 5, gathered at Central Baptist Church, then marched through downtown Springfield.

There’s nothing particularly inviting about the term “solemn assembly.” There’s nothing appealing about the notion of re-examining the most painful part of Springfield’s past — the 1908 race riot in which two black men were lynched, at least five other citizens accidentally killed, and scores of black-owned homes and businesses destroyed. Furthermore, the thought of marching several blocks on a wintry Saturday morning is downright chilling. Yet the crowd of Springfieldians who responded on Jan. 5 to the call for the first Solemn Assembly to commemorate the 1908 riot sur prised the local Ministerial Alliance that co-sponsored the event. Not only was the crowd larger than expected — estimates ranged from 150 to 170 — but it was also more diverse than anyone had anticipated. “It was very obvious, and very pleasing to us, that there were more whites than blacks,” says the Rev. Dr. W.G. Robinson-McNeese, president of the Ministerial Alliance, which is sponsoring the series of eight such assemblies with Praying for Revival All Year. “We thought [the audience] was about 65 percent white, 35 percent black, and we like that. “We sort of felt that, because we were talking about the race riot, it would be easy for blacks to embrace the concept but many whites might prefer to ignore it — so we were very pleased.”
The assembly began at Central Baptist Church with an hour-long service featuring prolonged prayers for racial reconciliation. Participants then marched about four blocks to a historical marker at the corner of Fifth and Monroe streets, where the 1908 mob entered a Jewish-owned store to obtain rope and other materials to be used in the lynchings. “Seeing the people march, talking and fellowshipping — that was impressive,” Robinson-McNeese says. Some carried signs emblazoned “All Races Welcome Here!” and promoting 2008 as the “Year of Reconciliation.”
The second Solemn Assembly is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at the First Presbyterian Church, 321 S. Seventh Street. The assemblage will then march to the marker, in the 200 block of South Fifth Street. Robinson-McNeese hopes that this gathering will be as encouraging as the first one was. “I’m hoping for a crescendo effect,” he says. “I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls, a lot of buzz.”

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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