Since 1976, America has designated February as Black History Month. During this month, we celebrate the accomplishments and inventions that African Americans have contributed to our society while also acknowledging the sad and the majority of the time violent and deadly history and events that have taken place against African Americans in our country. While it may be difficult and unsettling to confront and learn of our nation’s racist history, it is a necessary unpleasantness to face. So our African American friends, family, and neighbors can have an equitable place in life and help ensure it does not happen again.
On February 12th, 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed on the centennial of Lincoln’s birthday and because of a race riot that happened six months earlier in Springfield, Illinois. On August 14th, 1908, two African American men were being held in the city jail on accusations of rape and murder. Five thousand white people were soon outside the prison, demanding the men’s release. The sheriff sensing the danger for these men, soon took them through the back of the jail to the train station, where they were transported to Bloomington, IL, for safety.
After learning of the removal of the African American men, the mob soon erupted in anger and violence. For two days, black neighborhoods and businesses were burned and looted, and two important African American figures in the local community were lynched. As a result, there was $150,000 of property damage ($4,583,934.78 in today’s money), and thousands of black families soon left Springfield, and some never returned. Six months later, on this day in 1909, the NAACP was formed because of the deadly race riot in our state’s capitol.
The NAACP is a grassroots organization whose vision is to ensure that all individuals have equal rights and no racial hatred or racial discrimination. Founded by W.E.B Dubois, the NAACP helped with the inaction of race-based anti-discrimination bills such as the anti-lynching bill and the voting rights act of 1965 by working with elected officials and continues to do so in hundreds of communities with over 2 million members nationwide. Some of our nation’s most historic milestones may not have happened without the NAACP.
Learning our nation’s history and our state’s history is a small action that we can take to become a more inclusive society. We need to reflect and recognize that racism happened and still is happening everywhere, including Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. When we do not learn of our troubles past, we miss out on learning essential facts such as how a race riot in our state’s capital helped form one of the most prominent African American institutions. This month we should sit back and give space for those to speak on this history. We should actively listen and then change to be better people.
If you want to learn more about Black History in the United States, visit Caseyville Library's Black Life in America database free to use with your library card!
This article was written by SIUE Master's Student Social Worker, Allison. If you are interested in speaking with a library social worker to find assistance with food, housing, utilities, job searches, and more contact them at email@example.com or call 618-345-5848.