The Springfield Race Riot of 1908, the NAACP, and the Illinois State Museum

postcard riot

By law, artifacts excavated at the 1908 Springfield Race Riot site were to be curated at the ISM. Over the years, ISM has developed a close relationship with the Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum, working collaboratively to preserve the rich historical record of African-American life.

In preparing for rail consolidation for Springfield’s high-speed rail, an archaeological survey was conducted in accordance with federal law.  As it happens, the rail line goes right through the area in which victims of the riot lived, and archaeologists discovered remains from the houses.

The riot was a brutal two-day assault by several thousand white citizens on the black community, sparked by the arrest of two African America suspects in violent crimes against whites. When the mob that had gathered to lynch the men discovered the sheriff had transferred them out of the city, it rioted in black neighborhoods, killing black citizens on the street and destroyed businesses and homes. The next day the governor sent in thousands of militia to restore order.

The riot in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown demonstrated the need for an effective national civil rights organization. The riot is considered an important precipitating event in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1909, a biracial group of activists, including W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimke, Henry Moskowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villard, Florence Kelley, and William English Walling–the last son of a former slave-holding family–met to form the organization.

The ISM is the legally designated repository for the race riot site’s artifacts, field notes, maps and reports. Where will all the artifacts and records from the survey and excavations go—not to mention all the other  surveys and excavations in the ISM collections?  Who is going to keep the site files for the entire state?  What will happen to the millions of artifacts the ISM has under these laws?  Neither the Governor nor DNR is providing any answers to these important questions.


Submitting comments: Cut and Paste Talking Points

capitol build

CONTACT the COMMISSION HERE (oral testimony or written comments)


Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability

ATTN: Facility Closure 703 Stratton Building Springfield, IL 62706


Facility Being Closed: Illinois State Museum System

Position: Opposed

I urge the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability to make a recommendation against closing the Illinois State Museum (ISM) System.

I am a [citizen, parent, artist, scientist, student, etc.  Add a sentence or two about your experience and interaction with the ISM.]

I oppose closing the ISM for the reasons listed below: [Select one or two points you think are important. Copy and paste into your comments.  Don’t try to cover everything—long comments are less likely to be read.]


  • The ISM is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. (Fewer than 5% of museums are accredited.) An external team audited ISM and concluded that its exhibits, collections management procedures, and staff of highly trained professionals made it worthy of accreditation. Closure means losing accreditation which could take years to get back.
  • The professional staff includes experienced and respected scientists, historians, and museum professionals, with specialties in fields such as anthropology, archaeology, the decorative arts,  paleontology, botany, geology, and zoology. They will either leave or be let go, taking with them irreplaceable knowledge of the collections and their fields of expertise.
  • ISM facilities house and protect more than 12.5 million objects including artworks, scientific specimens, historic artifacts and documents, archaeological and ethnographic collections. They preserve our collective cultural and natural heritage. Closing the ISM ends access to these collections–and the knowledge which is generated–for both the public and researchers. Moving artifacts elsewhere will jeopardize these irreplaceable collections.
  • Closure will be costly for taxpayers and is a betrayal of the families of Illinois citizens who donated materials to the ISM museum with the understanding that they would be shared with the public in perpetuity. Some donors may pursue legal actions against the state regarding access and preservation. Closure especially impacts ISM’s unique collection of Native American artifacts, including human remains and sacred tribal objects which are governed by written agreements and federal law.
  • ISM scientists conduct research that is internationally recognized, collaborating with others on complex, multi-disciplinary projects. Researchers rely on the Research and Collections Center in Springfield to do their work. University professors routinely expose their students, undergraduate to Ph.D.s, to the expertise of the ISM staff, as well as collections and facilities. Closure will jeopardize our position and reputation as a state at the forefront of scientific research and development.
  • The ISM hosts public lectures, cultural events, concerts, and educational programs that help educate the public, build community partnerships, encourage civic engagement, and provides spaces where life-long friendships and business connections are made.


  • The MacLean Play Museum in Springfield engages young children in science education through creative play. It hosts “Saturplay,” a free hands-on program that reached 7,000 people in 2014. The ISM’s summer camp allows students to explore art and science in a fun-filled atmosphere that creates a love of learning. The ISM educational programs aimed at children serve the entire community and are especially important for low-income families.
  • 2,300 teachers and 40,000 school children visit the ISM annually. A fieldtrip to one of the ISM facilities is affordable for school districts operating on tight budgets and is often a highlight of the year for students. Educational staff specialize in creating excellent lesson plans that accompany exhibits. Plans and other educational materials are available online to anyone who can access the internet.
  • Older students often volunteer at the museum as docents and research assistants. Their museum experience helps them succeed in school and prepares them to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as the social sciences and humanities.


  • In 2014, the ISM system saw over 370,000 on-site visitors, including 2,300 teachers and 40,000 school children. Another 1.5 million virtual visitors used its online resources. Visitors were enriched by its educational, cultural, and economic opportunities.

Chicago Galleries and Illinois Artisans Shop: 103,000 visitors Dickson Mounds in Lewistown:  50,000 visitors Lockport Gallery: 14,000 visitors Southern Illinois Art Gallery near Sesser: 18,000 visitors Springfield: 200,000 visitors

  • Visitors to the ISM spend an estimated $33 million dollars in Illinois each year. Nationally, visitors to historic, cultural and museum sites stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other tourists. The ISM site in Springfield alone contributes an estimated $17 million to the local economy.
  • ISM facilities and grant projects add another $8.4 million to the state economy in goods and services.   ISM attracts about $2 million in federal grants to Illinois each year.
  • The ISM annual budget of $6.29 million is 0.0072% of 2015 FY state budget of $87.4 billion. It is 0.157% of the 2015 FY $4 billion shortfall.


For these reasons, I respectfully request that you recommend against the closure of the Illinois State Museum System facilities. Thank you for your consideration.  [Your name]

News articles and letters about closing the ISM


July 7                   Hyperallergic: Sensitive to Art & its Discontents

July 1                    WUIS (public radio, Springfield) Interview of Eliide Lakota

June 25                 Journal-Standard  article (Freeport,IL)

June 25                 Chicago Tribune  article (subscription needed or read here)

June 25                 Illinois Times  Guest Opinion (Springfield weekly)

June 25                 State Journal Register Olson Letter to Editor (Springfield)

June 25                 State Journal Register O’Gorman Letter to Editor (Springfield)

June 25                 Capitol   blog (web blog on Illinois state politics)

June 25                 American Historical Association letter

June 23                 Chicago Reader  article (weekly newspaper)

June 13                 Mostly Mammoths, Mummies and Museums  blog

June 12                 Letter from state and national museum associations

June 10                 State Journal Register  article (Springfield)

June 5                   Pantagraph article (Bloomington/Normal)

June 4                   Quad Cities Times article

June 2                   Chicago Sun Times article

June 2                   Southern Illinoisan article (Carbondale)

Chicago Tribune article of June 25, 2015

Museums caught in middle of state budget fray   Johnson, Steve.

Chicago Tribune [Chicago, Ill] 25 June 2015: 1.

Democrats contend that Rauner is using the proposed cuts as a bargaining tool and potential wedge to try to force concessions out of them on issues including stripping state employee unions of power.

The signs all over the Illinois Artisans gallery in the State of Illinois building this week were not exactly conducive to commerce:

“In preparation for the closure of the Illinois State Museum, Illinois Artisan objects are being returned to the artists,” they said.

And sure enough, the second-floor shop appeared well on its way to bare shelves as makers trickled in to repossess their pottery, prints and Shaker boxes.

Down the hall, the Chicago Gallery art museum had gone a step further. The doors, as of Monday, were locked. The exhibition “Footprints Through Time: Artists Inspired by History” was being dismantled, the artwork heading back to its owners.

And the sign once again referenced “preparation for the closure of the Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery,” a bit of history that is perhaps not so inspirational to artists.

It’s a bad time to be an Illinois budget item that doesn’t involve saving lives or paying lawmakers.

On June 3 and 12, Gov. Bruce Rauner threatened a series of cuts he said were intended to shave more than $820 million from a fiscal year 2016 state budget that is at least $3 billion in the red.

The Republican governor’s stance in the current, complex budget stalemate has been fairly basic: The Democrats controlling the legislature passed an unbalanced budget that he cannot sign as is and must do what he can to fix.

Democrats contend that Rauner is using the proposed cuts as a bargaining tool and potential wedge to try to force concessions out of them on issues including stripping state employee unions of power.

aught in the middle is a relatively small operation like the state museum system, overseen by the Department of Natural Resources. Its five branches are the natural history mothership, the Illinois State Museum in Springfield; the Dickson Mounds Museum and archaeological site in Lewiston; and three art galleries, Chicago and the affiliated artisans’ shop, the Lockport Gallery, and the Southern Illinois Art and Artisans Center at Rend Lake.

“I’m seriously bummed,” said Chicago artist Sharon Hoogstraten, a member of the Potawatomi Nation, as she removed artwork related to Indians from the Chicago Gallery on Wednesday afternoon. “Today, I came in here. I thought, ‘Wow, we’re being kicked out by Illinois again.’ ”

While the museums may just be a pawn in a game over how the state spends its money, they are feeling real effects.

“The Department will begin the process to suspend operations and close the five state museums to visitors,” said the June 3 announcement from Rauner’s office. “The state will continue to maintain and secure the museums to protect the artifacts and exhibits.”

Museum workers, a portion of whom would be kept on for the maintenance of the collections, aren’t talking. They’ve been told to refer all inquiries to the DNR, which has offered a just-the-facts tone in its public comments.

“Prior to closing, the museums will return art objects owned by other entities that are currently on display. Staff members are trying to return as many borrowed objects as possible prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30,” said a statement from spokesman Chris Young.

“Consigned Illinois Artisan works also will be returned, as well as scientific collections from other museums and universities that have been borrowed for research purposes. The museum’s staff will also be calling back artifacts and specimens that are on loan to other entities for research and exhibition. When the museums close to the public, a small staff will be kept on to care for the collections and maintain the buildings.”

Unclear is when full closure would occur. “At this time, there is no set date for the State Museum System to suspend operations,” Young said. The websites for all three state museum galleries said current shows were “canceled,” but doors remained open at ISM in Springfield and at Dickson Mounds, workers there said.

Guerry Suggs, the Illinois State Museum board chairman, said certain procedural requirements mean full closure likely could not happen before early September. There does remain the possibility that a compromise budget could be passed.

Advocates of the museums decry the damage that will be done to the system’s reputation if it is allowed to close even temporarily, the impact on the 13,500 artifacts and almost 200,000 annual visitors and the concurrent loss of tourism money.

“It’s very dangerous to the museum system,” said Suggs. “Once you close the museum, it becomes more difficult to get people to lend you items in the future.

“We’ve done studies that show throughout the state, we bring in about $30 million in tourism dollars,” Suggs added. “In Springfield alone, you’re (giving) away $10 million” in economic benefits. But of course, that money doesn’t go into the state treasury.

“I have sympathy for what he’s trying to do, for the fact that we need a balanced budget,” Suggs said. “But I think you make more trouble for yourself closing a museum than you gain.”

A rally for the museums will be July 21 at noon at the state Capitol building, said Samantha Reif, a spokeswoman for a grass-roots group that met Tuesday night in Springfield.

After the proposed museum cuts were announced, Reif started a petition, “Governor Rauner: Don’t Close the Illinois State Museum.” As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 6,500 people had signed.

Reif teaches geology at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield and has volunteered at the museum for the past year, seeing the impact it has on visitors.

“There’s so many things that the museum does,” Reif said. “You may not be into dinosaurs or mammoths, but you might be into local arts or quilts or Native Americans. It seems like the economic value has to outweigh the cost savings at work here.”

Rauner’s office, when asked to comment on the museum situation, stuck to the line it has offered in most recent public discourse about the state budget: Blame House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

“Speaker Madigan and the politicians he controls passed a budget that’s unbalanced by $4 billion, and the governor is taking the appropriate steps to manage the hole in their budget proposal,” a spokeswoman said via email. Tribune reporting pegs the figure at $3 billion.

Other proposed trims are coming from tourism promotional budgets, the elimination of the tax credit for film and TV producers, and many aspects of health and human services and transportation.

Museum backers want supporters to join them via a Facebook page, Save the Illinois State Museum. It asks people to offer their comments on the closing to the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability at

One of the strongest arguments for the museum, Suggs said, is its $6.29 million operating budget for the next fiscal year, which will start Wednesday, or less than 1 percent of Rauner’s recent round of cuts.

“If you look at a $4 billion budget shortfall,” he added, “that’s like one-tenth of 1 percent, which ain’t a hell of a lot, which goes back to the pawn argument.”

Said Hoogstraten: “I hope it’s a political gambit.” Leaving the “Footprints” show up through its scheduled closing of July 10 “would have been the graceful way to do it,” she said. “But there isn’t much grace here.”


Twitter @StevenKJohnson

Credit: By Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune


Caption: Photo: The Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery, inside the Thompson Center in the Loop, closed Monday. The relatively small state museum system is caught in the budget feud. TERRENCE ANTONIO JAMES/CHICAGO TRIBUNE

(Copyright 2015 by the Chicago Tribune)

Source: Proquest National News Premier

Welcome to Save the Illinois State Museum Blog

We will be adding press articles and other longer pieces shortly.

Meanwhile, here’s what you can do to help save the ISM:

* Governor Bruce Rauner (217) 782-6830

* Speaker of the House, Rep. Michael J. Madigan(217) 782-5350

* President of the Senate, Sen. John J. Cullerton (217) 782-2728

* Your Illinois General Assembly senator and representative