Background about the 1908 Race Riot


On the evening of August 14, 1908, the Hospital Sisters and their hospital, St. John’s Hospital, offered refuge from violence and cared for the injured, blacks alongside whites. Despite the horrific violence of this riot, inside St. John’s there was peace.

According to the archives of the Hospital Sisters, “When no more rooms were available at the hospital, patients were laid on mattresses on the floor — black and white patients lying side by side. Interestingly, once the injured entered St. John’s Hospital, they set aside all prejudice, antagonism and hatred.”

Numerous anti-black race riots broke out in the north between 1900 and 1908. Anti-black race riots broke out in New York, Evansville and Greensburg, Ind., Ohio, Springfield, Ill., and other smaller cities.

"The Springfield Race Riot of 1908 garnered national attention because it was the home of the ‘great emancipator,’ Abraham Lincoln,” said Nell Clay, president of the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum. “Abraham Lincoln made Springfield famous and the race riot made Springfield infamous.

During the riot, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis at St. John’s Hospital offered refuge from the violence and cared for the injured, blacks and whites alike. The challenge to this pictorial project, is to memorialize the 1908 Race Riot and to show the compassionate response and care of the sisters.”

We look forward to working with an artist who is passionate about helping us educate, heal and learn from our history,” Charles L. Lucore, MD, MBA, president and CEO of HSHS St. John’s Hospital said.