HSHS St. John’s Hospital has unveiled an exhibit that commemorates the 1908 Race Riot, featuring a centerpiece painting by artist Preston Jackson depicting the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis caring for the victims of the riot. The unveiling also included a presentation of a gift from the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, a statue of a dove by artist Gianfranco Tassara, representing peace and healing. The 1908 Race Riot was one of the most violent riots against blacks in American history and led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
E.J. Kuiper, MHA, DPT, FACHE, president and CEO of HSHS Central Illinois Division welcomed everyone to the unveiling at the new HSHS St. John’s Hospital Women and Children’s Clinic on Ninth Street. The clinic is located near the foundations of homes that were burned during the riot. Sister Maureen O’Connor, OSF, provincial superior of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, presented the dove statue and healing garden. A reflection from 1908 was offered by Nell Clay from the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum. Preston Jackson, the centerpiece artist, spoke about his work. A closing prayer from Father Fredrick Mbiere blessed the new exhibit and garden.
The committee that planned and designed the exhibit, as well as selected Preston, included Catie Sheehan, VP of advocacy and communications for HSHS; Nell Clay, president of the board of directors of the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum; historian Kathryn Harris, also a member of the board of directors for the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum; Ken Page, former president of the Springfield NAACP; Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, director of marketing and communications for the HSHS Central Illinois Division; Erica Johnson, manager of communications for the HSHS Central Illinois Division; Brad Ochiltree, manager of communications at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital; Jennifer Snopko and Lane Fowler, marketing specialists for HSHS St. John’s Hospital.
“Over the last few years as we developed plans for this building, HSHS St. John’s Hospital sought input from a variety of community leaders and organizations on how to commemorate the tragedy and honor the victims of the Race Riots in the design of this new medical office building,” said Kuiper said. “We are grateful for their suggestions which led to the creation of an outdoor healing garden and a lobby wall exhibit – both of which bring us to today’s event.”
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,” Clay said. “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 of this pictorial project was to memorialize the 1908 Race Riot and to show the compassionate response and care of the sisters.”
The selected artist, Preston Jackson, is professor emeritus at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. He was recently chosen #6 of all-time Illinois Artists and Architects as chosen by voters, the first living individual in the Illinois Top 200 project list. He was also selected a 1998 Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, the highest honor given to individuals in the state. Preston’s large-scale outdoor sculptures, paintings and smaller bronze pieces have been exhibited widely in the U.S.
“He has made his mark with his artistry, attention to detail, and his historical knowledge of the 1908 Race Riot as demonstrated in his ‘Acts of Intolerance’ sculpture in Union Square Park,” said committee member Kathryn Harris, former library services director at the Abraham Presidential Library and Museum, board member of the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum and NAACP member. “His ability to convey action, emotions and realism is highlighted as he honors and tells the story of Sister Wiedlocher and her HSHS OSF St. John’s Hospital colleagues. They provided care and refuge to all victims, regardless of race, in the hours and days of the aftermath of that fateful and heinous event in the August, 1908.”
About HSHS St. John’s Hospital
HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois is a regional medical center offering a comprehensive array of health care services to central and southern Illinois. Founded in 1875, St. John’s is the flagship hospital of Hospital Sisters Health System and is home to the Prairie Heart Institute, St. John’s Children’s Hospital, St. John’s Women’s Services, St. John’s Neurosciences Institute, St. John’s Cancer Institute, orthopedic services and AthletiCare. St. John’s now has one of the most advanced surgery centers in the nation and a renovated patient tower with all private rooms. St. John’s is designated as a level I trauma center, has its own college of nursing and is a teaching hospital for the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. For more information about St. John’s Hospital, visit www.st-johns.org.
About Hospital Sisters Health System
Hospital Sisters Health System’s (HSHS) mission is to reveal and embody Christ’s healing love for all people through our high quality Franciscan health care ministry. HSHS provides state-of-the-art health care to our patients and is dedicated to serving all people, especially the most vulnerable, at each of our 15 local systems and physician practices in Illinois (Belleville, Breese, Decatur, Effingham, Greenville, Highland, Litchfield, Shelbyville and Springfield) and Wisconsin (Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Oconto Falls, Sheboygan and two in Green Bay). HSHS is sponsored by Hospital Sisters Ministries, and Hospital Sisters of St. Francis is the founding institute. For more information about HSHS, visit www.hshs.org. For more information about Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, visit www.hospitalsisters.org.