Charles Gibbs

Witnessing and Resisting Racial Hatred

Recognized as one of the most prominent Black lawyers in Central Illinois, Tennessee-born Charles S. Gibbs made Springfield his home for nearly half his life after working as a coal miner in Kentucky and Southern Illinois. Labor activism led him to pursue a career in law. Gibbs passed the bar exam in 1908 and established his office above Harry Loper’s Restaurant on South 5th Street. Weeks later, Loper’s became the first business targeted by white aggressors during the 1908 Springfield Race Riots.

Mere blocks from the house Gibbs rented for his family on North 14th Street, rioters attempted to suppress the economic advancement of Black residents by looting and burning homes of prosperous families. After experiencing the terror of the riots, Gibbs remained in Springfield to fight for justice for all in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. In 1922, Gibbs would join a local group to combat the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization Gibbs denounced as a “menace to the administration of justice in the courts.”


Object label:

Remains of a Dresser

Limestone top and wheeled furniture casters from a dresser in a home burned in the 1908 Springfield Race Riots.

Courtesy of the Illinois State Museum

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