click to enlarge An archaeologist's ultimate project
PHOTO BY KAREN WITTER
Floyd Mansberger

Archaeological investigations by Floyd Mansberger, Fever River Research, led to the discovery of remains of five houses burned during the 1908 Springfield Race Riots. Hanson Professional Services hired Fever River Research to conduct archaeological surveys at 10th and Madison Streets as part of the Railroad Relocation Project. The site was formerly a St. John's Hospital parking lot. Mansberger said in his wildest dreams he couldn't have imagined his work leading to the site being considered for inclusion in the National Park System.

Typically, there isn't much interest in 20th century archaeology. Archaeology is usually about the artifacts, which provide an understanding of the past. Melted window glass is a poignant insight to our history, but this project is different. "Our research has given voice to the individuals," said Mansberger. Robert Wright was a young Black man who fought in Cuba. His Cuban War medals are among the recovered artifacts. Bessie Black was a young Black woman striving for middle-class respectability. The remnants of a trunk and dresser with her clothing reveal this perspective. Silas Greenlee lived in one of the houses. Before coming to Springfield, he lived on plantations in the Carolinas and served in a Black regiment in the Civil War. By 1890 he was the oldest living Civil War veteran.

"I'm humbled to be working on this project," says Mansberger. "It has changed my life. It's given me new perspectives. We grow, we change, we become better with time." Mansberger is now a lifetime member of the NAACP – not something he anticipated would result from being an archaeologist. Mansberger says he is in the twilight of his career, and this is the most significant project he's worked on. "It will be a good one to go out on," he said.

About The Author

Karen Ackerman Witter

Karen Ackerman Witter started freelance writing after a 35-year career in state government holding various senior leadership positions. Prior to retiring she was associate director of the Illinois State Museum for 14 years. She is the past president of the Kidzeum Board of Directors and is an active volunteer...

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