From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Spring Valley, Illinois

Located in northern Illinois, Spring Valley was built by the Spring Valley Coal Company and the Spring Valley Townsite Company in 1884. Men from Europe, northern Africa, and the United States were employed to work the mines, including a small group of African Americans from Kentucky. Homes for all African Americans were located two miles outside of town, following a local ordinance forbidding them within the city limits.

The Spring Valley Coal Company was the state's largest coal producer. Lockouts and strikes were common occurrences at the mines, and in 1895 racial tension escalated when Italian miners attacked African American miners and their families, forcing them to abandon their homes. As news of the rioting spread to Chicago, African Americans put out a call to arms. Illinois Governor Altgeld and Spring Valley Mayor Delmargo intervened and restored calm. The African American miners from the south and their women were blamed for the trouble.

By 1910, there were 32 nationalities in Spring Valley  including 230 African Americans, two-thirds of whom were Kentucky natives, according to author Paul Debono. When the mines closed, many took work at the resorts where hotel employees played baseball as entertainment for the resort guests; Spring Valley has been noted as playing a contributing role in the development of Negro League baseball.

For more see The Indianapolis ABCs: history of a premier team in the Negro Leagues, by P. Debono; Black Coal Miners in America: race, class, and community conflict, 1780-1980, by R. L. Lewis; and the following articles in the New York Times: "A Race riot in Illinois: Italians attack the Negroes at Spring Valley," 4/5/1895, p. 8; "Rioters hold full sway," 8/6/1895, p. 3; "All Negroes driven out," 8/7/1895; "Chicago Negroes call to arms," 8/7/1895; "Spring Valley Negro war ended," 8/8/1895; "Negroes may return to Spring Valley," 8/9/1895; "Arrested for shooting Negro laborers," 8/17/1895; "Negroes arming for Spring Valley," 8/19/1895; and "Cause of the Spring Valley riots: Negroes said to have been responsible for the trouble," 8/26/1895. See also chapter 5, "Making the Italian other," in Are Italians White?, by J. Guglielmo and S. Salerno.

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“Spring Valley, Illinois,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 13, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-08-24 13:27:36