Celebrate the hidden and incredible stories
Right here in East Central Illinois
Champaign County African American Heritage Trail
Discover over 170 years of rich cultural history and building community. Through Reconstruction and the Great Migration, through the Depression and two world wars, through the Civil Rights era right up to the present day, learn the powerful stories of African Americans who directly shaped the place we call home.
The mission is to educate today’s residents and visitors about the rich cultural history of a people whose stories have been largely unrecognized. Our vision is to inspire conversation, expand understanding, and contribute to a better society.
Image credit: Homer Historical Society
Wiley & Frances Jones
Wiley Jones came to Homer from Decatur, Georgia, after the Civil War with William C. Custer. Jones would run a barber shop for years in Homer, was a trustee of the Homer Savings and Loan Association, and was nominated to serve on the Village Board several times. In 1877, Wiley Jones and Mrs. Fannie Roberson Morgan were married at the home of Rev. Whitlock. Fannie died in 1914 and Wiley Jones died in 1919 in a fire while lighting his stove. Wiley and Fannie are buried in the Homer G.A.R. Cemetery.
Image credit: Albert R. Lee, The Albert R. Lee Collection, University of Illinois Archives, Urbana, IL; The Albert Lee House, c. 1978, Digital Collection, University of Illinois Library, Resource # IHA00170, Urbana, IL
Albert R. Lee
Albert R. Lee was born on June 26, 1874, on a farm outside of Champaign, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois in 1894, and in 1895 he became the second African American hired at the university. He started as a messenger, but then became the clerk for the Office of the President. Lee served under six university Presidents. At a time when African Americans were not allowed to live on campus, he took it upon himself to assist them with housing and maneuvering through school, becoming known as the unofficial Dean of African American Students.
Image credit: Cattle Drive, Homer, IL, date unknown, Homer Historical Society.
Black Cowboys in Southeastern Champaign County
Before the famous Texas Cattle Drives, there were Black cowboys herding cattle in East Central Illinois. One of the largest cattle farms in the United States was located in southeast Champaign County: Ohioan Michael Sullivant's farm, Broadlands. Many African Americans filled the essential roles of cattle herding and farm maintenance on Sullivant's Broadlands Farm and other large cattle farms in southeastern Champaign and southwestern Vermilion Counties, as well as at Sullivant's holdings in Ford County. At their height, these farms sold cattle to the East, to the stockyard of Chicago, and to the Union Army during the Civil War. Additionally, African Americans were hired as cooks, standard farmhands and laborers, hostlers (caring and handling of horses and mules), and domestics. Farm and stock help were highly intermittent—with workers coming and going depending on the farms' needs—so the actual number of African American cowboys in Champaign County was unknown. However, the 1865 Illinois Census recorded nine African Americans working at Broadlands Farm: four women working as cooks and domestics, and five men working with the livestock and living in the large bunkhouse along with other “hands”.
Established in 1853, Sullivant's farm was named for the broad lands (prairie) it covered. At about 26,500 acres, it extended seven miles east to west, and six and a half miles north to south. The Bunkhouse and other outbuildings were located four miles south of the current town of Broadlands, which was named after the farm. Large scale cattle industry failed in East Central Illinois after an 1868 outbreak of Spanish Fever, a cattle disease brought from Texas, and the rise of the Texas Cattle Drives.
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Image credit: Urbana Park District
King Park (915 W. Wascher Dr., Urbana) was established in 1967. Since then, the park has grown in size, and amenities include the Jettie Rhodes pavilion and a gazebo. It is named after the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lift every voice and sing
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