Image Credit:
Bethel AME Church (Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Collection, Museum of the Grand Prairie, Mahomet, IL)

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.

Explore the Trail
Approximately 3 ½ miles north of Broadlands, IL

Image credit: Anthony Albert Gaines Family, c. 1915, Tudor Collection, Homer Historical Society, Homer, IL. Left to right—1st row: daughters Mary G., Mable A., Helen L. 2nd row: A. A. Gaines, wife Dora Gaines, and Salona Smith Sexton.


The Gaines Family of Ayers Township

Anthony Albert Gaines (also known as Albert Anthony) arrived in Champaign County with his stepfather George Smith in 1876, assisting with the Smith Farm. In 1893, he married Dora Earnest Thomas, daughter of Jacob Earnest, and established a farm 2 1/2 miles north in then Raymond Township, becoming one of the major Black farms in the county. His daughter Helen and her husband Jessie C. Ward eventually took over running the farm. In 1999, the farm was still in the family with grandson Eugene Ward living there renting out the last acreage into the 2000s.

One Main Plaza, Champaign, IL

Image credit: Intersection of Neil & Main, Champaign County Historical Archives


Frederick Douglass’ Visit to Champaign

Frederick Douglass visited Champaign on February 15, 1869, at Barrett Hall, located above what was Henry Swannell's Drug Store, now One Main Plaza. His topic was Self-Made Men. It was reported that, “His wit was keen and sparkling, his humor dry and effective, and his logic and argument as clear as that of the most polished orator in the land.” Champaign County Gazette, February 17, 1869, page 1

500 E. Park Street, Champaign, IL

Image credit: Salem Baptist Church, c. 1950, Digital Collection, University of Illinois Library, Resource #pmh4002, Urbana, IL


Social and Religious Life

Salem Baptist Church

Located at 500 E. Park Street in Champaign, Salem Baptist Church was initially established in 1867, the same year the University of Illinois was established, as Second Baptist Church at 406 E. Park ("the Old Coffee Place"). In 1874, the original church was destroyed by arson. After occupying locations at Swannell Drug Store at Main and Hickory, and on East Clark Street, the church bought the land at its current location in 1901 and began construction in 1908. It was renamed as Salem Baptist Church in 1911.

Did you know…

Image credit: Top: "In All My Years: Portraits of Older Blacks in Champaign-Urbana" by Raymond Bial (Champaign County Historical Museum); Bottom: Champaign Park District


Wesley Park

After teaching first grade at Lawhead Elementary School since 1946, Odelia Wesley transferred to Washington Elementary School in 1951, where she became the principal three years later. She earned many honors and awards for her work with children and seniors. The city of Champaign dedicated Wesley Park (915 N. Third Street) to her in 1970. She continued to give back to the community as a member on the Board of Directors of the Frances Nelson Health Center, as a member of the American Association of University Women, and a teacher of knitting and crocheting for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program at Helen Stevick Center.


Image Credit:
Salem Baptist Church (Homer Historical Society)

Lift every voice and sing

Your story matters.

Submit local history, buildings, or events to include on the Trail.

We want to hear from you!