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
Sports & Recreation
Briefly known as Riverside Park, Homer Park was an amusement park north of Homer that ran from 1905 to 1936. It was created by William B. McKinley of the Interurban and C.B. Burkhardt to encourage ridership on the transit line. African Americans utilized the park for picnics, barbecues, band concerts, dances, orations, fraternal gatherings, swimming, and fishing. The Bethel A.M.E. Church of Champaign organized Sunday school events, and residents congregated for religious revivals and church outings. African American baseball teams and jazz bands also played at Homer Park. 📍
Image credit: Bethel AME Church (Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Collection, Museum of the Grand Prairie, Mahomet, IL
Social and Religious Life
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Located at 401 E. Park Street in Champaign, Bethel A.M.E. Church is the oldest African American led church in Champaign County. It was organized in 1863 and predates the establishment of the University of Illinois. During the early part of the century when segregation was a fact of life, Bethel established a library and had a church orchestra. The church served as a meeting place for Black students attending the University of Illinois, establishing monthly lyceum meetings where students and members of the congregation came together for lectures, discussions, debates, and musical performances. In 1915 it was the site of the founding of the Twin Cities Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Spiritual, community and educational development have continued to be a mission for the church. 📍
Image credit: University of Illinois Archives
Civil Rights, Social Justice, & Politics
Student Demonstrations for Equal Rights
Despite increasing numbers of African Americans matriculating into the University of Illinois in the 1930s and 1940s, discrimination was rampant on campus and in Campustown. Black students were prohibited from eating in dining halls and local eateries, forcing many students to walk 30 minutes each way for meals in the North End, Champaign-Urbana’s African American neighborhood.📍
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Image credit: Top image: Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Dorie Miller Drive
Doris "Dorie" Miller (1919–1943) was the first African American to receive the Navy Cross—the U.S. Navy's highest medal of valor. Miller served in the Navy as a cook aboard the battleship West Virginia and, during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he acted heroically to save several soldiers and shoot down several enemy planes using an anti-aircraft machine gun, despite having no training using the weapon. Miller did not have direct ties to Champaign County, but his acts of courage earned him admiration from throughout the nation, and a street in northeastern Champaign was named in his honor.
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!