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
208 S. East Street, Homer, IL

Image credit: Jacob Earnest and Grandnieces, c. 1909/1910, Courtesy of Betty Nesbitt Rowell, Urbana, IL.

Agriculture

Innovation

Home of Jacob Earnest

Jacob Earnest arrived in Vermilion County, Illinois, in 1871 from Greene County, Tennessee, where he and his family had been enslaved. By 1880, he was working 404 acres of farm, pasture, and forest land around Carroll in Vermilion County and Homer in Champaign County, adding 80 acres in 1885. In 1897, he bought his Homer home and the adjacent lot. (The house presently at this location is not the original.) A respected farmer, blacksmith, teamster, and harvester, he was known for creating a steam powered horse drawn thresher machine and established his own threshing ring to harvest farms in the area. 📍

One Main Plaza, Champaign, IL

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

Community

Frederick Douglass’ Visit to Champaign

Frederick Douglass visited Champaign, Illinois, on February 15, 1869, at Barrett Hall, located on the third floor above what was Henry Swannell’s Drug Store, now One Main Plaza. His topic was Self-Made Men. “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 📍

605 N. Walnut, Champaign, IL

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

Community

Albert R. Lee

Albert R. Lee was born on Jun 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 at the University. 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 Dean of African American students. 📍

Did you know…

Image credit: Above: Champaign County Historical Archives at The Urbana Free Library │ Below: Stratton Academy of the Arts

Education

Stratton Academy of the Arts

Stratton Academy of the Arts, an arts-themed, K–5 magnet school in Champaign, is named after Kenneth O. Stratton. In 1961, Stratton was elected the first Black councilman in the City of Champaign in 1961—and one of the first elected at large in the United States.

Events

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!