Image Credit:
Salem Baptist Church (Homer Historical Society)

About

The Champaign County African American Heritage Trail is a celebration of the lives and contributions of African Americans in the Champaign County area. The mission is to educate today’s residents and visitors about the rich cultural history of a people whose stories have been largely unrecognized, but who directly shaped the place we call home. Our vision is to inspire conversation, expand understanding, and contribute to a better society. An important goal for the Trail is to provide a free and accessible experience for visitors and all community members.

The Trail is a community-driven and volunteer-led initiative. Content on this website is continually updated and reviewed, so please visit periodically for new information. To submit history, buildings, or events for inclusion on the Trail, or to provide feedback on existing content, visit the Connect page.

Trail Co-Chairs

Angela M. Rivers, Arts, Educator

Barbara Suggs-Mason, Educator

Committee

  • Alvin S. Griggs, Colony Square Cleaners
  • Chelsea Norton, Champaign Park District
  • Darius White, City of Urbana
  • Essie Harris, Douglass Branch Library
  • Gabe Lewis, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission
  • Greg Stock, Champaign Unit #4 Educator
  • Janet Soesbe, Urbana Park District
  • Jayne DeLuce, Visit Champaign County
  • Jessica Ballard, University Archives, University of Illinois 
  • Joelle Soulard, University of Illinois, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism
  • Justin Michael Hendrix, HITNHOMEBOY 
  • Kelly White, 40 North | 88 West
  • Kenton Elmore, Community
  • Kevin Hamilton, University of Illinois, College of Fine and   Applied Arts
  • Mark D. Hanson, Museum of the Grand Prairie, Champaign County Forest Preserve District
  • Megan Pearson, Illinois Digital Heritage Hub
  • Nathaniel Banks, Educator
  • Noah Lenstra, Educator
  • Rachel Lauren Storm, Krannert Art Museum
  • Raymond Cunningham, Homer Historical Society
  • Rita Conerly, Community
  • Robert White, Douglass Annex, Champaign Park District
  • Sam Hall, Village of Rantoul
  • Sam Smith, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
  • Sara Bennett, Champaign County Historical Archives at The Urbana Free Library
  • Sarah Christensen, University of Illinois Library
  • Sasha Green, C-U Mass Transit District
  • Shandra Summerville, Champaign Rotary Club
  • Terri Reifsteck, Visit Champaign County
  • Tina-Marie Ansong, Community
  • Wanda Ward, Public Engagement, University of Illinois
  • Will Kyles, Champaign County Black Chamber of Commerce

About The Logo

The Champaign County African American Heritage logo was designed by graphic designer, Marcus Flinn. In collaboration with the co-organizers, the logo was designed to reflect various components of the history of African Americans in Champaign County.

  • The church on the left is Salem Baptist Church in Champaign
  • The building on the right is the former Homer High School in Homer
  • The corn represents the agriculture industry and farms that African Americans owned in rural Champaign County
  • The sun rising represents faith, hope, and new beginnings
  • The people represent today’s individuals exploring African American history in Champaign County

How We Arrived at the Trail

From 1978 to 2011, the Park Street Mural, under the direction of Angela Rivers, existed at Park & 5th, telling the story of the African American experience from Africa to Champaign County, including life in Africa, the middle passage, slavery, tenant farming, African American farmers in Champaign County, religion, and community in the North End neighborhood. 

Fast forward to 2020. During an ongoing community dialogue about creating various murals to address racial injustice, Visit Champaign County was approached about facilitating a downtown Champaign mural celebrating African American history to promote unity and to provide education for generations to come. The mural by Angela Rivers resonated with city council and community members, who wanted something similarly impactful to exist for current and future generations. After several discussions—and realizing there was way too much history to share in one mural—a very small committee determined that the best approach was to include a series of African American history murals centered around themes like innovation, business, education, and music.

While searching for mural locations, an idea sparked to incorporate these murals into a countywide Heritage Trail that would include walking routes and driving trails identified by signage and interactive technology centered around historic buildings, parks, churches, museums, public art, people, and events, making it accessible to residents and visitors alike.   

Since then, a larger community committee came together to volunteer their time and efforts to map out this project under the leadership of Co-Chairs Barbara Suggs Mason and Angela Rivers.  As descendants of family members who first moved to Champaign County in the 1860s, their knowledge, passion, and steadfast belief in education, history, and the arts, has guided our efforts.

This website represents the culmination of countless hours of concerted work by many volunteers—and we’ve only just begun. There are still so many stories from our past that deserve to be told. Plus, history is being made every day. Through continued support from the community, we look forward to building on the Heritage Trail over the months and years ahead, with more information online, more signs and murals in the community, and more educational programming.

Trails provide time for reflection and perspective on one’s place in the world. As you explore the Champaign County African American Heritage Trail, we hope the experience will illuminate your understanding of yourself, our community, and American history.