Image Credit:
Salem Baptist Church (Homer Historical Society)

Points of Pride

The points of pride are brief histories of people, places, art, and events of historical relevance within Champaign County. Check back often as we continue to share history as it is uncovered in the community.

Points of Pride are categorized by Visual Arts, Community, Education, Military, Government, and Social Life.

Image credit: News-Gazette (October 20, 2009)

Visual Arts

A Pictorial History of African Americans of Champaign County

Artist Angela M. Rivers, daughter of Al Rivers, grew up in Champaign, Illinois. In 1978, she oversaw 20 young adults to create a mural on the side of a garage at Park and Fifth Streets that would reflect the history and contributions of people of African descent from ancient Egypt to present-day Champaign County. The iconic mural, titled "A Pictorial History of African Americans of Champaign County," was sometimes referred to colloquially as the Park Street Mural.

Image credit: Above: Champaign County Historical Archives at The Urbana Free Library │Below: Champaign Park District


Erma Bridgewater Way and Park

Erma Bridgewater was a local civil rights leader who dedicated much of her life to improving the community and advocating for change. Among her many accomplishments, she was an Assistant Director at the Lawhead U.S.O. and worked as the Assistant Director, and then Director, of the Douglass Center from 1939 to 1964. The Champaign Park District dedicated a pocket park in her honor on July 8, 1992. The park is located at 1115 N. Market Street. On June 4, 2013, the Champaign City Council designated Washington Street, between Fourth Street and Wright Street, as Honorary Erma Bridgewater Way.

Image credit: Promise Health Care


Frances Nelson Health Center

The Frances Nelson Health Center honors the legacy of Frances Nelson, who provided care and housing for homeless African American children in the 1940s. It was originally established as a free and equal access health clinic in 1969, operating out of Frances Nelson's former home, before the clinic moved to its current location (819 Bloomington Road, Champaign) in 2006. The Frances Nelson Dental Center opened in 2011. In 2012, ownership of both clinics changed to Promise Healthcare.

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


Holts Drive

Part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Subdivision in Champaign, Holts Drive is named for Willie Holt (1900-1985), a businessman in Champaign-Urbana’s African American community who operated a sanitary hauling business for over 20 years. Born in Paris, TN, on December 25, 1900, his family were primarily farmers. He moved to Champaign in 1921 where he and his wife, Effie, raised their five children. For many years he worked for the Clifford-Jacob forging plant. In 1940, Mr. Holt went into business for himself, retiring in the mid-1960s. He was active in the community, serving as an ordained deacon at Salem Baptist Church and was a member and past treasurer of the University Elks Lodge 619.

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


Honorary Allen Rivers, Sr. Street

In 2009, the Champaign City Council designated Park Street, between Wright and Fourth Streets, as Honorary Allen Rivers, Sr., Street, after Sergeant Allen Rivers. Sergeant Rivers was the first African American to serve in the Champaign Police Department, and the first African American to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant. The honorary street designation has since been retired as of 2022.

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


Honorary Dawson Banks, Sr. Street

The Champaign City Council designated East Washington Street, between Phillips Drive and Fourth Street, as Honorary Dawson Banks, Sr. Street in 2022. The street name recognizes Dawson Banks and his business, Banks Barbeque Pit, which served as a safe place for African American children and teenagers to go after school. Among his many contributions to the community, Dawson Banks also served as a firefighter and active member of the Bethel AME Church.

Image credit: University of Illinois Department of African American Studies


John Lee Johnson Way and Clubhouse

John Lee Johnson (1941–2006) grew up in Champaign-Urbana and become an influential leader and community advocate. In 1967, he helped organize the Special Education Opportunities Program and Project 500 at the University of Illinois, which sought to increase the school's enrollment of Black and Latinx students. He served as a member of the Champaign City Council from 1973–1981. Additionally, he contributed to the development of Champaign's Martin Luther King Jr. Subdivision. Over his lifetime, he received many awards and accolades for his contributions. In 2006, the Champaign City Council designated Fourth Street (between University and Bradley Avenues) as Honorary John Lee Johnson Way—the honorary street designation has since been retired. Then, in 2020, the Champaign City Council announced that the clubhouse in the Bristol Place Residences would also be named after John Lee Johnson.

Image credit: Tombstone of Albert R. Lee and family. Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center.


Mt. Hope Cemetery

Mt. Hope Cemetery is the final resting place for many African Americans who lived in Champaign County since before the Civil War. Many notable African Americans are buried at Mt. Hope, including Albert R. Lee (the unofficial Dean of African American Students at the University of Illinois), Martin McDermot (Civil War veteran and businessman), Sergeant Allen A. Rivers, Sr. (first African American policeman in Champaign), and others.

Image credit: News Gazette


WBCP Radio Way

The Champaign City Council designated Fourth Street, between Tremont Street and Grove Street, as Honorary WBCP Radio Way on November 18, 2018. Owned by P & C Enterprise, Inc., WBCP Radio was the first Black-owned radio station in Central Illinois and was established in 1948 as WKID and served the area until 2020.

Image credit: Top image: "Through the Years: African-American History in Champaign County." (Fall 2002/Winter 2003)


Phillips Drive

Phillips Drive in Champaign is named after Charles Phillips, an influential advocate for improved low-cost housing in Attucks Place, Carver Park, Burch Village, Dunbar Court, and other areas. His expertise in housing issues led to an appointment as a member of the Champaign Housing Commission. He also served as honorary Vice President of the Champaign County Urban League, and as a member of the Frances Nelson Health Center Board of Directors.