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, and Social Life.
Image credit: Left Image: "In All My Years: Portraits of Older Blacks in Champaign-Urbana" by Raymond Bial (Champaign County Historical Museum); Right Image: Champaign Park District
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: Above: Champaign County Historical Archives at The Urbana Free Library │Below: Champaign Unit 4 School District
Barkstall Elementary School
Barkstall Elementary School (2201 Hallbeck Dr., Champaign) is named for Vernon L. Barkstall, who served as Director of The Urban League of Champaign County for nearly 30 years, and as an active member of numerous civic organizations, including the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, Champaign-Urbana Convention and Visitors Bureau, and American Legion Post 559 of Champaign.
Image credit: Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. Elementary School
Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. Elementary School
The Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. Elementary School (2102 E. Washington St., Urbana) is named after Dr. Preston Williams, a University of Illinois graduate who became a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Urbana School District 116. He went on to become the first African American Superintendent in the District. Formerly called Prairie Elementary, the school changed names in the 2015–2016 school year.
Image credit: Museum of the Grand Prairie
Museum of the Grand Prairie
The Museum of the Grand Prairie (950 N. Lombard, Mahomet), part of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, strives to collect, preserve and interpret the natural and cultural history of Champaign County and East Central Illinois for all generations. It is noted for its collections—namely, the Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive and Chanute Air Force Base Collection—which are particularly important for African American history. Doris Hoskins was a dedicated historian, archivist, and preservationist of local African American history, while the Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul is where the famed Tuskegee Airmen began their training.
Image credit: Above: Champaign County Historical Archives at The Urbana Free Library │ Below: Stratton Academy of the Arts
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.
Image credit: Top image: "In All My Years: Portraits of Older Blacks in Champaign-Urbana" by Raymond Bial (Champaign County Historical Museum)
Taylor Thomas Lane
Located between Fourth and Fifth Streets (west to east), and Bradley and Beardsley Avenues (north to south), Taylor Thomas Lanes is named after the first Black teacher in the Urbana school system. He served as a teacher and administrator between 1956 and 1977. He was also a President of the local NAACP chapter and volunteered with many social service organizations.
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.
Image credit: University of Illinois
The columns at Memorial Stadium (1402 S. First Street, Champaign) are etched with the names of University of Illinois alumni who died in war. Among the names is that of William Frank Earnest (class of 1919), who was the first African American from the county to die in battle in World War I.
Image credit: Above: Cecil Dewey Nelson in World War I Uniform, c. 1919, Courtesy of Estelle L. Merrifield Collection, Urbana, Illinois │Below: Visit Champaign County (Marcus Flinn)
Part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Subdivision in Champaign, Nelson Court is named after Cecil Dewey Nelson (1898-1971), a charter and lifetime member of the William F. Earnest American Legion Post 559 where he served as its Commander. He also served as a Legion officer at both the state and national levels. A decorated sergeant in the all-Black 370th Infantry Regiment in World War 1, Mr. Nelson was a recipient of the French Croix de Guerre for bravery in battle and a Purple Heart.
Image credit: Urbana Park District
King Park (915 W. Wascher Dr., Urbana) was established in 1967. Since then, the park has grown in size, and amenities include the Jettie Rhodes pavilion and a gazebo. It is named after the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.