Image Credit:
Salem Baptist Church (Homer Historical Society)

Honoring the past. Celebrating the progress.

Explore the highlights of Champaign County’s African American history. Our interactive timeline features the dates, events, people, and institutions who have come to define, embody, and influence our community, from pre-Civil War to present day.

Note that the Timeline is a work in progress. History from 1960–today is in progress and will be updated as it is compiled.

1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
1840s

1840s


1848

  • Barney Lancelot Ford (1822–1902) “walked away” from slavery while his master Colonel Nathaniel Garland Wood’s riverboat was docked in Quincy, IL. It’s said that during his escape, he came through Champaign County on his way to Chicago. Ford became a conductor on the Underground Railroad returning to East Central Illinois to assist fugitives. By 1860, he had moved to Colorado, becoming one of the richest men in that state. He was nicknamed the Black Baron of Colorado.

1850s


1850

  • The census recorded two African Americans living in Champaign County.

1855

  • Built in 1855, the home of Adam Smith, considered the founder of Loda, IL, is reported to have been a part of the Underground Railroad in southwestern Iroquois County. It was built one year after the founding of the village.

1856

  • Edward A. Green (1840-1870), a freeman, became one of the first African American settlers in West Urbana (now Champaign). A carpenter by trade, in 1858 he began purchasing parcels of land, ending up with approximately 14 lots in both Champaign and Urbana. Green’s daughter Gertrude inherited his property after his death. The family moved to Springfield, IL, in 1900.

1857

  • George L. Burroughs, a free African American from Cairo, IL, became an agent on the Underground Railroad. While employed as a porter on the Illinois Central Railroad, he helped to carry fugitives from Cairo to Chicago, coming through Champaign County. (Note: From the late 1850s through the Civil War, the three major railroads in Illinois were said to carry fugitives from slavery. Those railroads were the Illinois Central; the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy; and the Chicago and Rock Island.)

1858

  • Matthias Lane Dunlap (1814–1875), horticulturalist, editor, abolitionist, and active member of the Underground Railroad, was said to have had a Depot (safe house) at his home in Savoy, IL, from around 1857 or 1858 up to the Civil War. He was a founding member of the Illinois Industrial Institute, which later became the University of Illinois.

1860s


1860

  • The census recorded 48 African Americans living in Champaign County.

  • James Brown, 21, was the earliest African American known to live in Homer, IL. He was a farm laborer on the farm of Andrew Smith.

  • August 4: African American residents in the county celebrated the anniversary of the Emancipation in the British West Indies at a picnic on the Sangamon.

1863

  • Abraham Lincoln authorized African American participation as Union Soldiers in the Civil War.

  • Bethel A.M.E. Church was organized in Champaign. This was the first Black church in Champaign-Urbana.

  • John Allen arrived in Sidney, IL, from Tennessee. He brought 40 acres of land in Section 13 and another 40 acres in Section 10 northeast of Sidney. There he cleared the timber, farmed, and raised and educated ten children. He was a member of the Methodist Church of Sidney. In the early 1890s, he turned his farm over to his son Philip and moved to 503 E. Stoughton in Champaign. In his old age, he and his wife lived with children in Urbana. John and his wife are buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Sidney. Essex Tolliver Allen, John’s youngest son, married Clara Mae Anderson of Urbana, IL. They lived at 811 West Clark St. in Urbana and were members of Bethel A.M.E Church where he was a church trustee and superintendent of Sunday School. Essex and wife Clara are buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Urbana.

1864

  • Land was purchased and a first church built for the Bethel A.M.E Church congregation at 405 E. Park in Champaign, IL.

  • April 24: The Illinois 29th United States Colored Troops (USCT) was organized. Nine men enlisted from Champaign County. Between 1863 and 1865 a total of 13 African American men enlisted in the Union Army from Champaign County (an estimated one quarter of the African American population listed in the 1860 census).

1865

  • The Illinois State Census showed that Homer, IL, had three Black males and six Black females living within the village limits.

  • Sidney, IL, had five African American farm families living in Sidney Township after the Civil War.

  • Five African American men worked as cowboys and farm hands, and five women worked as cooks and maids at the Broadlands Farm owned by Michael Sullivan. At the time, this was one of the largest cattle farms in the nation at around 26,500 acres and over 10,000 cattle.

  • Scott Foulks bought 40 acres in Sections 10 and 11 by the Salt Fork Campgrounds.

  • General Cass Lee, born in Missouri, moved to Somer Township north of Urbana, IL, at age eight to farm with his father, William Lee. In 1883, he settled in Urbana and established a six-chair barbershop at 127 Main Street, Urbana, IL. He was at this location for 21 years. He was the older brother of Albert Lee.

  • Springtown Community: In 1865, five African American families were recorded living in Sidney Township north the village of Sidney, IL, after the Civil War. By 1885, ten African American farming households comprised a loose community known to their neighbors as Springtown.

  • Tuesday, August 1: “The anniversary of emancipation in the British West Indies was celebrated by the colored population of this county in gala style. The streets of both towns were thronged with sable faces radiant with exaltation at the memories the day awakened in them. A grand ball came off at night with which the festivities of the day closed.” Champaign County Gazette, August 4, 1865, page 3

1867

  • Salem Baptist Church was organized in Champaign, IL, under the name “Second Baptist.”

  • Jordan Anderson arrived in Urbana, IL, purchasing property at 301 E. Vine Street. Anderson fought in the Civil War with the Indiana 28th USCT. He was an inventor, blacksmith, teamster, and farmer. A member of the Second Baptist Church (Salem Baptist Church), he presided as its minister for a time.

1869

  • February 15: Frederick Douglass addressed a crowd at Barrett Hall on the topic of Self-Made Men. It was reported that, “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, page 1

  • August 2: Emancipation Celebration CU—A procession moved through most of the main streets. Procession went to the “Beautiful grove of Colter Stewart” Remarks from Rev. G. W. Rile(y), Dr. J. W. Scroggs, Mr. E. A. Green and Rev. R. V. Reed. Champaign County Gazette, August 4, 1869, page 1.

1870s


1870

  • The census recorded 233 African Americans in Champaign County.

  • Martin McDermot (1847-1898) moved to Condit Township in Champaign County. He served in the Union Navy during the Civil War. By 1885, he was operating a produce stand in downtown Champaign.

  • August 22: An African American celebration of the 15th Amendment occurred with a parade through Champaign and Urbana as well as a picnic at Stewart’s Grove. The speaker was Charles Jacobs from Decatur, IL.

  • October 7: “The citizens that lived in District No. 2 of Champaign made a demand for admission to the public schools. Admission had previously been denied.” – Champaign County Gazette, October 12, 1870, p. 1. Black citizens of Champaign responded with a resolution signed on their behalf by Young A. Wallace and J.W. Lewis which end with the following: “As we believe this to be an act in defiance of the constitutional laws of this State, we resolve to test this act before the Circuit Court of this District, and if justice cannot be obtained there, we will then appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

1871

  • The Big 4 Railroad shops opened in just east Urbana. Over the years it would employ many African Americans in various jobs, from laborers and rail walkers to machinists.

  • August 22: “Celebration of the 15th amendment. Picnic in Stewarts Grove. Parade with banners in the streets of Champaign and Urbana. Speeches to be made by Chas. Jacobs, of Decatur, Columbus Green, Mr. Icibell, Jordan Anderson, Wm. Sanders, and Mr. Adell.” Champaign County Gazette, September 20, 1871, p. 1

  • “The Second Baptist Church (later renamed Salem Baptist Church) dedication on an October Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The cost of the building and lot was $1,286.26The Rev. Wm. Washington, pastor.” October 11, 1871, Champaign County Gazette, p. 4.

1872

  • Emancipation Day celebration was held in Tolono. Citizens went there.” Champaign County Gazette, September 11, 1872.

  • Jethro Smith died. One of the oldest African American members of the community, he was widely known and respected and his funeral was attended by an unusually large number of mourners. He died on October 23, 1872.

  • November: “Baptists in Urbana are trying to raise money to build a church. Reception held Friday November 15, 1872, in Busey’s Hall.” Champaign County Gazette, Nov. 20, 1872, p. 1.

1873

  • June: “Rev. W. Washington, pastor of the Second Baptist Church last Sabbath baptized two persons in the creek (Crystal Lake Park) near Mr. Busey’s. The ceremony was witnessed by numerous spectators.” Champaign County Gazette, Wednesday, June 11, 1873, page 1

  • John T. Bird, and African American established in Cairo, IL was appointed by Governor John L. Beverage to the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Industrial Institute, later renamed the University of Illinois. He was elected to a second term but resigned in 1882.

  • October: “An organizational meeting was held to create the Lone Star Lodge #18 of the Prince Hall Masons.” Champaign County Gazette, October 1, 1873, page 1

1874

  • January 1: Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated with a mixed race crowd. Reported January 7, 1874, page 1

  • May 27: A brass band is organized. Champaign County Gazette, page 6

  • “It was rumored that some wicked parties endeavored to apply the incendiary torch to the colored Baptist church, Thursday night last, and that the fire being perceived in time by the night policemen and promptly extinguished, alone prevented a conflagration.” Champaign County Gazette, Wednesday, May 13, 1874, page 1

  • “Destruction of the Colored Baptist Church (Salem Baptist Church) by Fire. The fire was arson. The night watchman fell asleep. The building was insured.” Champaign County Gazette, May 20, 1874, page 1

  • June 10: “Methodist and Baptist congregations meet together in a temporary church building on Neil Street (the Baptist church burned).” June 10, 1874, page 1.

  • Albert R. Lee was born on a farm near Champaign, IL, on June 26, 1874.

  • August 5: “The Masons of the Lone Star lodge will install their officers in the room in the third story over D. Gardner Company’s Bank, this evening. Mr. B. F. Rogers, a high dignitary in the Prince Hall Order, will conducted the ceremonies.” Champaign County Gazette, August 5, 1874, page 1

  • September 22: “The celebration of the passage of the XV amendment was held.” Champaign County Gazette Sept 16, 1874, page 6

  • “Trial of Henry Vincent for burning of the Colored Baptist Church (Salem Baptist Church) in Champaign continued until next term.” Champaign County Gazette, Wed. Oct. 21, 1874, page 6

1875

  • April 16: Notice was given of a Ku Klux Klan parade at the grove in Rantoul.

1876

  • August 1: “Celebration of the abolition of slavery in Sidney. Audience was mixed race. Orations.” Champaign County Gazette, Aug 9, 1876, page 6

  • George W. Smith of Raymond Township purchased his first 80 acres of land. Formerly enslaved, he joined the Union Army as a scout in Tennessee and came north after the Civil War.

  • Albert A. Gaines moves with his step-father George W. Smith to Raymond Township. He later marries Dora Earnest, daughter of Jacob Earnest and establishes his own farm.

  • “At a Republican meeting last Saturday a ‘disreputable mob’ attacked colored torch bearers. The newspaper took offense calling this cowardly.” Champaign County Gazette, August 23, 1876, page 8. Further discussion of the incident is in Champaign County Gazette, September 6, 1876, page 4.

  • “Colored Republicans organized a Hayes and Wheeler club at Bethel AME Church.” Champaign County Gazette, July 26, 1876, page 1.

1877

  • African Americans residents celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation in Sidney, IL. People came from Urbana, Philo, and Homer to attend and the Homer Band was featured.

1878

  • By 1878, John Moss, a Civil War veteran had established a barbershop at 51 N. Walnut Street in Champaign. He owned a home at 204 E. Church Street, Champaign.

  • By this year, Scott and Davis Barbershop at 2 Main Street, Urbana, IL, was in operation. Owned by William Scott, it was popular with lawyers and judges at the Champaign County Court House.

1880s


1880

  • The census recorded 462 African Americans in Champaign County.

  • Larkin H. Walden, a Civil War veteran, was hired as the first African American to work at the University of Illinois. He was a janitor for the Military Drill Hall and the men’s gym.

1881

  • Emancipation Day Celebration by the ‘colored citizens’ of Champaign. A parade was held featuring the Goddess of Liberty and the 9th Regiment Band. Speeches were given by Mayor Wilcox, Col. Langley, Rev. J.W. Malone of Danville and Rev. Jason Buby of Crawfordsville, IN. The evening featured a concert in Barrett Hall and a social hop in Washington.” Champaign County Gazette, August 3, p. 1

1883

  • General Cass Lee moved his father’s farm just north of Urbana and opened his six-chair barbershop in downtown Urbana. His wife, Luetta Smith Lee, opened a beauty shop.

1884

  • Minnie B. Moss, daughter of Civil War veteran and local barber John Moss, became the first African American student to graduate from East Side High School in Champaign, IL. The Champaign County Gazette stated on April 18, 1888, that, “she was the first and only colored pupil to graduate from any of the schools in the city.”

1885

  • Jacob Earnest (1832–1910), a former enslaved person from Tennessee, settles in South Homer Township in Champaign County. He purchased 80 acres of land southwest of Homer near Lost Grove adding to the 404 acres he farmed in Vermilion County. He had arrived in Ridgefarm, Vermilion County, IL, in 1871.

  • Albert Lee is hired as a messenger in the President’s office of the University of Illinois. He would eventually develop his position so that he is considered “the unofficial Dean of Students for Negro students.”

  • George W. Pope married Sarah Allen, sister of Essex Allen on March 19, and they moved from Sidney to Champaign, IL.

1886

  • African Americans in the county, including, Homer, Urbana, Champaign and Sidney, celebrated Emancipation Day on September 22 in Coles Hall due to rain. Coles Hall was above Coles Store built in 1882 in Sidney. It acted as a community center for the town.

  • Twenty-two Black farming families had settled in the Champaign County, IL.

1887

  • May: Mary Morgan, daughter of St. Frances Jones, is the first African American to graduate from Homer High. She is the step-daughter of barber Wiley Jones.

  • Jonathan A. Rogan (1869–1903) was the first African American to enroll at the University of Illinois, in civil engineering. However he attended for only a year. Born in Decatur, IL, he went on to become a railroad postal clerk for the Chicago, Decatur, and Quincy Railroad.

1889

1890s


1890

1891

  • Lila Brommel (Johnson) was the first Black graduate of Champaign High School.

1892

  • September: Emancipation Celebration for Champaign County was held in Paris, tickets sold at Robeson’s and Cunningham’s.

1893

  • Albert R. Lee graduated from Champaign High School.

  • Martin McDermot, Jr. resided on N. Popular Street in Champaign. He was the son of the Civil War veteran, Martin McDermot. He ran the fruit stand began by his father in Downtown Champaign.

  • Samuel Persons of Homer, IL, died on July 12, 1893. Mr. Persons was a corporal in the Indiana 28th U.S.C.T. during the Civil War. He was an important citizen, owning his own barbershop in Homer, IL and was one of the charter members of the G.A.R. post in Homer and was buried in the G.A.R. Cemetery there.

1894

  • Albert R. Lee was hired as a messenger in the office of the University of Illinois president.

  • George Washington Riley (1874-1897) was the first African American to enroll as a special student in Arts and Design at the University of Illinois. He was a prominent member of the University’s Military Band, noted for his precise drum work. In 1897 he was appointed head instructor of the Art Department of all Black Central College in Nashville, TN, just before his untimely death from Typhoid Fever in June.

1895

  • William Walter Smith, son of Civil War veteran and farmer George Smith, graduated from Homer High School.

  • July 22: “At a meeting at Bethel A. M. E. Church in Champaign, a permanent organization was created to celebrate Emancipation Day on September 23. Edward Ballenger was President, Albert Lee was Secretary, and George Roley was Corresponding Secretary.” Champaign County News, July 2, 1895, page 1. The Emancipation Celebrations continued through the early 1920s.

  • August: “At a meeting held Aug. 2 the following person were working on the Emancipation Day celebration. E. D. Ballinger, Robert English, G. C. Lee and John Posey, executive board. Chairmen of committees: Will Lewis, John McLain, Oscar Morgan, John Baxter, Ed Gray, William Brewer and Rev. William Helms. Albert Lee is secretary and George Riley corresponding secretary. Speaker of the day was Hon. Joseph G. Cannon.” Champaign County News, August 10, 1895, page 12.

1897

  • October 15: The Order of the Eastern Star (OES), Deborah Chapter #27 of the Prince Hall Masons was founded by Albert R. Lee and Lula Lee.

1900s


1900

  • The census recorded 551 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • William Walter Smith was the first African American to graduate from the University of Illinois.

  • There were three Black-owned barbershops, two hairdressers, a Black-owned pool hall, and carpet installer located in downtown Champaign.

  • The African American Grand Order of Odd Fellows Lodge #2757 was established.

1904

  • Walter T. Bailey was the first African American to graduate with a degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Illinois. He was also the first African American to become a certified architect in Illinois. He was listed as “assisting with the design on the building of Colonel Wolfe School built in 1905.

  • Hiram Hannibal Wheeler and Roy Mercer Young integrated the University of Illinois football varsity roster.

  • “Emancipation Day celebration was held in Champaign on September 22. A parade through the streets of Champaign was led by Col. Joe Lee and the K of P Band beginning at 11:00 a.m. Residents from Danville, Mattoon, Tuscola, and other nearby towns attended. The parade was followed by a barbecue at the Fairgrounds.” Urbana Courier, September 22, 1904, pg. 1

1905

  • The African American Businessmen “Negro Business Club” was established. Aligned with the county’s African American farmers and stockmen, it was organized to counter discrimination in the local grocery stores. Local white green groceries had begun to refuse to serve or sell to African Americans.

  • Homer Park opened. African American utilized the Park from holding Emancipation Celebrations, to church outings, religious revivals, swimming and fishing.

  • Colonel Wolfe School, 401 E. Healy, was completed for the Champaign School System. Walter T. Bailey, the first Black graduate of the University of Illinois School of Architecture, is listed as “assisting with the design” of the Prairie School styled building located at 401 (now 403) E. Healey in Champaign. He was the first Black architect licensed in Illinois.

1906

  • Maudelle Tanner Bousfield Brown was the first African American woman graduate of the University of Illinois with degrees in astronomy and mathematics. She graduated with honors and was the first African American principal in Chicago Public Schools.

  • Joseph Lee opens a grocery at 27 1/2 Hickory Street in Champaign.

  • By 1906 the Masonic affiliates Queen of Sheba Lodge, Raising Star Lodge #14, and Knights of Temple – Coeur DeLeon Commandery #15 had been established in Champaign, IL.

1907

  • Brewers Band was organized by German musician and carpenter Otto Schaeder at 200 block of North Ash Street. It was an African American marching band that played for local events, and the training ground for many of the first Jazz musicians that came out of the Twin Cities. Members included the Hite Brothers, Raymond Scott, Cecil Pope, Raymond Hinds, “Fay” Hines.

1908

  • September: “Emancipation Day was observed in Champaign in the evening at Imperial Hall. 75 couples in attendance.” Champaign County News, September 26, 1908, page 9.

  • Preston Bridgewater (1873–1921) of Tuscola, IL, played the Clarinet for Ringling Brother’s Annex Band as well as other circus annex (sideshow) bands throughout his career. His two sons Cecil and Harold “Pete” Bridgewater became noted musicians in Champaign-Urbana.

1909

  • October–December: “African American workers install the paving brick on First Street in Homer.” Danville Press-Democrat December 15, 1909, p. 6

  • St. Luke C.M.E. Church was established and was first located on Eads Street in Urbana.

  • Albert R. Lee is promoted to clerk in the office of the president of the University of Illinois.

1910s


1910

  • The census recorded 876 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • Establishment of the Baraca Philathea Lyceum at Bethel A.M.E. Church. The Bethel Lyceum was a non-denominational venue where students and the public practiced public discourse through debates, reading, lectures, musical performances, and communal interactions within the first half of the 20th century.

  • February 7–8: The Urbana Lodge of the (white) Elks put on a Black Face performance and Minstrel Show. Several men participating in the program would later become members of the Champaign County Ku Klux Klan.

  • January 10: Jacob Earnest died and is buried in Lost Grove Cemetery in Homer, IL.

1911

  • Morning Star Free Will Baptist Church was founded at 1400 W. Eads, Urbana, IL.

1912

  • Deputy Sheriff Whitfield Larry, a retired a Deputy Sheriff in Alexander County, was asked to resume duties as a deputy in Champaign after moving to Champaign. He was a deputy at Cairo in Alexander County during the 1909 lynching of African American laborer William James.

1913

  • Beta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity chartered at the University of Illinois (2nd chapter in the US). In the 1928 directory their house is listed as being at 904 Clark in Urbana.

1914

  • Dr. Rowen was the first Black doctor in Champaign-Urbana. His office was located at 50 North Walnut, Champaign, IL. He, his wife Frances E. Rowen, and daughter lived at 50 East Healey, Champaign. He retired in 1929.

  • Gamma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority charted at the University of Illinois (3rd chapter in the US). Their house is listed as being at 904 Stoughton in Urbana in the 1928 directory.

  • Joseph F. Nelson opened a grocery store at 36 N. Hickory and moved the store to 607 N. Hickory Street in 1906. He was a former porter, clerk, and Turn-key at the Champaign County Jail.

  • Rev. John Rivers operated Rivers & Hill Grocery at 509 N. Popular, Champaign.

  • December: The Majestic Theater at 79 E. Main Street became the first and only African American owned theater in Champaign-Urbana.

1915

  • The earliest mention of the N.A.A.C.P. Branch in Champaign-Urbana (Twin Cities Branch) appeared. Dr. Henry E. Rowen was president and Mrs. I. B. Thompson was secretary. The branch had 27 members. This information was found in the 1915 Annual Report of the NAACP, Issue 6.

  • Champaign Mayor E. S. Swigart issues a proclamation for Emancipation Day calling upon all residents to do two things: (1) Grant a holiday to all African Americans in their employ as much as possible; and (2) Display the stars and stripes from their homes and places of business on the day of celebration. CCNews September 18, 1915, page 8

  • Salem Baptist, Bethel AME and Methodist Episcopal churches unite for the September 22 celebration of Emancipation. A parade is planned. Each of the churches chose a candidate for Queen of the Emancipation.

    Methodist Episcopal: Mrs. Jeptha Tisdale

    Salem Baptist: Mrs. Hattie Martin

    Bethel AME: Miss Allie Moore. The woman receiving the largest number of votes will be crowned queen. (CCNews August 11, 1915, page 2)

1916

  • Establishment of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. First met at 1110 N. 4th Street at the home of Tolie Eva Nunn.

  • St. Elmo Brady received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois, the first African American granted this degree in the United States.

  • William Frank Earnest entered the University of Illinois as an agriculture major and member of the track and field team.

  • Establishment of the Raymond Scott Band in Champaign, IL.

  • Emancipation Celebration Committee. The date of Friday, September 22 was set.” Urbana Courier, September 1, 1916, page 5.

    Solomon T. Clanton, President

    Edward G. Jackson, Vice President

    R. B. Alexander, Secretary

    Archie Penney, Treasurer

  • By 1916 the religious service organizations the Sisters of the Holy Cross and the Pilgrim Knights of the Word were established.

1917

  • Tau Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha chartered at the University of Illinois.

  • April 6: The United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I.

  • August 28: The all African American 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard was mustered. The regiment was comprised of 12 companies from around the state. By then many young African Americans from Champaign County had enlisted in Danville, the local recruiting office.

  • December: The 8th was designated as the 370th Infantry Regiment and was assigned to the 93rd Division of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). It was one of the very few Black fighting units in the war. All the Black fighting units were assigned to fight alongside the French Army.

1918

  • September 17: William Frank Earnest became the first African American in the county to be killed in action in France. Earnest was a 1915 graduate of Homer High School, the son of Oliver Frank and Hester C. Earnest of Homer. A University of Illinois student athlete, his family moved to Champaign because he was not allowed to live on campus. He studied agriculture. As a student, he entered the Danville Co. of the 8th Illinois Regiment, which later became part of the all-Black 370th Infantry 93rd Division where he served as a sergeant. The 370th trained and fought with the French military. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and Bethel A.M.E. Church. He is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France.

  • October 18: Cecil Dewey Nelson was a sergeant in the all-Black 370th Infantry Regiment, who fought with the French army. On this date, Sergeant Nelson was awarded the French Croix de Guerre by French General Vincendon for bravery under fire. Nelson was the son of Joseph Franklin Nelson and Estelle (Anderson) Nelson and born and raised in Champaign-Urbana. He won several decorations for his World War I service and the News-Gazette stated at the time that he was the most decorated soldier in Champaign County. He returned to live his life in Champaign, IL, where he remained an active community member and one of the founders of the William F. Earnest American Legion Post 559.

1919

  • February 2: A memorial service is held for William Frank Earnest in Homer, IL. The description is as follows:

    “At this time several people from Champaign including the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Earnest were present. The service opened with several patriotic songs. Miss Inez Dennis sang a solo entitled “When the Blue Service Star turns to Gold” and Mrs. C. E. Kuechler and Mrs. Percy O’Neil sang a duet. Mrs. Earnest pinned the gold star on which takes the place of the blue. It had been planned to have a Champaign quartet and also the pastor from the African Methodist church present but both parties were unable to come. The quartet expects to come later. The service was very impressive and handkerchiefs were used quite frequently. This gold star, representing the life of Frank Earnest, a model young man, is the second star on the service flag.” Homer Enterprise February 14, 1919, page 1.

1920s


1920

  • The census recorded 1,620 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • During the 1920s, University Lodge No. 619 of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World was active during the 1920s through the 1960s in Champaign-Urbana, as well as women’s Victory Temple No. 530. The last known address of the woman’s Lodge No. 530 was 39 Chester Street, east of the viaduct. The national organization began in 1898 in Cincinnati Ohio by two Pullman Porters. The search is still ongoing for the establishment in C-U, although there is some evidence that the Lodge sponsored the Colored Elks baseball team in the 1920s.

  • During the 1920s, Thomas Macklin, a World War I veteran of the 370th Infantry Regiment, owned a restaurant in the 100 block of First Street at Church and Park across from the old Beasley Hotel. He also owned several houses on the 100 block of Ells Avenue, and property “around town” that he rented to African American families.

  • During the 1920s, Arthur C. Merryfield opened a barbershop on University Avenue and moved to North First Street on the first floor of the African American Masonic building. As one of the longest running barbershops, it became a fixture on First Street.

  • Starting in the 1920s, Hattie Winfield, a trained opera singer, gave private voice lessons and had musical and cultural get-togethers through the 1950s.

  • During the 1920s, the first organized baseball teams in the Black community were commercial teams including the Colored Elks, the Colored Giants, and the Colored Reds.

  • October 29: Angeline Anderson McDermot (née Scott) died in the home of her daughter Clara Allen (née Anderson) at 811 West Clark Street in Urbana, IL. She was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery. An obituary from the Champaign News-Gazette described her as, “Mrs. Angeline McDermott, Urbana’s oldest colored resident.”

  • December: Salem Baptist Church will hold Emancipation program January 1.

1921

  • The National Ku Klux Klan organized in Champaign County. This was four months after the Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre of May 31, 1921.

  • May 9: The Citizen’s Protective League was organized at Bethel AME Church to assist city officials in suppressing crime and in defense of the community. Approximately 75 citizens pledged loyalty to the organization.

  • The Church Women United was established.

1922

  • August: Champaign County’s first National Ku Klux Klan conclave was held at Mahomet with between 4,000–6,000 participating.

1923

  • Earl Simpson, chiropodist, opened his combination of offices and barbershop at 36 ½ E. Main Street in Champaign. He came to Champaign as a barber and was part of the 370th Infantry during World War I.

  • January: Salem and Mt. Olive Baptist Church of Champaign held a joint observance of Emancipation Day at Salem Church. Rev. R. A. Hayden, pastor of Salem Church, Urbana Courier January 2, 1923, page 2.

  • January 30: The Ku Klux Klan held a meeting in their new headquarters—the Illinois Theater—in Urbana. By 1924, lodge meeting and activities around the county included Sidney, Mahomet, Rantoul, Champaign, and Urbana.

  • Allen Stringfellow (1923-2004) was born in Champaign, IL. Allen Stringfellow was a nationally known artist. After moving to Chicago after high school in the late 1930s, he became part of the WPA’s artist program and was associated with the South Side Community Art Center where he presided as director in the 1970s. About 1950, he co-founded the Halsted Street Arts Fair, known as the Old Town Art Fair. It was the second oldest art fair in Chicago.

1924

  • April: African American Republican George Persons was elected Committeeman in the 1st Precinct of Champaign, IL. That same month the Ku Klux Klan burnt a cross on his lawn.

  • May 3: Daily Illini editorial condemned newly revised Interfraternity Council at the University of Illinois’ constitution which provided admittance to Jewish fraternities but not to African American fraternities.

  • July 25: News-Gazette reports several thousand people attended a large Ku Klux Klan rally/picnic at Crystal Lake Park where hundreds of Klansmen were initiated. It ended with fireworks and an evening parade.

  • October 18: Memorial Stadium was officially dedicated at the University of Illinois as a memorial to the Illinois men who gave their lives during World War 1. Each of the columns on the east and west side of the stadium has the name of one of the student athletes who died during the war. William F. Earnest, who was attending the university when he enlisted, is memorialized on one of the columns on the east side of the stadium, the only Black student to be so recognized.

  • 1924 into 1925: George Kyle competed as a non-lettered sprinter on the track and field teams of the University of Illinois. He was the first Black athlete to acquire both his bachelor’s degree in 1926 and a master’s degree in psychology in 1930.

1925

  • May 7: Pilgrim Baptist Church was organized. Its first service was held on December 25, 1925.

  • Mat Scott and his Footwarmers: The Raymond Scott Band (c. 1914) evolved into this band.

1926

  • Murder, Mayhem & the Ku Klux Klan: Mortgage scams targeting the local Black community ends that summer with two murders and a suicide. Known as the Triangular Deaths. The death of African American Morgan Knox “in a hell bullets” thought connected with the Ku Klux Klan evolved in the death of a prominent white widow named Anna Carmody and the suicide of former Champaign Chief of Police, James J. Michaels. Within the Black community, legend said that Mrs. Carmody killed her victims for their property. Then she resold it to other African Americans.

  • C. H. Mathews, an African American undertaker, had a cross burnt on his lawn in connection with the Morgan Knox murder. He was Knox’s undertaker and a fellow church member.

1927

  • July 29: Crystal Lake Pool in Urbana opened. It was segregated.

1928

  • October 8: The establishment of The Domestic Friendship Club at Bethel A.M.E. Church to promote jobs and care for its sick members by service and finance.

  • Homer L. Chavis and Mrs. Gertrude Chavis are listed in the Champaign-Urbana Directory at 508 E. Green as operating a cleaning and pressing business. Eventually this business would be established as Royal Cleaners and Laundry, one of the few Black-owned businesses and longest sustaining businesses on the University of Illinois campus, listed in the 1974 Minority Business Directory issued by the Urban League.

1929

  • Omega Psi Phi – Pi Psi Chapter, was chartered at the University of Illinois. Its address was 412 E. Park Street, Champaign. They would move later.

  • The Ku Klux Klan Headquarters at the Illinois Theater in Urbana was burnt down.

  • Late 1920s: Russell Nesbitt became the first of the Nesbitt brothers who entered the University of Illinois. Through the 1930s and early 1940s the five sons of Lucian and Christine Nesbitt attended the University majoring in medicine, physics, law and engineering. Despite the family’s lack of financial resources and racial restriction, all five graduated and went on to have successful careers.

  • Late 1920s: Douglas Turner became the first African American to play tennis at the University of Illinois. He received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the university.

1930s


1930

  • The census recorded 1,992 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • Jerry Lynch and his Rhythm Band performed throughout East Central Illinois. Scatman Crothers was reported to have been one of his lead vocalists.

  • Ernest (Ernie) Hite Sr. organized a his own jazz band with Clifford Jordan as manager, with local African Americans and college students as his musicians.

  • Mac Willis and his Doctors of Rhythm Boyz with Harold “Pete” Bridgewater on bass was formed. Harold joined the band after high school.

1931

  • The Church of God and Christ was established. Its first church was located at 717 N. Popular Street in Champaign.

1932

1933

  • Inter-fraternity Council at the University of Illinois revised constitution to admit African American fraternities.

  • Cenacle–an honorary African American Society was formed to promote African American arts and letters that sponsored plays with African American student actors and a book exhibit in the university library featuring African American authors.

1934

  • The Neighborhood House, 503 E. Washington, was provided as a recreational space for African Americans because they were denied access to local segregated facilities in the Champaign community. Funding for this six-room house came partly from the Community Chest, W.P.A. and the Township Supervisor.

  • August 3: Mae R. Hawkins was hired as the first Black teacher in Unit 4 Schools. She was educated at Illinois State Normal School and the National Kindergarten School of Evanston.  She was hired for Lawhead School and was assigned to teach “colored” students exclusively. She left Unit 4 to work in the Springfield Public Schools.

  • Shelton Laundry started in the basement of the Shelton’s home. Eventually it would become the largest Black business in Champaign County, located at 1111 Eads in Urbana, IL. The business operated from 1934–1986.

1935

  • Alpha Phi Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi established co-operative African American restaurant after Boyd’s Cafe–the only campus restaurant (except for the University cafeteria) to serve African Americans–closed. The co-op restaurant lasted less than a year.

  • August 1: Allen A. Rivers, Sr. was hired as the only African American on the Champaign Police Department. He worked for 33 years as a policeman rising from a “beat cop” to the motorcycle cop to Sergeant before retiring.

  • October 12: The NAACP authorized the re-establishment of the NAACP in Champaign-Urbana at its annual meeting in Springfield, IL.  “…and it was decided in view of the discriminatory practices against colored students at the University of Illinois and in the twin university towns of Champaign and Urbana to establish a branch of the N.A.A.C.P. there which could deal with these discriminations on the ground.”

1936

  • Beverly Lorraine Green was the first African American woman to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Architectural Engineering at the University of Illinois. She went on to get her Masters degree in City Planning and Housing at the University. She’s believed to be the first African American woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States.

  • With the establishment of the two commercial baseball leagues in East Central Illinois, new Black teams were organized including LeRoy Barns’ Red Sox (formerly the Colored Reds) and Eddie I. Grover’s Champaign Colts.

1937

  • Van’s Barber Shop was established in the basement at 29 Main Street in Champaign, occupying the same space as Civil War veteran John Moss’ barbershop the 1800s. Owned by Mr. Van Thompson, Van’s Barbershop operated into the 1970s.

  • Civil Rights Union and American Student Union circulated petitions protesting discrimination by campus restaurants and Champaign-Urbana theaters.

  • Students brought suit against Hanley-Lewis Confectionery for discriminating against African Americans. Case was decided in favor of confectionery.

  • University of Illinois’ Student Senate addressed discrimination issue.

1938

  • Cenacle published monthly magazine–The Scribbler, “the official voice of the Negro students enrolled in the University of Illinois,” and discussed segregation in Champaign, the debate over voluntary segregation, as well as lighter subjects.

  • David Harold Blackwell (1919–2010) received his undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois, and went on to receive a master’s degree in 1939. Blackwell was a pioneer of game theory. He is noted for Theory of Games and Statistical Decision, a classic in game theory published in 1954, and for the Rao-Backwell Theorem along with Calyampud Radhakrishnan (C.R.) Rao.

1939

  • Hilda H. Lawson became first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. from University of Illinois.

  • The Illinois Times Newspaper is founded by its publisher and editor, Edgar G. Harris. This community paper was published at 202 Ells Avenue in Champaign, IL. It was originally published in Danville, IL, and moved to Champaign in 1949.

1940s


1940

  • The census recorded 2,106 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • John Smith, son of George Smith of Broadlands, known in horse circles for his horse named Pat, sponsored horse shows and underwrote the 4H. However, he faced discrimination at the county fairs and was unable to ride Pat at the University of Illinois Stock Shows. Oscar Witt a white man rode for him.

  • Pete Bridgewater’s band performed during the 1940s.

  • 1940–1949: Eddie Glover ran the Champaign Colts, a segregated baseball team that played in the Eastern Illinois League. In 1941 the team won the League Championship.

  • 1940s–1950s: The Royalettes, a young women’s organization, engaged in community and civic events, including sponsoring a ‘Christmas in July’ fundraiser  for the new wing of Burnham Hospital.

  • 1940s–1950s: Lus Hite Band was formed with brothers Luster “Lus” Jay Hite on drums and Ernest “Earnie” Hite, Jr. on piano. After playing locally, Lus took the band to California and became famous, playing in and for movies.

  • 1940s–1950s: The Rhythmeers, a singing group, performed.

  • 1940s–1960s: The Champaign Eagles played in the minor league Cornbelt League. The team won the League Championship in 1957. The team was formed by Wardell Jackson.

1941

  • January 14: Contralto Marian Anderson performs at Foellinger Auditorium for Star Course at the University of Illinois. Throughout the years after World War II, several important Black musicians and leaders either performed or lectured there. They include Duke Ellington (1948), Ralph Bunche (1949), Dick Gregory (1967), and Julian Bond (1968).

  • March 22: The first all-Black fighter squadron was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, IL, to train officer corps and ground support personnel.  Originally named the 99th Pursuit Squadron, it later became known as the Tuskegee Airman.

  • Julia Walden Valentine opened her music studio in her home on east Park Street in Champaign. A trained classical pianist and music teacher, she taught voice, and instruments to children and teens in the neighborhood, couched adults, and held soirees.

  • Jazz trombonist, composer and arranger, Gerald “Jerry” Graham Valentine (1914-1983) moved to Chicago from Champaign to play and arrange for Earl “Father” Hines. Raised in Champaign, he worked for National Records and repertory adviser and artist in the 1950s. At his death he was worth between $5–10 million.

1943

  • March 26: The Serviceman’s Center was established in two rooms in the basement of the old Lawhead School because Black soldiers at Chanute Field were denied access to the USO on the base. A drive was also launched to purchase land for a center. The committee was as follows:  Raymond Scott (chair), Cecil D. Nelson, Homer L. Chavis, Charles Pettiford, and Alvin Foxwell. Land was purchased at the corner of 6th Street and Grove Street.

1944

  • February 18: Ground was broken for the Douglass Center.

  • July 23: The Twin City Committee presented a Negro Folk Song Festival under the direction of Julia Walden Valentine in the Crystal Lake Park Pavilion. The program featured a community chorus, a female chorus, violinist Bruce Hayden (father of  Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress), and vocal soloists Thelma Holloway, Hattie Winfield, and Lucy Gray. From this group, the Legato Music Club was initiated in 1945. The club was a chapter in the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM).

  • Claude “Buddy” Young was a student athlete at the University of Illinois who played football and ran track. In 1944 he was selected as an All-American. His college career was interrupted during World War II, but he returned to the University of Illinois and led the football team to a winning Rose Bowl in 1947 before becoming one of the first Black pro football players in the country.

  • Jesse Clements was elected the first Black captain of the Champaign High School basketball team for 1944-45.

1945

  • The Douglass Center opens.

  • Raymond Eugene Suggs was elected the first Black captain of the Champaign High School football team for 1945-46.

  • The Legato Club, a chapter of the Association of Negro Musicians (NANM), was established by Julia Walden Valentine. Its goal was to promote classical and traditional music, knowledge of Black composers and produce public concerts and other musical events.

  • November: The formation of the Student Community Interracial committee (S-CIC) consisting of students, faculty, and townspeople was held at Wesley Foundation.

  • November 8: Writer and poet Langston Hughes visited to the University of Illinois, giving a guest lecture at Gregory Hall, hosted by Gamma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. In March 1957, Hughes made a extensive visit to the campus, during the University of Illinois Festival of Contemporary Arts.

  • 1945–1946: Quintella King and Ruthie Cash became the first African Americans to be granted housing in the University of Illinois dormitory, opening its residence halls to a few African-Americans.

1946

  • The “Tip Tops” converted army barracks called Quonset Huts. After World War II, with the return of servicemen, there was a shortage of housing. These “huts” was one solution. The African American community of Champaign received 20 located along 5th Street between Columbia and Grove Streets. Unlike the ones on the University of Illinois campus, they were for both servicemen families at Chanute and ex-GI’s attending the University of Illinois.

  • Ike Owens was one of the first African American football stars at the University of Illinois. An artist, he first enrolled in 1940, but his schooling was interrupted by war service. He returned in 1946 and graduated in 1948. He was a First-Team player in the All-Big Nine (1946, 1947) and Second-Team All-American (1947).

  • March: S-CIC adopted a constitution and its name at Latzer Hall on the University of Illinois campus. Linzey Jones, member of Kappa Alpha Psi, was the first student co-chairman and helped to organize demonstrations for the desegregation of lunch counters and restaurants in C-U. Members of the Student Community Interracial Committee asked campus restauranteurs to sign statements saying they do not discriminate. Six restaurants refused to sign. Following a picketing campaign and a threatened lawsuit, these restaurants agreed to end discrimination against African Americans. Jones later became a successful attorney in Chicago, IL.

  • The American Veterans Committee passes a resolution in March stating its opposition to racial discrimination in restaurants and public places.

  • July 23: A cross was burned at Lawhead School, 408 East Grove St., Champaign, IL. That same evening a cross was also burnt at the home of the World War veteran and war hero Cecil D. Nelson. The two cross burnings was contributed to Mr. Nelson getting the job of janitor at the school.

  • Douglass Center was completed. Taylor Thomas was listed as its first director.

1947

  • Crystal Lake Pool in Urbana, IL, is desegregated.

  • Ralph Hines became the first African American to swim for the University of Illinois.

  • Panhellenic Council unanimously voted to admit African American sororities as members.

  • Local campus town theater managers agreed to end discriminatory practices against African Americans following a Student Community Interracial Committee campaign.

  • 1947–1948: The League of Women Voters publishes the document “A Community Report,” a survey of the position of the Negro minority in Champaign County.

1948

  • Albert R. Lee dies in Champaign, IL, and is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

  • Cecil D. Nelson, Jr., World War II veteran and University of Illinois graduate, was commissioned by the Illinois State Historical Society to paint a mural for the Republic of Liberia to be displayed in the capital of Monrovia.

  • Student Community Interracial Committee helped desegregate washroom facilities for Illini Union employees. The group also protested a minstrel show sponsored by the Newman Club.

  • The Champaign-Urbana Kindergarten Association operated in the Douglass Center. It was a community-based program for four and five year-old children with an enrollment of 55 and two trained teachers who were both Black. The program is supported by the Community Chest and fees paid by parents. The Kindergarten Association paid the Champaign Recreation Association.

  • According to a report by the League of Women Voters Champaign, schools employed eight “Negro” teachers, holding positions in Lawhead and Willard Schools. The report does not address the Urbana School system.

1949

  • Campaign to ban campus minstrel shows began. The Student Senate passed a resolution advising “that in the future the committee on student affairs should disapprove of shows which placed minority groups in an unfavorable light.” Committee on Student Affairs rejected this resolution.

  • Frederick C. Ford was the first Black Student Government president at the University of Illinois.

  • The League of Women Voters performed a “Shack Study” investigating African American housing in the North End.

  • Student Community Interracial Committee at the University of Illinois sponsored “Negro History Week.”

  • Late 1940s: Mary Grace Louis was an artist, educator raised in Champaign-Urbana. Mary Grace graduated from the University of Illinois receiving both her B.A. and Master’s degrees. An instructor early on, she was the Assistant Director of Douglass Center under Erma Bridgewater.

  • 1949–1952: Carver Park, a 70 single family home subdivision north of Bradley Avenue in Champaign, was developed by a “grass roots” coalition of Black friends and acquaintances on ten acres of farmland. It was named after African American scientist George Washington Carver.

1950s


1950

  • The census recorded 4,153 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • June 25: North Korea invaded South Korea beginning the Korean War.

  • In the 1950s, Era Saks became the second African American policeman in the Champaign Police Department.

  • The ONO, an African American civic and social organization, became active in the 1950s.

  • The AMVETS (The American Veterans) formed in the 1950s, organized by American veterans of World War II veterans as a service organization. The local African American post located in the 500 block of East Washington Street in Champaign became a popular after-hours place for jazz bands.

1951

  • Burch Court, 70 public housing units, was built for Black and white families. Known as Burch Village, it was named after Nathaniel Burch, an air mechanic who died in a plane crash.

  • Tinsley’s Cleaners opens, operated by Mr. and Mrs. Roscoe Tinsley and located on the First Street Corridor.

  • Clarice Davis was the first Black Homecoming Queen to be selected at the University of Illinois and in the Big Ten.

  • Walt Moore integrated the University of Illinois Varsity Basketball team.

  • The African American baseball team the Eagles debut, owned by Wardell Jackson. Mr. Jackson bought land and developed a baseball diamond bordered by Bradley Avenue, Romine, and Beasley Streets that became known as Eagle Park. It is now part of Douglass Park.

1952

  • Booker T. Washington Elementary opened at 606 E. Grove Street in Champaign, IL. Originally built for African American students it was integrated in the 1970s becoming a Magnet School.

  • Dunbar Court, a 26 unit Public Housing complex, was built in Urbana, IL, at Wright and Bradley Streets, across from the new Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

  • Ellen Bell Treadwell Rivers became the choir director and of Bethel AME Church and the head of its youth missionary society. During the 1930s she had her own jazz band in the St. Louis/Alton, IL, area that travelled the Midwest. As a teenager in 1917, she experienced the East St. Louis Riots where approximately 250 African Americans were murdered by roaming white mobs.

1953

  • Construction began on Crispus Attucks Place, a 38 single family home subdivision. Like Carver Park, its inception and building was led by Charles Phillips and a group of African American friends and acquaintances. It was named for Crispus Attucks the first man to die for American independence during the Boston Massacre of 1770.

  • J.C. Caroline, a running back at the University of Illinois, was selected as a consensus All-American. Caroline played for ten seasons with the Chicago Bears and was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1956. He returned to Urbana, IL, and served as a physical education teacher in Urbana School District 116.

1956

  • Taylor Thomas was hired as the first Black teacher in Urbana School District 116, teaching history at both the junior and senior high schools.

1957

  • Richard Roy Edwards was the first African American elected to the school board of Champaign Community Schools Unit #4. He served from 1957–1968.

1960s


1960

  • The census recorded 6,132 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • The Committee for Liberal Action (CLA) formed to “fight student and administration apathy.” The group placed stickers protesting racial discrimination in store windows and staged a sit-in at Walgreens.

  • Raymond Eugene Suggs was hired by the Champaign-Urbana Courier as a part-time staff photographer, the first and, for many years, the only African American to hold such a staff position on either of the two daily newspapers in the community until the paper folded in 1979. He covered many community and sporting events, and most events in the Black community for the paper.

  • Early 1960s: Dr. Ellis Subdivision was built. It was the third single family subdivision created for African American in Champaign-Urbana. It was named after Dr. Henry D. Ellis, the second Black doctor to practice in the twin cities.

1961

  • The Urban League of Champaign County is established.

  • Kenneth O. Stratton is elected as the first Black councilman in the city of Champaign.

  • The Champaign Department of Public Aid was desegregated.

  • Committee on Student Affairs passed a bill calling for end to racial discrimination in fraternities, sororities, and off-campus housing.

  • Early Spring 1961: J.C. Penney was scheduled to open, however they were not hiring African Americans for any position but janitors. The Black community had been promised an equal opportunity for the newly created positions so they boycotted.

  • April 26: The management of the new J.C. Penney’s store and the Black community, represented by Rev. J. E. Graves of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church signed an agreement stating that the store would hire at least one Black salesperson. Other department stores followed and by April 29th the Goldblatt’s store had several Black salespeople working in three of the store’s departments.

1962

  • The Urban League of Champaign County Newsletter featured articles and stories on general issues facing local African-Americans. Publication continued until 1994.

1963

  • Albert R. Hunt graduated with a degree in Architecture. Born in Champaign, IL, he became a licensed architect registered in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio. In 1980 he started his architectural firm, Al Hunt & Associates in Toledo.

1964

  • Paul Hursey was elected the first African American to the position of alderman to the Urbana City Council.

  • August: President Lyndon B. Johnson increases United States military presence in Viet Nam by ordering the deployment of combat troops.

  • 1964–1965: The NAACP passes a resolution about alleged discriminatory practices against Negro athletes at the University of Illinois.

1965

  • Trenton Jackson from Rochester, New York, became the first Black man to play on the baseball team for the University of Illinois.

1966

  • July 15: Vernon L. Barkstall became the Executive Director of the Urban League of Champaign County.

  • Urbana Consolidated School District #116 is the first district in Illinois to institute a desegregation plan for its elementary buildings. The decision was prompted by the work of members of the Black community, the Ellis Drive 6: Carlos and Willetta Donaldson, Paul and Shirley Hursey, Jo Ann Jackson, and Evelyn Underwood.

  • Champaign Community Schools District Unit #4 was invited to attend a School Administrators Conference in New York co-sponsored by the Urban League and Teachers College of Columbia University to plan for the integration of their schools.They were one of two Illinois districts invited, the other being the Chicago Public Schools. Those attending were Dr. Eugene H. Mellon, Supt. of Schools, Donald J. Porter, president of the Board of Education, Vernon Barkstall, Director of the Champaign County Urban League, and Eugene Suggs, president of the board of the CC Urban League.

1967

  • July: The first issue of the newspaper, The Plain Truth: Serving the North End, was published. It scandalized the mainstream press of Champaign-Urbana for its aggressive tone and language. This Black alternative newspaper was published by community activist Roy Williams.

  • The Black Student Association was founded at the University of Illinois.

  • Martin Luther King Park was established in Urbana’s northeast adjacent to King School. Named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., over the years it has expanded in acreage through a series adjacent land acquisitions. Since its beginnings, that park has been characterized by active neighbors and community involvement.

1968

  • Champaign Community School District Unit #4 instituted a desegregation plan for its elementary buildings in part by busing African American children.

  • July: The North End Health Center is opened at 908 N. 5th Street in Champaign, IL.

  • Fall: Violence erupted at Centennial High School in Champaign on the first day of school. It was brought on by white resistance to busing of African American students from the “North End.”

  • Fall: The Special Educational Opportunities Program (SEOP), also known as Project 500 began at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus. The first year it brought 568 Black freshman, and Hispanic and Native American students to the campus.

  • The League of Women Voters of Champaign County issued a new report, “A Community Report—20 Years Later: The Status of the Negro in Champaign County.”

  • The Don Moyer Boys Club was founded, and a building was purchased in May of 1969 at 201 E. Park Street in Champaign. It later merged with the Girls Club to become the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. The facility was renovated in 1994.

1969

  • The Frances Nelson Children’s House at 1306 N. Carver Drive in Champaign, IL, becomes the Frances Nelson Health Care Center.

  • Delta Rho Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority is chartered at the University of Illinois.

  • African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign originated as the academic branch of the Faculty Student Commission on Afro-American Life and Culture. The Afro-American Cultural Center opened.

  • Late 1960s: The establishment of the Champaign-Urbana Athletics Club a boxing club organized by Khair Aazaad Ali (Freddie Davis) with the help of Anderson Epps. Anderson Epps was a former Golden Glove boxer as was Khair Aazaad Ali who ended his boxing career with 99 wins. The club ran through the early 1970s.

  • Late 1960s: Champaign-Urbana Days began. No one remembers the exact start date of CU Days however its vestiges started in the late 1960s as a homecoming picnic and celebration for the “older” families of the African American community. It was first organized by World War II veteran Marvin Starks, his wife Birdie, and Marshall Britt at Douglass Park. It then went to the Lake of the Woods in Mahomet, IL, sponsored by the men of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity. It returned to Douglass Park in the mid 1970s. As the event grew, the men asked assistance from the Champaign Park District which has sponsored it for the last 48 years. Today it has evolved into a Back-to-School and community service event.

1970s


1970

  • The census recorded 8,549 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • The Afro-American Studies Commission was established at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • The Douglass Center Library was organized in 1970. It was housed in a room in the old Douglass Community Center.

  • 1970–1973: Local activist John Lee Johnson published N.Y.D.D. and Community Advocacy Depot (C.A.D.) Newsletters. Highly infused with Black power rhetoric for social change, the two periodicals were published out of a center in 100-block of North First Street.

1971

  • African American newspaper, the Illinois Times, ends publication.

1972

  • The Douglass Library officially became a branch of the Champaign Public Library.

  • James Burgess, Jr. was elected as State’s Attorney, the first Black elected county-wide. In 2014, President Barack Obama signed a bill designating the James R. Burgess Post Office Building at 3rd and Green Streets in Champaign, IL, on the University of Illinois campus.

  • April 15: The Nu Delta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was chartered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • May 19: The Epsilon Xi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity was charted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • May 21: The first Cotillion Ball, featuring six high school students, was held at the Ramada Inn in Champaign, IL. It was sponsored by a Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. It became an annual event.

1973

  • Members of Coalition of Afrikan People (formerly the Black Student Union) demonstrated in support of appointive power on university committees, disciplinary code revision, and African American community access to university facilities.

1974

  • Anna Wall Scott became the first woman in Illinois to be elected to the Democratic State Central Committee covering the East Central Illinois jurisdiction, and ran for the 21st District of Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976. From 1974 thru 1978 she served as Vice-Chair of the State Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee.

1975

  • May: William Dye was sworn in as the Chief of Police in Champaign. He was the first African American to hold this position and he continued until 1982.

  • 200 local residents protested the decision by the Champaign Park District board to demolish the old Douglass Center and replace it with a new gym. The group advocated for the old center to be replaced with a full-service, comprehensive community center.

  • Terry Hite became the first female African American head coach at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She coached and directed the volleyball program.

1976

  • Ground Level/Ground Level Critique, was published by Oasis Graphic Arts/Alonzo (Beets) Mitchell from 1976-1993.

  • Publication of the short-lived Spectrum.

  • The University of Illinois’ Illinois Opera Theater produces the opera “Porgy and Bess” starring William Warfield in his signature role and a cast that represented both University of Illinios students and individuals from the Champaign-Urbana community. It was reportedly the first time the Gershwin family granted permission for a university to stage a production of this work.

  • The new Douglass Center is completed, and included a Senior Center Annex. The Annex was placed in a renovated building that once housed the neighborhood IGA Grocery Store.

  • The Douglass Center Library moves to the former Champaign Asphalt Company’s offices on east Bradley Avenue as the Douglass Branch Library.

  • 1976: The Douglass Senior Citizens formally organize out of the Honey Tuts, a senior group that met at the old Lawhead Elementary School.

1978

  • The Annual Cotillion Ball sponsorship was taken over by the Gamma Upsilon Psi Society, a group of local African American women.

  • Loise L. Perkins was the first African American elected the Champaign County Board.

1980s


1980

  • The census recorded 11,986 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • The Black Alumni Association of the University of Illinois was formed.

  • The Alpha Lambda Chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity was chartered on the campus of the University of Illinois.

1981

  • October: Mrs. Odessa Hudson called for the creation of the National Council of Negro Women in Champaign County. Fifty women came together at Bethel A.M.E. Church to organize the group.

1982

  • Symmetry was organized. Symmetry was an African American multi-arts organization in Champaign, designed to bring awareness of the various aspects of the arts through a Black perspective by mounting exhibitions, and creating multi-arts events in Champaign and East Central Illinois.

1983

  • Champaign Police Department moved from City Hall to the corner of First Street and University Avenue at the site of the old Beasley Hotel.

  • Charles Lakes became the first African American in gymnastics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and became one of the first African American gymnasts to compete in the Olympics.

1987

  • “Covering Our Heritage,” an exhibit of quilts made by members of the Douglass Annex Senior Citizens was shown at the Krannert Art Museum. It received national attention.

1988

  • A production of actress and writer, Cheryl L. West’s play Before It Hits Home, a dramatization about AIDS and a Black family premiered. It was performed at Parkland College Theatre.

1989

  • Champaign and Vermillion County Herald, a periodical published by Phillip Maurice Rowell, Sr., sought to put local African Americans in a positive light. Mr. Rowell produced a number of periodicals and independent documentaries on African American life in Champaign-Urbana including: the weeklies East Central Illinois Voice, Champaign County Voice and Voice of the Black Community from the late 1980s–1990; and the monthly Black Thought from 1997–2003.

1990s


1990

  • The census recorded 13,165 Black residents in Champaign County.

1991

  • February: The University of Illinois’ Illinois Opera Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts performed its production of Scott Joplin’s opera, Treemonisha. It was on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the opera’s publication. Ollie Watts Davis performed the leading role.

  • 1991–2009: Johnson v. Board of Education of Champaign Schools Unit 4 Consent decree was issued.

1993

  • August 22: The dedication of the new building for Salem Baptist Church.

  • September 30: Chanute Air Force Base formally closed. It was the third oldest active base, and the oldest Technical Training Center for the Air Force.

1994

  • The East Side Plan was created for the redevelopment of the East University Avenue and North First Street corridor. The original plan included promoting economic development through increased public safety. The plan encompassed from Clark Street to Park Street east and west and from First Street to Springfield Ave. to Washington Ave.

1995

  • The senior citizens of the Douglass Center Annex established the Champaign County African American History Committee. The committee was dictated to the preservation and dissemination of the county’s African American history through collection and exhibits.

  • Through The Years Newsletter was published by the Champaign County African American History Committee and the Museum of the Grand Prairie (formerly the Early American Museum). The newsletter included articles and photographs about African American history in Champaign-Urbana.

1998

  • Vernon Barkstall and Kenneth O. Stratton Elementary Schools in Champaign, IL, are constructed. Named after community advocate and third Executive Director of the Champaign County Urban League, Barkstall, and Stratton, the first Black councilman.

1999

  • August 14: Dedication of the sculpture “In Remembrance” took place at Douglass Park. Created by African American artist Preston Jackson, it symbolizes the gateway to both the past and the present.

2000s


2000

  • The census recorded 20,045 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • Summer 2000: The first annual Jettie Rhodes Neighborhood Day was hosted at King Park in Urbana. Jettie Rhodes was an Urbana citizen who helped to start an adopt-a-park program at King Park and conducted neighborhood clean-ups. She held the first Neighborhood Day which has continued in her honor.

  • September 2000: Nathaniel “Nate” Causley, Jr. co-founded the first completely African American owned national social media site, BlackCyberSpaceOnLine, Inc. Now called BlackCyberSpace.com, it’s in its 26th year. Born in Champaign, Nate graduated from Centennial High School in 1981.

  • October 4, 2000: African American students from Champaign Community School District #4 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of Illinois against the School District.

2002

  • January 29: U.S. District County Judge Joe Billy McDade approved a Second Revised Consent Decree, expiring in the 2008-2009 school year.

  • Champaign Community School District #4 hired Dr. Arthur Culver to be its first African American school superintendent.

2003

  • Erika Harold, a Champaign-Urbana native and University of Illinois graduate, was crowned Miss America.

2004

  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s African American Cultural Center was rededicated and named for Bruce D. Nesbitt, the longest serving Director in the history of the center.

2005

  • Douglass Square, 67 units mixed-income townhouses and free standing homes, was built. It replaced the Burch Village public housing in Champaign. They are a diverse, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic residences.

2006

  • John Lee Johnson, local Black activist, died at age 65.

2007

  • July: Urbana School District 116 appoints Dr. Preston Williams as its first African American superintendent.

2010s


2010

  • The census recorded 24,946 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • Unity In Action became one of Champaign-Urbana’s first African American digital publications/blogs by Tanya Parker.

2011

  • Booker T. Washington STEM Academy was built, replacing the original Washington School in Champaign, IL.

  • Douglass Senior Citizens perform “From the Bidder’s Box to the White House” at the Virginia Theatre. Written by Marilyn Dean Cleveland, this shadow play, using real humans, enacted scenes of African American history.

2012

  • The Champaign County Community Coalition was established as a collaborative effort that developed a theme of working together for the good of the community, to better address police community relationships and the social problems facing youth.

  • Anthony Cobb was sworn in as the second African American Chief of Police in Champaign on May 12, 2012. His tenure would end in 2021.

2013

  • Bousfield Hall opened at the University of Illinois, named in honor of Maudelle Brown Bousfield, the first African American woman to graduate from the University.

2014

  • Carol Ammons (D) is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives representing the 103rd District, the first African American woman elected to the District.

  • Hamilton on the Park was built as a 36 unit mixed-income townhouses that replaced the public housing complex, Dunbar Court in Urbana.

2015

  • The Urbana School District 116 renamed Prairie School to Dr. Preston L. Williams, Jr. Elementary School in honor of its first African American superintendent.

2016

  • Dr. Robert J. Jones was appointed as Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the first African American to hold this post.

2018

  • The Urbana School District 116 appoints Dr. Jennifer Ivory-Tatum as its first African American female superintendent.

  • The first Annual CU Black and African Arts Festival is held in Urbana, IL.

2019

  • April 9: The opening of the new Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center (BNAACC) building at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was held. It’s located at 1212 W. Nevada, Urbana, IL.

  • “10 Principles,” was created by the Champaign and Urbana Police Departments.

2020s


2020

  • The census recorded 28,675 Black residents in Champaign County.

  • June 24: The Board of Education of Champaign Community School District adopts a Resolution to declare racism a public health crisis and to commit  “to establishing, supporting and sustaining a culture of anti-racism district-wide.”

  • Bristol Place was completed with 90 units of single standing and townhouses for mixed income housing. It replaced the 130 year old Bristol Park neighborhood of 82 single family homes judged to be functionally obsolete; and is located at between Market Street and the IC Railroad tracks, above Bradley Street.

  • A committee of local organizations, leaders, and educators—led by Co-Chairs Barbara Suggs Mason and Angela Rivers, and supported by the Visit Champaign County Foundation—began working on a large-scale project to educate residents and visitors about African American history, culture, and contributions. The project would become the Champaign County African American Heritage Trail. The Trail’s logo was designed by Marcus Flinn.