Dr. Ellis Subdivision
Northeast Urbana between Goodwin Avenue and Wright Street
The Dr. Ellis Subdivision is the third single-family subdivision created for African Americans in Champaign-Urbana after Carver Park in 1951 and Crispus Attucks Place in 1953. The subdivision was developed by John Goodell of Goodell Engineering and built in three phases, from 1961-1966. It was originally just outside city limits on undeveloped farmland. Today, the subdivision is located in Urbana, IL, in what is considered the historically African American North End neighborhood.
Its borders are between Wright Street to the west and Goodwin Avenue to the east, Eads Street to the south and Bradley Avenue to the north. This subdivision became a destination for young African American families who had the economic capability to purchase a home but were restricted from buying in other parts of the surrounding areas of both Champaign and Urbana due to segregation.
The subdivision was named for Dr. Harry D. Ellis, the second African American doctor to practice in the twin cities. Born in Springfield on December 31, 1894, he served in World War I with the all-African American 370th Infantry, 93rd Division. This division was the only regiment commanded by African American officers and fought with the French army.
After the war, Ellis attended the University of Illinois Medical College. His practice was located at 112 N. Walnut St. in Champaign. Ellis was extremely active in the community. In the 1910s, he played banjo in the Raymond Scott Band. Later, he served as a founding member and treasurer of the William F. Earnest American Legion Post #559, treasurer of the Advisory Committee that helped open the Douglass Community Center, and president of the Frederick Douglass Civic League. When Dr. Ellis died in 1946, he lay in state at the Douglass Community Center, the place he helped build. He was buried in the World War I veterans’ section of Mount Hope Cemetery in Champaign, Illinois.
Hursey, Sr., Paul S. “A Verbatim Transcription of an Oral Interview.” by Shirley Walker. Champaign County Historical Archives (October 25, 1982). 1-14. https://archivescatalog.urbanafreelibrary.org/polaris/custom/repository/000400000016.pdf
Williams, P. L., Jr. (2000). A study of the desegregation plan of Urbana School District 116 Elementary schools: From the beginning of implementation to the present. (Doctoral dissertation). (UMI Number 9971219)
Harry D. Ellis: https://localwiki.org/cu/Harry_D._Ellis
- Dr. Henry D. Ellis
- Urbana, Illinois
Additional Urbana Trail Sites
Located west of Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Mount Hope Cemetery (611 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Champaign, IL) was plotted and internment began in 1856. Sitting on the dividing line between the two cities, it’s the oldest operating cemetery in Champaign-Urbana. Throughout its 150 years, it has been the final resting place for many local African Americans and their families, including most of those who fought in the Civil War. The majority of these veterans were buried in what was the Grand Army of the Republic’s (G.A.R.) section, now known as the “old” veteran's section, found as you enter the cemetery. It is represented by the Civil War Memorial and a 32-pound canon built in 1851. However, many of the original markers no longer exist for many of these and other Civil War veterans, or they were moved to other locations in the cemetery.
African Americans veterans from various wars including World War I and II are also buried in this section.
Social and Religious Life
President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. For many years afterward, in or around September, African Americans would congregate at parks and other community spaces for Emancipation Day celebrations. These celebrations were held in Champaign, Homer, Tolono, Sidney, and other parts of Champaign County. Celebrations often included food, music, and dancing.
Civil Rights, Social Justice, & Politics
In 1965, two neighbors and University of Illinois mailmen, Carlos Donaldson and Paul Hursey, learned of a dissertation that identified achievement gaps between African American students who attended James Wellen Hays Elementary School and the other schools in Urbana School District 116. Realizing that their children were not receiving an equal education, Donaldson and Hursey, along with Willeta Donaldson, Shirley Hursey, Jo Ann Jackson, and Rev. Dr. Evelyn Underwood, formed the Hays School Neighborhood Association. They lived in the Dr. Ellis Subdivision—the first subdivision of single-family homes in Urbana developed for African Americans—and met, researched, and strategized about meeting with the Urbana School Board to address educational disparities and advocate for school integration in 1966. These neighbors became known as the Ellis Drive Six.
Edward A. Green, a freeman, became one of the first African Americans to settle in Champaign County in 1856. Born in North Carolina, he moved to West Urbana (now Champaign) from Union County, Ohio, with his first wife, Georgia Anne, and daughters, Anna A. and Florence E. Green. A carpenter by trade, in 1858 he began purchasing parcels of land throughout what would become Champaign and into northwestern Urbana, ending up with approximately 14 lots. Six lots were located in Urbana between Wright and Goodwin Streets, along Eads and Champaign (now Vine) Streets.
The first Black Greek letter organizations began in the early 1900s when African American students were excluded from dormitories (as was the case at the University of Illinois), study groups and social organizations at predominantly white institutions. Often ostracized, Black students began to organize themselves for mutual academic and social support. As these organizations evolved, they developed the values of scholarship, friendship, service, leadership, and philanthropy. Today, all nine historically Black sororities and fraternities have chapters, commonly known as the “Divine 9,” on the University of Illinois’ campus. Two of the earliest Black Greek organizations, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, were the first such organizations on the University’s campus to provide housing for their chapter members. The first residence for Alpha Kappa Alpha (Gamma House) was located at 1201 W. Stoughton in Urbana and the first home for Kappa Alpha Psi was at 707 S. Third Street, in Champaign.
The young women pictured on the steps in 1915 are members of the Gamma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority which was established at the University in 1914.