Dr. Martin Luther King Subdivision
Between N. Fourth Street and the Canadian National Railroad Tracks
The Dr. Martin Luther King Subdivision, located between North Fourth Street and the Canadian National railroad tracks in Champaign, Illinois, was a part of urban renewal that took place in the late 1960s, eventually replacing the old Oak-Ash neighborhood. It began in the 1980s and was the only urban renewal project that was not replaced with public or subsidized housing. The names of the streets in the subdivision were chosen to recognize African Americans who were historically significant for the community and submitted to the city council by J. W. Pirtle. 📍
Charles E. Phillips (1889-1975) was a grandson of David Johnson, a formerly enslaved person, who came to Champaign-Urbana after the Civil War and was one of the founders of the Second Baptist Church, now Salem Baptist, in Champaign. Deeply involved in community activities, Mr. Phillips was a forerunner in promoting low cost, affordable housing for African Americans in the community. He served as a scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 11 through the Arrowhead Council for 25 years. He was appointed a member of the Champaign Housing Commission and served as honorary Vice President of the Champaign County Urban League. He also served on the board of the Francis Nelson Health Center.
Alvin G. Foxwell (1896-1959) was one of the charter members of the William F. Earnest American Legion Post 559 and an active member of the community. He was a member and Trustee of Salem Baptist Church. He was active with the Republican Party and the Champaign Recreation Department, where he was one of the originators of the Servicemen’s Organization that lobbied for the establishment of a Servicemen’s Center for Black soldiers who were segregated from the recreational facilities at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois, and for Douglass Center.
Cecil Dewey Nelson (1898-1971) was 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 I, Mr. Nelson was a recipient of the French Croix de Guerre for bravery in battle and a Purple Heart. A former member of the Champaign Recreation Department, during World War II he was one of the organizers of the Servicemen’s Center, created to provide a recreational space for Black soldiers and the establishment of Douglass Park and Center. He served as a scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 11. He was a member of Bethel A.M.E. Church, where he served on the Trustee Board and the Lone Star Lodge #18, Prince Hall Masons.
Willie Holt (1900-1985) was a small businessman in Champaign-Urbana’s African American community who operated a sanitary hauling business for over 20 years. Born in Paris, Tennessee, 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.
- Alvin G. Foxwell
- Cecil Dewey Nelson
- Charles E. Phillips
- Willie Holt
- Champaign, Illinois
Additional Champaign Trail Sites
African Americans from Champaign County fought bravely, and died, in World War I. Those who served did so with courage, honor, and distinction. Many of those who returned home found community and services at the William F. Earnest American Legion Post 559. Originally located at Fifth and Hill Streets, the Post is now located at 704 N. Hickory in Champaign. It was chartered in 1932 by African American World War I veterans and named for a fallen comrade who was a University of Illinois student-athlete from Homer, Illinois. Earnest served as a sergeant in the all-Black 370th Infantry Regiment from Illinois. One of the columns at Memorial Stadium also bears his name. The founding members of Post 559 were Clifford Caldwell, Robert H. Earnest (brother of William F. Earnest), Dr. L.P. Diffay, Dr. Henry Ellis, Alvin Foxwell, Raymond Hines, Thomas Macklin, Cecil D. Nelson, and George Ray. 📍
Walter Thomas Bailey was the first African American to graduate with a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois in 1904, and he was the first licensed African American architect in Illinois. He contributed to the Colonel Wolfe School in Champaign as a young man, and later enjoyed a successful and influential career leading architectural projects throughout the United States. Bailey assisted with the design of the Colonel Wolfe School at 401 E. Healy in Champaign. The Colonel Wolfe School was constructed in 1905 as a public elementary school. Named after Colonel John S. Wolfe, captain of the 20th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, the building was designed by the architectural firm Spencer & Temple from Champaign. 📍
Social and Religious Life
Located at 401 E. Park Street in Champaign, Bethel A.M.E. Church is the oldest African American led church in Champaign County. It was organized in 1863 and predates the establishment of the University of Illinois. During the early part of the century when segregation was a fact of life, Bethel established a library and had a church orchestra. The church served as a meeting place for Black students attending the University of Illinois, establishing monthly lyceum meetings where students and members of the congregation came together for lectures, discussions, debates, and musical performances. In 1915 it was the site of the founding of the Twin Cities Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Spiritual, community and educational development have continued to be a mission for the church. 📍
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.
Social and Religious Life
Located at 809 N. Fifth Street in Champaign, St. Luke C.M.E. Church was established in 1901, making it the third-oldest historically African American congregation in Champaign County. Originally located on Eads Street in Urbana and called St. Luke Tabernacle Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, it was renamed in 1954 to Christian Methodist Episcopal. The church moved to its current location in 1914. 📍
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.