Dr. Martin Luther King Subdivision

Dr. Martin Luther King Subdivision

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Experience Champaign-Urbana

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.

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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.

Decade:

1960-1969

People:

  • Alvin G. Foxwell
  • Cecil Dewey Nelson
  • Charles E. Phillips
  • Willie Holt

Location(s):

  • Champaign, Illinois

Additional Champaign Trail Sites

Community

Social and Religious Life

St. Luke Christian Methodist Episcopal (C.M.E.) Church

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.

Community

Social and Religious Life

Salem Baptist Church

Located at 500 E. Park Street in Champaign, Salem Baptist Church was initially established in 1867, the same year the University of Illinois was established, as Second Baptist Church at 406 E. Park ("the Old Coffee Place"). In 1874, the original church was destroyed by arson. After occupying locations at Swannell Drug Store at Main and Hickory, and on East Clark Street, the church bought the land at its current location in 1901 and began construction in 1908. It was renamed as Salem Baptist Church in 1911.

Business

Education

Innovation

Walter T. Bailey and the Colonel Wolfe School

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 403 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.

Education

Lawhead School

Harriet J. Lawhead School, built in 1907, was a small, four-room building. During its early years, it served German and Italian immigrants in the neighborhood. As African Americans moved into the area, the school was integrated for a period of time, but by the 1940s it was attended only by Black students. White children who lived in the area were sent to Columbia School. During World War II, two rooms in the basement of the school were used as a Servicemen’s Club, organized by community members for African American soldiers who were not welcomed in the USO at Chanute Field. The school was closed in 1952, prior to the opening of the new Booker T. Washington School and razed in 1990. It is now a parking lot.

Business

Civil Rights, Social Justice, & Politics

Community

African Americans and the Illinois Central Railroad

Chartered in 1851, the Illinois Central Railroad was lobbied for by both Steven A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Completed by 1856, it was considered the longest railroad in the world. From 1857 through the Civil War, the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) was said to carry fugitives from slavery, along with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, and the Chicago and Rock Island Railroads. Fugitives travelled by box cars and passenger cars, by day and by night. With the assistance of railroad porters, sympathetic conductors, laborers, freedmen, and abolitionists, they managed to travel mostly without arrest.

Community

Sports & Recreation

Douglass Park and Douglass Center

The Park and Center are named for the great African American orator and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. In 1941, the Douglass Community Service Committee began an effort to raise funds for a new complex, to be built on two empty lots. Ground broke in 1944 and the Center was completed in 1946. The Center held classes in art, music, and sewing, among other activities. Athletics included adult softball, baseball, basketball, track, and tennis. The Center hosted many social events. One of the groups that brought national recognition to the Center was its Drum and Bugle Corps and Drill Team. In 1975, 200 residents protested the decision by the Park 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 new, full-service, comprehensive Center. After much discussion between the community and the Park Board, the “old” Center was torn down and a new Center was constructed. It opened on December 12, 1976. In March 1978, the Douglass Annex opened with a focus on senior citizens, and in 1997 the Douglass Branch Library moved into its current site.