African American Civil War Burials and Mt. Hope Cemetery
611 East Pennsylvania Avenue, Champaign, IL
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.
Many local African Americans who fought in the Civil War are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Champaign-Urbana (611 E. Pennsylvania Ave.) as well as in other cemeteries around the county. Although many individual markers do not exist or have not been relocated, our understanding of which Civil War veterans buried at Mount Hope and other cemeteries are based on available records. The list of veterans below, though extensively researched, may not be complete.
Mt. Hope Cemetery, Urbana
Jordan Anderson, Pvt, 28th U.S. Volunteers (28th USCT)
James H. Bell, Pvt, Co D, 29th USCT
William. G. Blackburn, Pvt, Co I, 50th USCT, died 20 January 1893
Elijah Gibbs, Cpl, Co H, 55th MA Vols
George. W. Johnson, Pvt, Co K, 118th US Inf (118th USCT)
David Johnson, Wagoner, 29th USCT
John C. Louis (Lewis), Sgt, Co D, 28th USCT
Martin McDermot, Pvt, US gunboat Hastings
John R. Merrick, Pvt, Co I, 55th MA Vols
John Moss, Pvt, Co H, 55th MA Inf
Ruff Phillips, Pvt, Co C, 48th MO Vol, and Drummer, 7th IL Cav
James (Jess) E. Riley, Pvt, Co K, 29th USCT
Stephen Roey, Pvt, Co C, 1l0th USCT
Simon Ross, Pvt, Co K, 49th USCT and Co I, II the USCT
William Summerville, Pvt, Co G, 29th USCT
Larkin. H. Walden, Pvt, Co I, 55.th MA Vols
James Walker; Pvt, Co K, 118th USCT
William. P. Winn, Cpl, Co. D, 18th USCT
Stephen Winston, Co C, 1l0th USCT, died 4 May 1900
Homer GAR Cemetery, Homer IL
Samuel Persons, Sgt, 29th USCT, Co. F
Old Homer Cemetery, Homer, IL
C. Cone, 54th US Cav (54th USCT)
Mt. Hope Cemetery, Sidney, IL
Isaac Beard, Pvt, Co C, 13th USCT
From Salt Fork to Chickamaunga: Champaign County Soldiers in the Civil War, Chapter 22 “Black Soldiers in the Civil War,” by Robert H. Behrens [Urbana, IL: Urbana Free Library, 1988] pps. 371-381.
- Champaign, Illinois
- Urbana, Illinois
Additional Champaign Trail Sites
Social and Religious Life
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.
Cecil D. Nelson was the most decorated World War I soldier in the county. A sergeant in both the Mexican Expedition of 1916 and World War I, he increased his age so he could enlist in the Illinois 8th Regiment, known as the “Old 8th,” in Danville, Illinois. With the U.S. involvement in World War I, his unit become part of the all-Black 370th Infantry where he met and became friends with William Frank Earnest, whom he saw die. On October 18, 1918, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre by French General Vincendon for bravery under fire, and several other decorations later for his service during World War I. The son of Joseph and Estella Nelson (née Anderson), he, like his mother, was born and raised in Champaign, Illinois, and was a member of Bethel AME. He returned home where he met and married William Franks’ niece, Carrie Mae Earnest, and became an active and respected member of both the Black and white communities. He lived at 1002 N. 5th Street in Champaign, and he is one of the founders of the William F. Earnest American Legion Post #559.
Sports & Recreation
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.
Frederick Douglass visited Champaign on February 15, 1869, at Barrett Hall, located above what was Henry Swannell's Drug Store, now One Main Plaza. His topic was 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
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.
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.