Sergeant Allen A. Rivers, Sr.

Sergeant Allen A. Rivers, Sr.

Image Credit:
Above: Sergeant Allen A. Rivers, Sr., c. 1950s, Courtesy of Eunice J. Rivers, Champaign, IL │ Below: Champaign Police Department Officers, 1948, Champaign County Archives, Urbana Free Library, Urbana, IL

Allen A. Rivers, Sr. was hired as the first and, at the time, only African American in the Champaign Police Department on August 1, 1935. He worked for 33 years as a policeman rising from a “beat cop” to a motorcycle cop, and then to Sergeant before retiring. He was known as never having to fire his gun in pursuit of a criminal or during an arrest.

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A black and white photograph of the Champaign Police Department officers. More than 30 people appear in uniform in the photo but only one, Allen Rivers Sr., is African American.He was a member of the Elks, the ONO, the Urban League, the NAACP. He was a 33 1/3 Degree Mason and served as Worshipful Grand Master of the Long Star Lodge of the Prince Hall. He served as an honorary board member of the Champaign Park District and served as trustee for Bethel AME Church. Born on December 7, 1902, in Alexander County in southern Illinois, he came to Champaign in 1919 at the age of 17 and lived with his two aunts, sisters Callie and Pearl Marshall, who were hairdressers. In 1923, he married Clyda Mae Simpson, whose family had migrated from Kentucky. They had five children. After the death of Clyda Mae, he married Ellen Treadwell in 1952. Two of his sons went into law enforcement: Allen A, Rivers, Jr., a Military Policeman during the Korean War who later joined the University of Illinois Police Department; and Richard Rivers who like his brother became a Military Policeman. Richard was assigned special duty assignments until retiring. Allen Rivers died on November 12, 1989. A funeral was held at Bethel AME Church, and he was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.

The Champaign Police Department did not hire a second African American policeman until around 1950, when it hired Franklin Sayles.





  • Allen A. Rivers


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Additional Champaign Trail Sites


Albert R. Lee

Albert R. Lee was born on June 26, 1874, on a farm outside of Champaign, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois in 1894, and in 1895 he became the second African American hired at the university. He started as a messenger, but then became the clerk for the Office of the President. Lee served under six university Presidents. At a time when African Americans were not allowed to live on campus, he took it upon himself to assist them with housing and maneuvering through school, becoming known as the unofficial Dean of African American Students.


Civil Rights, Social Justice, & Politics


The J.C. Penney Boycott and Picketing Campaign

During the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans fought for equal opportunity in employment across the nation. In Champaign-Urbana, the Champaign-Urbana Improvement Association (CUIA) was founded to demand greater job opportunities for African Americans, resulting in one of the most influential local civil rights victories known as the J.C. Penney Boycott.


Frederick Douglass’ Visit to Champaign

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


William F. Earnest American Legion Post 559

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.


Dr. Martin Luther King Subdivision

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.


Cecil Dewey Nelson, Sr.

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.