Black Organizing in Pre-Civil War Illinois: Creating Community, Demanding Justice

This exhibit is the result of more than two years of planning, teaching, research, writing, and editing, with student researchers receiving generous support from a variety of entities at Northwestern University. In 2019 and early 2020, after becoming a North American Teaching Partner with the Colored Conventions Project, Professor Kate Masur began meeting with Josh Honn (Northwestern University Libraries) and Matt Taylor (WCAS Media & Design Studio) to plan an undergraduate research seminar that would be cross-listed between History and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities. Research and writing began in earnest with that spring 2020 course, which was offered remotely as the COVID-19 pandemic began. During the summers of 2020 and 2021, research teams composed of undergraduate and graduate students, along with Masur, Honn, and Taylor, continued the work. Staff at the Colored Conventions Project at Penn State provided guidance and feedback throughout. Almost all of our research was conducted using digitized sources that were accessible during the pandemic. As we prepared to finalize the exhibit, we sought advice from experts in the history of African Americans in Illinois, including local historians and genealogists. In short, this has been a collaborative project in every sense.

We hope readers will find the history displayed here both inspiring and sobering. Above all, we hope this exhibit will spur further inquiry into the early history of African Americans in Illinois and across the Midwest.

Project Director
Kate Masur, Professor of History, Northwestern University

Lead Graduate Researcher
Hope McCaffrey

Chabraja Center for Historical Studies Graduate Fellows
Emiliano Aguilar, Mikala Stokes, Marquis Taylor

Baker Undergraduate Research Fellows
Valeria Lira-Ruelas, Shira Nash

Research Assistant, Office of Undergraduate Research
Lia Davis

Additional Undergraduate Researchers
Sophia Blake, Hap Conover, Cameron Cook, Ronald Kim, Zachary Koons, Seri Lee, Christina Melehy, Maria Nasser, Ethan Reiss, Elynnor Sandefer

Digital Humanities Team
Méch Frazier, GIS and Cartographic Specialist, Northwestern University Libraries
Josh Honn, Digital Humanities Librarian, Northwestern University Libraries
Matthew Taylor, Director, Media and Design Studio

We humbly thank the historians, genealogists, and librarians who assisted us by providing feedback and corrections and by directing us to new sources: Kris Chapman, Dave Joens, Charlotte Johnson, Mark Johnson, Christopher Robert Reed, Cindy Reinhardt, Leslie Schwalm, Marilyn Wainio, and H. Scott Wolfe.

We thank the Colored Conventions Project team for their extraordinary support, expertise, and encouragement, especially Michelle Byrnes, Jim Casey, Lauren Cooper, Gabrielle Foreman, Anna Lacy, Kaitlyn Tanis, Samantha de Vera, and everyone at Penn State University’s Center for Black Digital Research. We are also grateful to Northwestern’s Chabraja Center for Historical Studies, the Baker Program for Undergraduate Research, the Office of Undergraduate Research, and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities for their commitment to funding student researchers and overall support of this project.