Black History Month at UIS

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UIS has a tradition of celebrating Black History Month, starting in 1973 as Black Awareness Week. The tradition continues today with current students finding ways to add their voices to the conversation.

Celebrate Black History Month 2018

The University of Illinois Springfield will celebrate Black History Month in February with a variety of events designed to educate, honor, and raise awareness.

Certificates of Freedom

The Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) in the UIS Archives contains several examples of Certificates of Freedom dating from 1830 to 1860 in the Sangamon County Deed Record, Circuit Court Record, and other sources.

Freedom papers and certificates of freedom were documents declaring the free status of Blacks. These papers were important because “free people of color” even in Illinois, lived with the constant fear of being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Freedom Papers proved the free status of a person and served as a legal affidavit.

On February 11, 1861, Jamieson Jenkins drove President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his last Springfield carriage ride from the Chenery House at the northwest corner of Fourth and Washington Streets to the Great Western Railroad depot to begin his trip to Washington.

Jameison Jenkins Freedom Paper

The following is an excerpt from Jamieson Jenkins’ Certificate of Freedom:

…as one of the acting Justices of Peace in and for the County and State aforesaid do further certify that the son of the above Nancy Jenkins was known by me to be a free man of color…

Oral Histories

Orville Artis

Orville Artis, a long-time African American resident of Springfield, was born in Lincoln, Illinois in December 1908. He lived in Buffalo, Illinois as a child, and moved to Springfield, Illinois in December 1916. He recalls his move to Springfield, conditions for black residents, black businesses, and neighbors.

Interview by Rev. Negil L. McPherson, 1974

Find more of Orville Artis’ story at the UIS Archives »

Lottie Bridgewater

Lottie Bridgewater, an African American resident of Springfield, was born in Columbia, Kentucky on January 25, 1877. After her husband died, she moved to Springfield, Illinois to live with her father. She discusses her employment as a housekeeper in various households, treatment by white employers, and social conditions faced by blacks in Springfield.

Interview by Reverend Negil L. McPherson 1975

Find more of Lottie Bridewater’s story at the UIS Archives »

Luther Wheeler

Luther WheelerLuther Wheeler was born in Cairo, Illinois, on May 14, 1914. He graduated from high school there in 1931, married there in 1937, and came to Springfield in 1942 to expand his working experience. He served in the U.S. Navy in WWII as a seaman

Luther’s life in Springfield included working at Allis Chalmers, duties, positions, and conflicts with management, discrimination and segregation, neighborhoods, activities, and politics. He discusses purchasing a home in Springfield in the following clip.

Interview by Bette Duiker, 1983

Find more of Luther Wheeler’s story at the UIS Archives »

Black Awareness Week: A Journey Into Black Culture

March 24-31, 1973

Sponsored by the Sangamon State University Black Student Union, the week was subtitled, “A Journey Into the Black Culture.” Black Awareness week focused on the political, economic and social issues relating to the black community.

Speakers and groups included the Tony Zamora Combo, Alex Haley, Dick Gregory, and Aliza Thnadeka Ngono. Other group participants were:

  • an affirmative action panel discussion with Arnold Jones, Lowell Turley, John Flamer, William Jacobs and Edyth Cole discussing the “Future of Affirmative Action;”
  • a panel discussion on the “Black Politician and His Role in the Culture” with Illinois Rep. Eugene Barnes, Rep. Peggy Smith Martin, Rep. Corneal Davis, and Harold Washington; and
  • a combined performance of the Black Writer’s Workshop, the Black Dance Workshop, and the Black Lab Band of the Afro-American Cultural Program of the University of Illinois.
Alice Abadingi Concert

Alice Abadingi Concert

Aliza Thandeka Ngono performed Abadingi, which means The Searchers, on March 31, 1973 as part of Black Awareness Week.

Listen to a short clip of Ngono’s performance. The audio was taken from a low-quality 1973 reel-to-reel recording:

Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory Flyer

Dick Gregory, a very well known black comedian and lecturer spoke in the Sangamon State University cafeteria, on March 28, 1973. Admission was free for Sangamon State students and $2 for the public.

Dick Gregory On Stage
Dick Gregory on stage at Sangamon State University

The Illinois State Register reported that Gregory’s message, delivered with “scathing and irreverent humor,” was that we should all love and respect one another, and be quick about it.

Black Lives Matter Audience

Black History Month at UIS

Black History Month at UIS highlights the the cultural backgrounds and contributions of African-Americans. The following are a few themes from past Black History Month events:

  • At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington
  • Celebrating Civil Rights in America
  • Bridging the Gap

In 2011, a group of resident assistants at the University of Illinois Springfield spotlighted issues of privilege and power through an interactive exhibit known as the Tunnel of Oppression.

The Black History Month display welcomed more than 100 people during its two day run. While students have designed similar displays in the past, this is the first time they had taken on an exhibition of this magnitude. The goal was to leave a lasting memory with those who visited the display.

– UIS Newsroom

Black History Month 2016

The tradition continues in 2016 with a variety of events designed to educate and raise awareness.

Justin Rose

Justin Rose, a UIS alumnus and student program advisor for the Diversity Center, speaks with a local reporter about the Black History Month events the campus is offering throughout February. Many of the events are organized by the Black Male Collegiate Society; Rose is a founding member of the group, and the advisor.

“It’s just a chance for individuals to show the achievements of African Americans who shaped America, who shaped our history, our US history today.”

– Justin Rose
Student Program Adviser, UIS

Grace Lattimore

UIS student Grace Lattimore debuted her documentary, “Beneath the Surface,” during Black History Month. The documentary looks into what it’s like being a black student at a majority white university. She interviews a number of UIS students, asking them about their experiences at UIS. She will present the documentary at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research.

Grace also wrote an essay for the Black Lives Matter symposium, and the piece won first place in the essay contest.

Rashad Foster

Rashad Foster presented an essay at the Black Lives Matter Symposium, one of the events scheduled during Black History Month. Foster’s piece won second place at the event.

Carissa Gillings

Carissa Gillings presented an essay at the Black Lives Matter Symposium, one of the events scheduled during Black History Month. Gillings’ piece won third place at the event.


“When, struck with a sudden poverty, the United States refused to fulfill its promises of land to the freedmen, a brigadier-general went down to the Sea Islands to carry the news. An old woman on the outskirts of the throng began singing this song; all the mass joined with her, swaying. And the soldier wept.”

- W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

“Spirituals” were songs sung by slaves and were also called “plantation songs” and “sorrow songs”. Scholars have distinguished between two types of spirituals; the first were believed to carry coded messages and instructions and the second type was rooted in stories from the Bible and contained messages of despair, but also of hope for eventual freedom. “Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen” is one such song.

Text for spirituals: Tiffani Saunders, Instructor of Sociology and African American Studies

More Information at the UIS Archives

Archives/Special Collections supports and promotes the research use of primary source materials. Its goal is to locate, acquire, preserve, and make available to the public the most significant historical records of Sangamon State University (1969-1995) and the University of Illinois at Springfield as well as regional history records and manuscripts whose research strengths support the University’s curriculum.

“Archives/Special Collections and the Illinois Regional Archives Depository in Brookens Library house several unique collections, dating from the early 1800s to the present, invaluable for the research of Black History in Springfield, central Illinois, and beyond.”

– Thomas J. Wood
University Archivist, UIS