Category Archives: African Americans

Dennis Williams, crayon artist

  This entry, originally written in 2013, was greatly expanded and corrected in 2021, thanks to the research of Mary Frances of Springfield. See “Contributor” note at end. Dennis Williams (1851-89), born an enslaved person in Mississippi, became an acclaimed … Continue reading

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Engine House 5 (“the colored firehouse”)

Engine House 5, 1310 E. Adams St., was known as Springfield’s “colored firehouse” from its construction in 1901 until after its fire company moved to a new building in 1954. “The Springfield Fire Department routinely gave Five the worst of … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Buildings, Local government, Markers | Leave a comment

Mumblety-peg slaying, 1889

Theophilus “Moonlight” Waldron was a 15-year-old orphan, living on the streets and by his wits, when he stabbed to death a man over a game of mumblety-peg. Waldron (1874-?) was sentenced to life in prison for murder, a judgement many … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Crime and vice, Journalism, Law enforcement, Media | 1 Comment

Pekin Theatre

In segregated Springfield, the Pekin Theatre was the only movie house that not only catered specifically to African-Americans, but was managed by African-Americans as well. The Pekin was at 811-15 E. Washington St. The block, the site of both Black- … Continue reading

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DeWitt Smith Building fire, 1918

When the DeWitt Smith Building caught fire in 1918, modern firefighting equipment saved the building, and a heroic elevator operator rescued many of its tenants. Even so, the top floors of the building, on the southeast corner of Fourth and … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Architecture, Auto dealers, Buildings, Disasters, Local government | 2 Comments

First African-American mail carrier

When Charles Ellis Sr. was appointed a Springfield mail carrier in 1890 – the first African-American to hold the job – his predecessor refused to show him the route, and the Illinois State Register erupted with a racist personal attack … Continue reading

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Ruth Ellis, lesbian activist

Ruth Ellis was an openly lesbian woman at a time when that was almost unheard of, the first 40 years of her life in her hometown of Springfield and for 60 more years in Detroit. She became celebrated in 1999, … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Ethnic groups, Prominent figures, Women | 1 Comment

Dr. Sheppard A. Ware, physician

Dr. Sheppard Anderson Ware (1872-1948) was a physician in Springfield for 40 years. He was also was a member of the Sangamon County Medical Society and additionally worked for the Illinois State Department of Health. Born in Brownsville, Tenn., Ware … Continue reading

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National Emancipation Monument (proposed)

A statue of a black Civil War soldier was to be the centerpiece of a National Emancipation Monument that African-American residents of Springfield hoped would be erected in the city. The effort, which lasted from 1889 to 1893, ultimately was … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Architecture | 3 Comments

Doc Helm, photographer

Eddie Winfred “Doc” Helm, whose striking photographs documented African-American life in Springfield for 50 years, started his career as the man responsible for raising and lowering the flag over the Illinois Statehouse. Helm (1911-94), who grew up in Mount Vernon, … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Business, Media, Photos and photosets, Prominent figures, Social life, State government | Leave a comment