The idea for this project first came to mind after I accepted the position of director of the African American Studies Program at Eastern Illinois University in the fall of 2000, I tried to acquaint myself with the history of African Americans in Coles County. To my surprise no systematic documentation of the history of blacks in the county existed. The exhibition became an attempt to correct the anomaly. Having been involved with a similar exhibition, "A Significant Past: Photographs of African Americans in Crawford County, PA, 1850-1950," in Meadville, PA, I decided to fall back on my experience from that project. The project began to take shape after I had consulted with Michael Watts, director of the Tarble Arts Center at Eastern. He was very enthusiastic about the project and thought that it was worth embarking on.
This project benefited from the support of several individuals and organizations. Funds for the project came from Eastern Illinois University, Illinois Arts Council, Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), The Tarble Arts Center and the African American Studies Program. I am also grateful to the Second Missionary Baptist Church, the University Archives at EIU, the Coles County Historical Society and individual families for the photographs.
I am indebted to the following individuals for their contributions to the project. James K. Johnson, Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities deserves a big "Thank You" for his strong support of the project in particular, and support of diversity in general; Michael Watts for guiding me on different aspects of the project, and Johnetta Jones, director, Minority Affairs, for identifying sources of photographs. I offer my sincere thanks to Nancy Easter-Shick, a local historian, who was very helpful in supplying photographs and directing me to black families in the area; Dr. Judith Lyles, and her mother, Mrs. Roberta Williams who assisted with church and family photographs and different aspects of their family and community history. Dr. Bill Ridgeway without hesitation lent a hand in locating historical data and establishing proper chronological framework for the project. Robert V. Hillman of the University Archives and Special Collections, and Bev Cruse of EIU Media Services, helped with locating photographs in the archives and the technical aspect of scanning and printing the photographs. Renee Henry of the Coles County Historical Society located some obscure photographic images and David Pooley did the laborious work of mounting all the photographs fro the exhibition. To all of them I say God bless. My special thanks to Rev. Cyprus Hughes for publicizing the project to the congregation of the Second Missionary Baptist Church, Mr. Kenneth H. Norton, Jr., Michael Norton Sr., Michael Norton Jr. and Linda Norton of Decatur, Illinois for giving me unrestricted access to the family albums of the Nortons and the Derricksons; Marsha Gude and Mrs. Juanita Williams assisted with family photographs and histories of the Williams and Estell families.
Duane Smith and Clay Shelley, graduate students in the Historical Administration Program, History Department, EIU were very instrumental in the documentary research for the project. My gratitude also goes to Trudy Chapman and Melinda Meyer for unearthing information on the Old Negro Cemetery and for providing records on the history of the Black settlement in Brushy Fork. Dr. Polycarp Ikuenobe read and commented on drafts of the essay accompanying the photographs. Dr. Marianne Woods of Meadville, PA gave needed moral support and presented a guest lecture at the opening ceremony of the exhibition. And Dr. Blair Lord, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, EIU was kind enough to be the special guest at the exhibition and he formally declared it open.
Mr. Clark Halker and his colleagues at the Illinois Humanities Council deserve my gratitude for helping with the grant application process. Fran Wittenberg of the Tarble Arts Center and Sue Beasley of the African American Studies Program carried out vital clerical and secretarial duties. Above all, but for the attendance of the exhibition by students, faculty and staff of EIU and Coles County community members, the exhibition would not have been a success. For their unflinching support I am most grateful. Finally, I offer my sincere gratitude to my family for their support and inspiration and to Almighty God for His Mercies.
Onaiwu W. Ogbomo
Director, African American Studies & Exhibition Curator.