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Black and white men, women, and children cradling wheat, c. 1900.

An Historical marker in front of Dr. Hiram Rutherford's house in Oakland, Illinois.

Dr. Hiram Rutherford's House, Pike Street, Oakland, Illinois. Dr. Rutherford was a popular Physician and abolitionist in Coles County, Illinois in the 19th century.

Pemberton Hall, EIU c. 1921 (left to right) Mrs. Minnie Portee, three white females in the middle unknown, far right Mr. Arthur Portee. The Portees were cooks in Pemberton Dining Hall in the 1920's.

Charles B. Hall, football and track star at Eastern. He was an ace fighter pilot during WWII with the famous all negro 99th Fighter Squadron (Tuskegee Airmen), 1944.

Arthur Anderson Barber Shop in Mattoon, Illinois. Standing by a customer to the left is Mr. Sidney Williams, and to his left is Mr. Arthur Anderson (owner), c. 1920.


Related to lynching was the existence of white supremacy organizations. As with such organizations which had their origins in the segregated south, the KKK was formed as a white protective society which also had the objective of keeping blacks in their proper place. In Mattoon and Charleston, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was very active in the 1920's. An incident in Mattoon which had racial undertones involved a black barber named J.P. Cranshaw. In November 1923, Mr. Cranshaw was arrested in Mattoon with one Mrs. Mary Evans of Chicago, a white woman for alleged disorderly conduct. Local newspaper coverage of the incident declared that "Cranshaw's arrest is stated by Chief Portlock to have been due to the continuous reports he had been driving out with some white women..." (26) Mary Evans on her part said "she was at the Big Four passenger station at eight o'clock Wednesday night standing at the curb, when a man drove up in an automobile and invited her to take a ride. She said she did not know the man was colored until they were out in the country." (27) While it was rumored that she was a local married woman, the police however, found out that she was a dancer at the "Black and Tan" Cabaret in Chicago. After her arrest, an envelope bearing Cranshaw's name and address was found in her handbag. Cranshaw and the young woman pleaded guilty to the charges. Cranshaw paid a fine of $204 for himself and another $52 for the woman. The Ku Klux Klan in reacting to the incident visited Cranshaw's home on 1509 Shelby Avenue in Mattoon on Thursday night November 15th, where they left a note which read "Jim Cranshaw, your room is worth more than your company. Leave town at once." (29) Following this, Cranshaw heeded the warning and left town and thereby averted being lynched as William Moore.

Even as African Americans were being denied their rights, they made efforts to establish their citizenship, loyalty and patriotism to the nation. During the Civil War, African American men in the area enlisted in the Union Army. In Meyer's words:

Some of the area men did, in fact, go to Boston to join up. The famous Mass. 54th Regiment was full by the time they got there. A new black regiment, the Mass. 55th was formed, and George Manuel is recorded as enlisting in Co H on June 15, 1863. There are four men listed in Co E as being from Newman: Isaac Rhoades, Wm. H. Miledam, Francis L. Harrison, and John Curtis. All four made it to the end of the war and were discharged in 1865. Manuel is listed as deserting. (30)

In demanding to be enlisted into the Union Army, African Americans asserted that, "Our feelings urge us to say to our countrymen that we are ready to stand by and defend our Government as the equals of its white defenders; to do so with 'our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,' for the sake of freedom, and as good citizens; and we ask you to modify your laws, that we may enlist, --that full scope may be given to the patriotic feelings burning in the colored man's breast." (31) This patriotic zeal did not fade with the Civil War. As the photographs in this volume show African Americans served and fought in subsequent wars involving the United States.

In spite of the circumscribed nature of African Americans' freedom in Coles County, they explored both as a group and as individuals avenues to survive socially and economically. In the nineteenth century, African Americans relied for the most part, on agriculture for economic survival in Coles County. Around Oakland by 1860 black families had fully settled in and farming the land. As Duane Smith found, by "1860, the James family was joined by some 27 others, living along a lane known locally as "negro lane." Five families owned between 400 and 3400 dollars worth of real estate each. These families farmed independently and worked for neighbors." (32) Others worked as farm laborers and servants within white households. Furthermore, with time others branched out into domestic and personal service occupations. For those who could not secure employment with white employers either because of limited opportunities or racist attitudes, the only option opened to them was self-employment. African Americans who went into self-employment worked as barbers, janitors, blacksmiths, caterers, hairdressers, washmen and women. Among all these occupations barbering was the most prominent among blacks in the county. Initially, these service jobs were not held in high esteem; hence, the predominance of black barbershops in Charleston and Mattoon.


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