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George Washington Estell (February 10, 1857- October 28, 1950) of Mattoon, Illinois.

Johnny Estell's Band, Mattoon, Illinois. The band director was John Estell, standing far right, c. 1940's.

Mr. G. Harry Estell, and Mrs. Ada Estell celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1960.

Rev. Harry Estell, Sr. (left), and Craig Van Meter (right). Rev. Estell was for many years an ordained minister and pastor of the Second Missionary Baptist Church in Mattoon, Illinois. He also served as custodian of many professional and business enterprises, the major one being Craig & Craig law firm in Mattoon.

Young Black Men: (left to right) Harold Edward Estell, Charles Estell, Lara Hap Estell, John Estell and Velma Dutch Estell, C. 1940's.

Miller & Sons Dodge and Plymouth Dealership, Mattoon, Illinois. Stooping to the left is Velma Dutch Estell who worked at the garage for 36 years. He retired in 1971.

The photographic exhibition which gave rise to this book focused on the history of African Americans from the nineteenth century to the present. The exhibition which was held at the Tarble Arts Center on the campus of Eastern Illinois University from January 25 to March 10, 2002, explored the accomplishments of African Americans. The images also addressed their everyday lives, social, religious, economic, political and cultural activities. In economic terms, the exhibition spoke to the entrepreneurial role of African Americans in the building and development of the county and region. In addition, by using photographs of African Americans who have interacted with Eastern Illinois University, the exhibition explored the role of the university in the education, training and employment of African Americans. Furthermore, the exhibition highlighted the role of the African Americans as students, workers, educators, community builders and responsible citizens of the region.

Illinois grew out of the transfer of the Northwest Territory from the State of Virginia to the United States in 1784. The physical settlement of Coles County by white settlers is dated to 1824. Historical records have it that Benjamin Parker was the first settler to build a log cabin in the area. The "log cabin was built on the east bank of the Embarass River, just opposite the place where Blakeman's mill was afterward erected, and was in what is now Hutton Township." (5)

Coles County was incorporated in 1830. before then its component cities, towns and townships were part of Clark County. At its inception, the county included what is now Cumberland and Douglas counties. The county was named in honor of Edward Coles, the second Governor of Illinois who was elected to the position in 1822. Edward Coles was a native of Virginia. He was a rich slave-owner who migrated to Illinois with his slaves. On arrival he became a citizen of the state and then set free his slaves. Of Edward Coles, The History of Coles County Illinois states thus:

A man who loved liberty, its fires lighted up his soul, and its benign influence dictated his action and inspired him with pure purposes and prompted him to noble deeds. Of all other men, he demanded respect for his rights, and to the rights and personal liberty of all other men he accorded the same profound respect. On reaching Illinois and becoming a citizen of the State, he set his slaves all free, and, in addition, gave each head of a family among them 160 acres of land. Such was the law at that time, that a man setting a slave free in Illinois, must give a bond that it should never become a public charge. To this very unsavory requirement of the law, Coles failed to yield obedience, for which little delinquency his case was adjudicated by the courts, and he was fined $2,000. Thus fine he was never required to pay... (6).

The black settlers who first settled in Coles County came from Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. African Americans migrated into the region as slaves and free individuals about the same time as white settlers. One of the first known black families who settled in the county was Lewis James, his first wife Nancy, and their children. They might be settled in Brushy Fork sometime before 1840 because they were listed in the Federal Census of that year. Duane Smith writes that, "in the 1840 Federal census, the first since Coles County was formed, the county recorded a population of over 9,600 people. Among those listed were 33 persons of color. While most of these were living in white households, Lewis James was an exception. Lewis and his wife Nancy had purchased their freedom in Virginia for $450, before coming to Illinois in the 1830's. The James family was not only one of the first African American families of the area, but they were some of the earliest settlers in the region." (7) Another prominent early black settler in the region was Isom Bryant. As reported by Melinda Meyer, "In the Douglas County [note Douglas County was once part of Coles County] land records, a man named Isom Bryant is recorded as entering 80 acres to the east of the Negro cemetery in 1850, and his 40 acres to the west in 1852... His wife, Lucy Ann (Minnis?), was born in Kentucky."(8)

One more famous individual noted in the 1850 Federal Census figures for Coles County was one Lucy Dupree aged 60. She was born in Virginia and was said to have owned a landed property worth six hundred dollars ($600.00) in New Albany Precinct (Oakland Township) in the nineteenth century. Eleven other individuals whose ages ranged between 1 and 45 were also recorded to be in the precinct. By 1860, Lucy Dupree was listed as having property worth about $3,400. In addition, by 1860, Joseph Martin and John Peyton were listed as landowners. (9) Thus, an African American community was gradually emerging. One of the enduring institutions of this black community was a log church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Another was a cemetery which today has a stone marker and a grave. It has also been reported that from about 1830 to 1847 in East Oakland Township, one "Ms. Berry had been left a widow, whit poverty and several young children for an inheritance. Her effects then consisted of twenty acres of ground, her horse, Ned, a slave woman and her children. Sickness came, bread became scarce and the wolf looked in at the door. The slave woman and the horse did farming, and had it not been for the woman and the horse, her family would have come to absolute want." (10) Melinda Meyer argues that,


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