Champaign-Urbana race relations, past and future

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Champaign-Urbana race relations, past and future


Politics and Activism--NAACP, Segregration, Health, Education, History, Geography, Housing, Labor and Jobs, Media--News-Gazette, Racism, Poverty, Community Orgranization--S.O.U.L, Businesses, Restaurants, Law


Housing in Champaign-Urbana was at one time segregated; African-Americans lived primarily in northeast Champaign and the adjacent area of Urbana. African-Americans were not permitted to attend schools of choice but were limited to Lawhead and Willard in Champaign, and Hayes and Washington in Urbana. These students were taught by African-American educators.
Some African-Americans occupied multifamily post-World War II housing. The northeast area consisted of single and multifamily housing. Public housing (Burch Village) was introduced to the northeast area in 1951.
African-Americans were denied access to adequate health care, which led to the creation of the "North End Health Center" at 908 N. Fifth St., C, which provided services to the residents of the northeast area.
The "North End Health Center" was created by a group of citizens, both African-American and white, including a young African-American's group named S.O.U.L. (Security, Opportunity, Unity and Love). This health-care facility moved in 1968 to its current location at 1306 N. Carver Drive, C, and became what is now known as the Frances Nelson Health Center.
African-Americans were denied employment in a variety of positions such as sales clerks, bank tellers, secretaries and many others. Employment in department stores in downtown Champaign was denied to African-Americans and brought people together to picket. As a result, employment opportunities for some began to open up.
From an economic standpoint, within the northeast area, African-Americans owned a variety of businesses & restaurants, barber shops, beauty shops, nightclubs, pool halls and a hotel, just to name a few. These businesses provided employment for African-Americans and enabled them to provide for their families. And they provided services that were denied by white business owners.
This helped bring stability to the African-American community and provide an economic base. These thriving businesses ended as a result of desegregation and the unwillingness on the part of financial institutions to make needed loans for business development and expansion.
The northeast area was red-lined by limited city services, financial institutions' unwillingness to make home loans, insurance companies' failure to provide homeowner policies, educational opportunities, and access to recreational facilities. As a result, red-lining caused the northeast area infrastructure to deteriorate.
Looking at the current state of our community, Champaign and Urbana are growing and prospering. Let's look at North Prospect Avenue, where the city of Champaign has contributed more than $2 million for infrastructure. Developers have created four large shopping areas on North Prospect along with "restaurant row" and a luxury apartment complex. This development draws thousands of shoppers and visitors per day to the community.
In west Champaign, subdivisions including Ponds of Windsor, Turnberry Ridge and Trails of Brittany have been developed with homes starting at $150,000 and above. The city of Urbana has contributed more than $3.5 million for the infrastructure of Stone Creek development (golf course) with homes starting at $300,000.
Looking at the northeast area (east of Neil Street to Lincoln Avenue, north of University Avenue to Interstate 74), there have been two housing developments, King subdivision in Champaign and Eads at Lincoln in Urbana. There was a struggle to get both city governments to participate in the development of these homes. Some of the questions asked by elected officials were, "Who will purchase the homes?" and "Can African-Americans afford $65,000 to $75,000 homes?"
African-Americans are still being denied employment opportunities by some of the major employers and continue to experience the glass-ceiling effect, where they are not allowed to progress beyond a certain point. As we look at school districts, cities, the University of Illinois, park districts and other taxing bodies, we find few African-Americans employed and even fewer in managerial positions. A large number of African-Americans are working two and three jobs in order to provide for their basic needs.
Over the last three years, some African-Americans have lodged complaints with Champaign officials and the Champaign Human Relations Commission regarding Champaign Police Department racial profiling. The NAACP Champaign County Branch and the Urban League of Champaign County receive complaints monthly regarding tactics in stopping African-American motorists. Law enforcement officers are routinely requesting vehicle searches without probable cause, and when the request is denied, the K-9 Unit is called and the dog is walked around the vehicle in an attempt to detect drugs.
As W.E.B. Du Bois said in 1903, "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line. The question is how far differences of a race which shows themselves chiefly in the color of the skin and the texture of the hair will hereafter be made the basis of denying over one-half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization. If we expect to gain our rights by nerveless acquiescence in wrong, then we expect to do what no other nation ever did. What must we do then? We must complain. Yes, plain, blunt complaint, ceaseless agitation, unfailing exposure of dishonest and wrong - this is the ancient unwavering way to liberty, and we must follow it."
Looking at our housing, employment, business opportunities and law enforcement, I believe the plight of race relations has not and unfortunately will not progress in the next 100 years. Hopefully, this prediction will not prove to be true.

Cleveland Jefferson is president of the Illinois NAACP. He has been president of the Champaign County branch. A native of Louisiana, Jefferson came to Champaign in 1971 to visit a brother in graduate school here. He intended to stay two weeks.

The News-Gazette welcomes comments from readers on the issues raised in this article. Please send your comments to: Editor, The News-Gazette, 15 Main St., P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677. Send comments by e-mail to


Cleveland Jefferson, NAACP





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Cleveland Jefferson, NAACP, “Champaign-Urbana race relations, past and future,” eBlack Champaign-Urbana, accessed December 10, 2019,

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