How Galesburg Illinois Showed Me That I Could Find Positive African American Experiences in Unsuspected Places
Growing up on the Mississippi River in East Moline, Illinois, in a time when civil rights were at its heights, the last thing I would have thought was that about 40 miles south, in Galesburg Illinois was a city teeming with a rich history of abolitionism. I had perceived Galesburg as being a place unfriendly to people of color, only to learn as an adult that it was the location of the first anti-slavery society in Illinois, founded in 1837 by George Washington Gale who also founded Knox College.
I recently traveled to Galesburg to learn more about Knox College and the city that played such a large role in African American history in Illinois. Walking around town on a chilly, but sunny day, I was looking for something that could lead me to feel a connection to the past. I decided to try out the college campus and upon discovering the fifth debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas took place there, I was told of a quote by Lincoln that, apparently every student since 1858 has learned the story of:
“At last, I have gone through college”
Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Having not attended any college or university himself, upon entering the location of the debate, he uttered those amusingly self-deprecating words.
If abolitionism and Lincoln aren’t enough to make you a believer that Galesburg and Knox College are important parts of African American history, then know too that Knox College is the alma mater of Hiram Revels, the first black U.S. Senator in the history of America. Additionally, after having uncovered many impeccably preserved Illinois Star newspapers, a local African American newspaper from the mid-20th century, Knox College was awarded a grant that has enabled them to work towards preserving the African American history in the area.
Sometimes, the best way for us to move forward is to revisit ideas we have about the past. We must strive to always be learning and encourage others to do the same. I had a wonderful time in Galesburg and Knox College is a must-see if you’re in that area. I’m so glad that I took this journey to paint over the stains of my past ideas and experiences.