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African American Heritage Highlights

"The Underground Railroad" "The Underground Railroad" Library of Congress

Galesburg and Knox College were founded in 1837 by anti-slavery advocates who came to Knox County from upstate New York. George Washington Gale and many of the early founders were abolitionists and set the tone for the new town and neighboring communities. Galesburg was home to the first anti-slavery society in the State of Illinois founded in 1837 and was also home to the “Freedom Station,” a stop on the Underground Railroad, an informal network of safe houses and people who assisted thousands of slaves escape to freedom in Michigan or Canada.  Due to broad community support against slavery, the Galesburg Freedom Station became a prominent stop on this secretive rail path. 

Today, Knox College utilizes the old Knox County Jail as the home of the Underground Railroad Freedom Station and Owen W. Muelder serves as the director.  This museum has many exhibits and information on the history of the Underground Railroad and is available for tours. (Contact the Galesburg Area Convention & Visitors Bureau for more information.)

Two area churches founded by African Americans in the 1800’s are viable congregations today.  The Second Baptist Church was organized in 1865 with their building completed in 1867.  This structure is still in used today by the congregation and is located next to the old Knox County Jail.  The other, Allen Chapel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) was organized in 1853 and named after the first African America Bishop, Richard Allen. The church is still at 153 E. Tompkins Street, a block and half north of the old Knox County Jail.

In 1863 only 90 African American men, women and children lived in Knox County. Of that group, 12 men led by Joseph Barquet joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.   The soldiers’ heroic efforts were written about in, A Brave Black Regiment. Their efforts were also documented in the 1989 movie Glory, starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. Several of these men are buried in the historic Hope Cemetery in Galesburg.

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