Rockford's Black History

Chronological dates

  • Black History Month
  • Milestones in African American Education
  • Famous African Americans

    1834: Lewis Lemon, a 22 year old slave belonging to Germanicus Kent, establishes Rockford with Kent and Thatcher Blake. Five years later, Lemon purchases his freedom for $800.

    1850: The U.S. Census reports nine blacks living in Rockford. Isaac Wilson listed as a grocer, and barbershop owner Reuben Armstrong. The other seven were Amstrong's family and staff.

    1875: First Black graduates from Rockford Central High School. David Sumner goes on to become a podiatrist.

    1884: James Holland moves from Rockford, by now overrun by barbershops to Belvidere, to open same. His wife's mother was a Winnebago Indian.

    1891: Peter Blakely founds Allen Chapel A.M.E., Rockford's first black church.

    1893: Daniel Hale Williams, a former Rockford resident and prominent Chicago Surgeon, conducts the first successful closure of an open heart wound.

    1900: The census reports 212 blacks in Rockford, which has a total population of 31,051.

    1925: E.W. Williamson, the first black to run for public office, loses his independent bid for 5th ward alderman.

    1931: An article in the Rockford Morning Star calls the recently opened Booker Washington Center, "an important factor in the promotion of the civil welfare of the city."

    1945: Naval Yeoman Donald Brown drowns, the only casualty among Rockford blacks who fought in World War II.

    1946: Blacks in Rockford enjoy "greater economic opportunity, more security as a citizen of the U.S. and wider acceptance as a human being than in the south," concluded a study by students at Rockford College. The study also pointed out, however, that blacks "are kept out of better jobs and strong prejudice in personal relations exist".

    1950: Black population doubles to 2,499 in 10 years due to migration caused by wartime and postwar labor shortage in Northern factories.

    1954: Constance Lane becomes the first African American to teach public school in Rockford.

    1968: In a 12-8 vote, the Rockford City Council adopts an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in the sale of rental or real estate. The ordinance was considered to be stronger than federal legislature signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that same year.

    1971: Victory Bell wins a seat on the city council and in doing so becomes the first black to hold municipal office.

    1971: After a 20-year run, the weekly black newspaper, Crusader, folds.

    1973: Ralph Lee appointed the city's first black firefighter.

    1989: The city's first African American mayor, Charles Box receives 63 percent of the vote and wins re-election four years later with 71 percent.

    1990: African American population in Rockford surpasses 20,000.

    1993: U.S. Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney, in recommending a finding of guilt, writes that the Rockford School District "committed such open acts of discrimination as to be cruel and committed others with such subtlety as to raise discrimination to an art form".

    1997: Mayor Box campaigns for a third term as mayor,
    Mayor of Rockford "Charles E. Box" wins 3rd term 4/1/97 Decided not to run in 2001.
    The school district, meanwhile in 97 remains under court order to desegregate.

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