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KNX logo Struggle and Progress-African Americans in Knox County, Illinois (Knox College)


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View issues of The Illinois Star

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View photographs & postcards

View American Youth Commission interviews


Galesburg, the largest city in Knox County Illinois, was settled in 1837 by earnest abolitionists from New York State. As a stop on the Underground Railroad, Galesburg welcomed blacks from as early as the 1840s, even as feelings ran high about the slavery question in the rest of the county. After emancipation, the struggle for equal rights for African Americans in all areas of civic society played out in Galesburg and Knox County in the late 19th through the early 20th century, just as it did in other communities. This digital collection brings together photographs, documents, manuscripts, newspaper clippings and a handful of issues of an African-American newspaper from the Knox College Archives. These materials document the struggle for full citizenship and illuminate the character and culture of the African American community in Galesburg and in Knox County. Highlights of the collection include documents and manuscript material from the J. Howell Atwood Manuscript Collection and six full issues of The Illinois Star newspaper.

The Illinois Star Second Baptist Church The Anderson Grocery store William Pickens

The J. Howell Atwood Collection

Jesse Howell Atwood, Knox College Professor of Sociology from 1930-1962, researched, wrote and taught about race and race relations during his long tenure at Knox College, often using the community of Galesburg as a research subject. Professor Atwood and his students not only conducted extensive field research in Galesburg, but Atwood was also an active member of the community, serving on many different local councils, boards and committees that worked to improve race relations in Galesburg. Featured documents from the Atwood collection include manuscript notes of interviews with African Americans focusing on daily life and culture in Galesburg's African American community, delving into themes related to church and religion; social clubs for both men and women; education; and youth recreation. Also included in this digital collection are letters, documents and ephemera relating to his work with local agencies on the subject of race relations in Galesburg.

The Illinois Star Newspaper

Professor Atwood retained six issues scattered from 1935 to 1941 of The Illinois Star newspaper, a black-owned newspaper published in Galesburg. It is significant to present these six digitized, fully searchable issues, and the Knox College Library acknowledges Galesburg's Support Group for African American Affairs for their support in digitizing these issues. The issues presented in this digital collection are the only issues of this newspaper known to exist. In fact, based on previously published studies of the black press, evidence even for the existence of this black-owned newspaper did not exist prior to the discovery of these issues in Atwood's papers. Little is known about the publisher, C. Eugene Fletcher, or about the publishing history of this paper, although the paper and the publisher were important in the lives of African Americans in Galesburg as this reference from the Atwood papers attests. The Knox College Library invites anyone with knowledge of this paper to contact us so that we can fill out the historical record for this newspaper and thereby contribute to a fuller representation of the African American community in Galesburg.

Other Material

Other material from the Knox College Special Collections and Archives included in this digital collection comes from various archival collections. Photographs from the local history collections and from the Allen A. Green collection comprise the bulk of the photographic materials. Documents from the archives of the College and from the local history collection supplement the Atwood documents. Newspaper clippings focus on prominent African Americans and on issues central to the African American community in Galesburg--emancipation, enfranchisement, and public school integration--and come from about two years of the Galesburg Republican newspaper, 1870-1872, representing only a sampling of the primary source material yet to be derived from newspapers.


NEH logo

This digital collection has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this site do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Further Reading:

  • Muelder, Hermann R. Fighters for Freedom: The History of Anti-slavery Activities of Men and Women Associated with Knox College. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959.
  • "Negroes in Galesburg", from History of Knox County, Illinois by Albert J. Perry, 1912
  • See the chapter "Hiram Revels and the Negroes of Galesburg" in volume 1 of Voices of the Prairie Land, Martin Litvin, ed., Galesburg, IL, 1972

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