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  Abolition in Illinois  

Abolition in Illinois

Illinois, where the Abolition Institute is located, has a long and storied history in the fight against slavery.  Those advocating against modern day slavery in Mauritania follow a proud tradition in the state.

 

Abraham Lincoln, who served as 16th President of the United States, is Illinois’ most famous figure in the struggle against slavery.  After spending much of his political career fighting the expansion of slavery, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing slaves in the states rebelling against the United States.  In 1865, after he had led the Union to victory in the Civil War, Lincoln pushed for the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States constitution, abolishing American slavery forever. The story of his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment were portrayed in the successful 2012 film Lincoln.

 

In this photo taken at the first meeting of the Abolition Institute, several members hold Co-Founder Sean Tenner’s framed Harper’s Weekly newspaper from February 18, 1865 which showed the celebration in the United States House of Representatives when that chamber passed the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, lived in Galena, Illinois and began his civil war career raising Union volunteer regiments from the state.  Grant demonstrated great heroism in military service, rose to lead the Union army and officially accepted the surrender of Confederate forces in 1865.

 

An outspoken advocate against slavery and a fierce opponent of violence against African-Americans, Grant fought the Ku Klux Klan as President and took on other organizations which spread terror against newly freed slaves.  He won passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States constitution to safeguard voting rights for African-Americans and his policies helped create an environment where freed slaves served in elected offices throughout the country.  Grant was vigorous in his efforts to protect the civil rights of newly freed slaves and he struggled against great challenges to help the United States overcome the legacy of slavery.  His house in Galena, Illinois stands as a museum highlighting his commitment to freedom and equality.

 

United States President Barack Obama, the first African-American elected to the Presidency, was a community organizer in Chicago, Illinois who helped thousands of the state’s residents register to vote for the first time.  As a State Senator and United States Senator from Illinois, Obama fought hard for civil rights.  Abolition Institute Co-Founders Sean Tenner and Antwon Bailey served on Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign staff and are active in its Alumni Association.  Other former members of the Obama Presidential Campaign staff are strong supporters of the Abolition Institute as well.

 

Of course, Illinois residents from every part of the state – black and white – fought against slavery.   Illinois farms, villages and cities housed stops on the Underground Railroad – a sophisticated network of trails and safe houses organized by abolitionists to lead escaped slaves north to freedom.  The Underground Railroad in Illinois was a remarkable accomplishment by those of all backgrounds who risked their lives so that others could be free.  It is commemorated in the State of Illinois’ Freedom Trails – which enables visitors to see Underground Railroad sites in person and understand the rich history of abolition work in Illinois.  Freedom Trails’ website also contains the name of abolitionists from the counties throughout Illinois.

 

Illinois contributed approximately 250,000 troops to the civil war; the fourth highest of any state in the Union.  Black and white soldiers fought to save the union and halt the spread of slavery.  The thousands of Union soldiers who gave their lives to the struggle are commemorated in cemeteries in every part of the state.

 

There are stories throughout the “Land of Lincoln” of heroism in the battle against slavery.  Abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy was shot to death after standing up against a pro-slavery mob that attacked the printing press of his abolitionist newspaper in Alton, Illinois in 1837.  Following his death, membership in anti-slavery societies grew and his brother, Owen Lovejoy, entered politics and became the leader of the Illinois abolitionists.

 

The City of Wheaton, a suburb of Chicago, was founded by abolitionists.  John W. E. Thomas, a former slave, was the state’s first African-American lawmaker, led Illinois’ African-American community and helped pass the state’s first civil rights law.  Illinois’ second Governor Edward Coles, born in 1786, was far ahead of his time on abolition issues and led the campaign to ensure that slavery was not legitimized in Illinois’ constitution.  Governor John Lourie Beveridge, the 16th Governor of the State, fought bravely in the civil war and was outspoken in his strong anti-slavery stance.  Many of these stories are told in works published by the Southern Illinois University Press, which helped record the history of Illinois abolitionism.

 

While the Abolition Institute draws its support from activists around the globe, it takes special inspiration from the brave men and women from all backgrounds who fought against slavery in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln.  We will not rest until slavery is truly abolished in Mauritania and throughout the world.

Photos in Mauritania by Michael Hylton for Anti-Slavery International

Photos in Chicago by Jason Jones

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