IDNR Receives Grant to Recognize and Research African American Heritage Properties in Southern Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has been awarded a $75,000 grant from the National Park Service to recognize significant African American heritage properties in southern Illinois.

Illinois was one of 21 projects in 16 states and the District of Columbia to receive funding from the Underrepresented Community Grants (URC) program through the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service.

“Black History is American History, and this grant will allow our stories to continue to be told. While states across the country attempt to erase Black history, in Illinois, we tell all sides of the story – the good, the bad and the ugly,” Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton said. “We look back to move forward and uplift equity and justice for future generations.”

The project is a collaborative effort between the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University.

“Southern Illinois has a unique and compelling story about its connection to Black history – a story that’s gone largely untold,” said IDNR Director Natalie Phelps Finnie. “This grant will help IDNR take an important step forward as we seek to ensure these properties get the recognition they deserve and that the stories of underrepresented communities are told accurately and with proper context.”

URC was established in 2014 to help state, Tribal, and local governments to diversify listings in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the country’s official list of properties that merit special attention and preservation.

The grant will be used to produce National Register nominations for three resources associated with Black history in southern Illinois. Additionally, the project will amend the existing National Register nominations for the following sites:

  • Saline Springs, to reflect the use of African American slaves owned or leased from Kentucky by salt production operator John Crenshaw;
  • the Illinois Iron Furnace, to reflect the diverse makeup of the Furnace community and workforce; and
  • the Carrier Mills Archaeological District, to reflect the African American heritage of the Pond Settlement, also known as Lakeview.

In addition, a plan will be produced to research additional African American heritage sites in the area.

“Investments in the preservation and storytelling of African American heritage is so important, because it allows members of the Black community to feel seen and cultivates a sense of belonging,” State Senator Robert Peters, Senate chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, said. “Unrepresented communities are often the target of discrimination and prejudice due to lack of knowledge and misinformation about their cultures and heritage. Increasing visibility of African American heritage in our southern communities will increase diversity and inclusion by sharing overlooked, untold stories of Illinois’ Black history.”

“The State of Illinois is grateful to receive this grant from the National Park Service,” said State Rep. Justin Slaughter, House chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. “It’s critically important to continue shedding light on Illinois’ cultural sites and to connect the shared history of southern Illinois and African American communities.”

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