A Look at Illinois’ Complicated Black Freedom History

A Look at Illinois’ Complicated Black Freedom History

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This year marks 200 years since Illinois joined the Union as the 21st state. Illinois joined as a “free state”—or a U.S. state where slavery was illegal—and contributed largely to the success of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret locations and routes used by escaped slaves to reach Canada.

From Quincy to Galesburg to Chicago, Illinois is filled with towns and places that were not only pro-abolition, but were home to safehouses and activists sympathetic to the enslaved. Illinois’ history of being a progressive anti-slave state has been a point of pride for many Illinoisans over the last 200 years. Yet, despite its illegality, slavery still existed in Illinois.

So how does history reconcile this conflict?


Owen Muelder, historian and director of the Underground Railroad Center at Knox College in Galesburg