Steve Burgess reveals his journey of discovery about his father, James R. Burgess, pictured, Champaign County's first African American State's Attorney. Steve learned about his father's role in World War II after his father died. James Burgess was a first lieutenant commanding one of six African American tank companies in the famous 761st Tank Battalion that served under General George Patton, including at the Battle of the Bulge.
Watch the full episode:
WILL-TV’s Illinois Pioneers looks at African-American history in Champaign, Ill., through the eyes of Estella Merrifield and Hester Suggs, sisters and members of the Nelson family, one of the earliest African-American families in the city. Through their memories and photos, the program chronicles a portion of history from the Civil War through the Civil Rights protests of the late 1960s.
They talk about their grandfather, Joseph Nelson, who around 1900 was one of the first African Americans in the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department, and describe the importance of organizations such as the American Legion in the lives of African-American residents. Churches, such as Salem Baptist and Bethel AME, were all-important as well, they said.