A Dream Realized: Champaign Postal Facility Now Contains Burgess Name

March 27, 2015
Burgesss grandchildren (Stephen, 2nd from left, and Mariah) are joined by USPS Gateway District Manager David Martin and Congressman Rodney Davis at Friday's dedication ceremony.

James Burgess' grandchildren (Stephen, 2nd from left, and Mariah) are joined by USPS Gateway District Manager David Martin and Congressman Rodney Davis at Friday's dedication ceremony.

(Jeff Bossert/WILL)

There’s now a permanent marker of the first, and so far - the only African-American to be elected to a countywide post in Champaign County.

James Burgess, Jr. died 18 years ago - but old friends and family gathered to recall some memories - as his name was dedicated to the Campustown postal facility on Green Street Friday.

The Rev. Donald Jackson recalls when he learned that Burgess was terminally ill.

The former pastor at Champaign’s First United Methodist Church says it was Burgess who reached out to him to offer comfort. Jackson said that typified the type of person Burgess was.

“Jim Burgess understood people," he said.  "He had this incredible gift – and this ability to read and understand people.  And so he could speak the truth to you, and love.  And what a wonderful legacy Jim Burgess has left us.”

Burgess was also the first African-American leader of an armed battalion in World War Two, and later served as a US Attorney under President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970’s. 

Legislation to name the post office after James Burgess was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama late last year.

That was a year after the death of Burgess’ son… Steve Burgess, who spent years seeking a way to honor his father’s legacy.   

An emotional Stephen Burgess, Steve's son and James Burgess' grandson, thanked the crowd who gathered in a tent next to the postal center on a chilly Friday afternoon.  He was particularly grateful for Rev. Jackson's stories.  Stephen and sister Mariah were under 10 years old when their grandfather passed away.

"I'd really like the pastor for sharing his words today," Stephen said.  "To have someone have that interaction with him and have those stories means so much.  My sister and I are very proud of our family, and of each other."

Mariah noted their father's efforts initally sought to dedicate the federal courthouse in Urbana after their grandfather.

"After nearly four years of work, we're finally here.  Our grandfather was never one to speak out about any of his accomplishments.  It wasn't until our father undertook this that I really realized what all those things meant."

(Post Office at 302 E. Green Street, Champaign)

Story source: WILL