From WILL - News Headlines -

Original Freedom Rider to be Honored in Champaign

A memorial service is scheduled Saturday in Champaign for the late civil rights leader, Rev. Ben Cox.

Cox passed away last month in Jackson, Tenn. at the age of 79. He spent years in the Champaign-Urbana area after going to the South in the early 1960s as part of the freedom rides.

Rev. Claude Shelby knew Cox. He is currently the senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church, where a memorial service will be held. He is also organizing the memorial. Shelby said Cox never shied away from being vocal about civil rights issues.

"I remember him as one who paved the way for the generations that followed him," Shelby said. "I was in total agreement with the messages that he gave."

Another longtime friend, Willie Summerville, said Cox left his mark on the community. Summerville, who was a music instructor in the Urbana School District for years, praised Cox's efforts in pushing for civil rights.

"We really, truly had a civil rights icon," Summerville said. "You know, maybe some people will regret that they didn't pick his brain even more while he was here."

Summerville is organizing a large choir performance for the memorial service with singers from area churches.

The memorial begins Saturday at 1pm at Salem Baptist Church on 500 East Park St. in Champaign.