Illinois Turns 200: Our First Constitution; VOICES Act; Underground Railroad History; IL Movies

December 03, 2018

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On the 21st: On this day 200 years ago, Illinois became the 21st state to join the union (yes, that's where our show's name comes from). So today we an hour of our favorite bicentennial conversations from this past year—everything from our first state constitution, to the best Illinois movies, to the little-known history of free black communities in southernmost Illinois. Plus, we checked in with immigration advocates about the 'VOICES Act,' which will become law next year.

We started with a conversation about our state’s first constitution. It was required for all territories that were hoping to become states. In 1818, the authors had some contentious debates over issues like separation of church and state and, of course, slavery.

When the territory first became a state back in 1818, it officially joined the Union as a free state. But slavery was still allowed to continue in many parts of Illinois.

Sam Wheeler joined us to talk about how the state constitution came together. Sam is Illinois’ State Historian and we started by talking about why a state constitution was important for achieving statehood.

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We also had a quick update on today's state government: Last week, the veto session convened in the General Assembly and they wrapped up on Thursday.

And many bills have either passed or failed. The proposal to raise the tobacco sales age to 21 failed by nine votes in the House which means the age will stay at 18 for now.

While a bill called the VOICES act was passed with bipartisan support. It will allow immigrants living in the US illegally, who are victims of domestic abuse, to apply for a special visa when they help law enforcement investigate these crimes. And the state set new standards for that visa process as well.

Andy Kang, one of the advocates behind this bill, joined us to discuss what it means. He’s executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.

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After learning about the early history of our state, we discussed how its leaders decided to address the issue of slavery back in 1818.

In the run-up to the Civil War, slavery was still allowed to continue in many parts of Illinois. And the black men and women who were free were in danger of being kidnapped and sold into slavery across the border in either Kentucky or Missouri - especially if they lived in southern Illinois.

So, some African-Americans decided to form their own communities. One of them was called Miller Grove, and local historians and archaeologists have been learning more about the role they and other African-Americans at the time played in resisting slavery, including as part of the Underground Railroad.

That history is finding its way into local schools. Stacie Tefft and Rachel Bottje joined us for this conversation. They are teachers at Murphysboro High School.

Grant Miller was also with us. Grant is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Southern Illinois University.

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Today, as we celebrate Illinois’ 200th birthday, we’re looking back at our state’s top movies, including Blues Brothers which came out on top of an online poll put out by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum for Top 200 films about Illinois.

Back in March, we spoke with two of our friends from the Lincoln library and museum and we revisit that conversation today. Chris Wills is their communications director, and Christian McWhirter is a research historian.

We started by asking Christian if it was any surprise that the Blues Brothers came out on top.