Illinois History Minutes

October 12 Illinois History Minute


It’s October 12th, and the Battle of Virden took place on this day in 1898 in central Illinois. Striking miners at the Virden coal mine attacked a train carrying Black replacement workers from Alabama. Eight striking miners and five security guards were killed in just one of the conflicts during the Illinois Coal Wars of the 1890s.

Comedian and activist Dick Gregory was born on this day in 1932. The St. Louis native moved to Chicago to become a standup comic known for joking about race relations. But Gregory turned serious for his work in the civil rights movement. There were few jokes in his 1967 lecture at the University of Illinois. Gregory spoke in detail about the dangers faced by young civil rights activists in the south, and compared Congress’ response to violence against Black Americans versus protests against the war in Vietnam.

“Two years ago, five white boys burnt up their draft card,” Gregory told the U of I audience. “And in three weeks’ time, the Senate and Congress done passed an anti-draft card burning bill. But we can’t get an anti-lynching bill pushed through in a hundred years. Our country just told me she thinks more of a piece of cardboard than she do my Black mama. I’ll bring her to her knees for that.”