News Local/State

Measure To Honor Burgess Heads To Obama’s Desk

James R. Burgess, former Champaign County State's Attorney

James R, Burgess, former Champaign County State's Attorney (Courtesy of Champaign County Historical Archives,The Urbana Free Library)

Legislation is now headed to President Obama to name the Champaign post office in Campustown for James Burgess – after a bipartisan measure passed the US Senate Monday night.

He was the first African-American countywide elected official in Champaign County – serving as state’s attorney.  

Burgess, who died in 1997, was also a leader of the first black armored battalion in World War II. 

Chief sponsor and Taylorville Republican Congressman Rodney Davis cited the efforts of Burgess’ son Steve, who he said ‘worked tirelessly to get this project to the finish line.’

Steve Burgess passed away just over a year ago. 

During an interview last year on WILL-TV’s Illinois Pioneers, Burgess said his father was the lone African-American graduate from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1965.

“I know he struggled his first semester, just making the adjustment," he told David Inge.  "And I can remember as a kid, cause I would have been about 7 years old when he graduated, that I can remember times I’d go with him to the law library and he’d be reading and reading – he spending more time there than he spent at home.”

Burgess had initially hoped to have the federal courthouse in Urbana named for his father.

"I think the overriding thing I was told was that my dad lacked stature," he said.  "I tried to prepare myself from the very beginning was this wasn't something that was going to happen overnight.  This whole thing has been a history and a civics lesson for me."

Burgess said it came down to 'unspoken guidelines' saying there was nothing in the statute about naming the courthouse after certain individuals.

When Steve Burgess later learned through the state's congressional delegation that his father's name could be attached the Champaign post office, it was a weight off his shoulders.

"I'd waited three years just to get to that point, that somebody finally made a decision that we're going forward," he said.

US Senator Dick Durbin calls naming the Green Street post office for James Burgess a 'fitting tribute to Burgess’ record of service.'

"I am proud to join my colleagues in completing the effort undertaken by Mr. Burgess' late son, Steve, and family to honor his longtime public servant and trailblazing Illinoisan," Durbin said.

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk said "The renamed post office in Champaign will recognize his contributions to central Illinois and honor his life and commitment to public service."

Under the bill passed Monday, H.R. 1707, The U.S. Postal Service facility at 302 East Green St. would be renamed the "James R. Burgess Jr. Post Office Building."