Every Fourth of July since 1778, Kaskaskia residents have rung the "Liberty Bell of the West" in celebration of America's Declaration of Independence. The bell rang to commemorate liberty in a territory, and later a state, that enslaved African Americans. It rang over an Illinois plagued by racism, segregation and violence. While it rang, though, African American residents of Illinois fought for their freedom, never giving up on their quest for equality.
Their journey was a long one. The struggle to end slavery in Illinois, from its introduction by the French in 1719 to its official abolition with the 13th Amendment in 1865, took nearly 150 years. And the struggle wasn't over even then. Through the tumultuous years after the Civil War, black residents of Illinois continued to face discrimination, racial violence and segregation.
But a sense of expanding possibility — that proposition that all are created equal — drove African Americans to create opportunity, stability, success and even greatness. It prompted them to form schools, establish clubs, build churches, pursue professions, organize unions, mobilize politically, prosper economically and protest effectively.