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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 24, 2005

Gov. Blagojevich celebrates African-American History Month
Governor names stretch of highway after “Free Frank” McWorter, first African-American to incorporate a town in the nation

SPRINGFIELD In honor of African-American History Month, Governor Rod Blagojevich and local leaders today reflected on the contributions made by African-Americans to this state.  During the celebration at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Gov. Blagojevich paid special tribute to “Free Frank” McWorter, a slave who purchased his family’s freedom and freedom for himself and later founded the town of New Philadelphia in Western Illinois.  Today, the Governor named a portion of Interstate 72, which runs through Pike County where New Philadelphia once stood, after “Free Frank” McWorter.
 
“Today, in the home state of Abraham Lincoln, one of the most notable figures in the fight for racial equality, we honor the countless contributions made by African-Americans throughout our state’s rich history,” said Gov. Blagojevich.  “This month is dedicated to remembering and celebrating their extraordinary achievements, including that of ‘Free Frank’ McWorter, a brave pioneer of his time.” 
 
During the 1830s, “Free Frank” McWorter founded the town of New Philadelphia, the first known town in the nation to be incorporated by an African-American.  In 2002, The New Philadelphia Association, the University of Illinois at Springfield, the University of Maryland and the Illinois State Museum conducted an archeological survey of the land that was once the town of New Philadelphia.  Artifacts discovered during the survey, including brick mortar, door hinges, serving utensils, and buttons from clothing, led the group to seek consideration by the National Register of Historic Places for the former town.  State Sen. Deanna Demuzio has been instrumental in this project along with the New Philadelphia Association.  Proud of the accomplishments of her great-great-great grandfather, Sandra McWorter attended today’s event. 
 
Gov. Blagojevich officially proclaimed February “African-American History Month” in Illinois and “encouraged all citizens to learn about the important contributions that African-Americans have made to Illinois, and to our society as a whole.” 
 
African American History Month, which originated as Negro History Week, was first organized by Dr. Carter G. Woodson during the second week of February 1926, coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both significant figures in the fight for racial equality.  The observance later evolved into a month long celebration in 1976. 
 
Today’s celebration at the Presidential Library featured a cross-section of African-American history and culture.  The event included a musical presentation of traditional African-American spirituals, and a theatrical performance, specifically geared towards children, on the history of African-Americans from the 1800s through the 1900s.
 
During African-American History Month, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library also hosted the Reader’s Theatre, held last weekend.  The Reader’s Theatre engaged members of the community in a recitation of narratives written by some of America’s most acclaimed writers who are African-American – Phyllis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes and William Wells Brown.


Video Archived Governor's News Conference Archived Governor's News Conference Video 56kArchived Governor's News Conference Video 135kArchived Governor's News Conference Video 300k
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