The Old State Capitol in downtown Springfield has been accepted to the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. That announcement was made Thursday.
The building is one of 17 new listings spanning 13 states. The Network, now consisting of more than 700 sites, honors and preserves the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight.
According to a news release “The Old State Capitol served as the seat of the Illinois Supreme Court from 1841 to 1872. During this time, the Court heard several cases that effected freedom seekers and allies operating within Illinois’ Underground Railroad. At least two cases were heard condemning allies who assisted freedom seekers: Eells v. The People and Willard v. The People, both of which ended in the court fining the “conductors.”
“A third case, known only as Thornton’s Case, was brought by a Black man named Thornton who argued that a local constable wrongfully arrested him and that he should be freed. Because the local constable could not provide evidence to prove otherwise, the Illinois Supreme Court dropped the charges against Thornton and discharged him from custody.”
“The bravery of freedom seekers and their allies inspired us to nominate the Old State Capitol for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom,” said Old State Capitol site superintendent Justin Blandford. “Joining the Network is part of our ongoing effort to uplift more voices in history and share a more rich and accurate picture of the past.”
The Network website adds once a site is listed, it may use the Network to Freedom logo and are eligible to apply for grants when funding is available.
“I’m proud to see the Old State Capitol recognized for its historical significance and look forward to the site educating each new generation on the atrocities of our past and our continued fight for equity,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Illinois had an important and complex role in the abolitionist movement and the fight for freedom, and we need to share that history – the good and the bad – to understand where we’ve been and who we should aspire to be.”
“The people of Illinois deserve to understand and appreciate the history of struggle and legacy of resilience the Underground Railroad represents, as well as the brave in our state who played a role in the journey to freedom,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “The Old State Capitol’s inclusion in the National Underground Railroad Network of Freedom ensures this past will be honored and preserved so we may continue to learn from it and be inspired to keep moving forward.”
“Each Underground Railroad story documented by the Network to Freedom Program explains the harrowing risks people took to liberate themselves from an unjust system of oppression,” said national program manager Diane Miller. “The resilience and bravery of freedom seekers and their allies continues to inspire the Network to Freedom’s work. Alongside our members, new and old, we will continue to ensure that their stories are not lost to history.”
The Old State Capitol is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.