This is historical entry on the closed Urban League of Champaign County. This history comes from a commemorative booklet released upon the League's 25th anniversary.
In June, 1960 the Champaign County Human Relations Commission appointed six of its Body to a committee to study the possible need for an Urban League in Champaign County. Subsequent meetings of this committee pointed out the need for a League and made specific recomendations to t.he Commission regarding steps to be taken "to facilitate the establishment of an Urban League in this community." On March 14, 1961 an organizing committee meeting was held at which time 36 people were elected to Ule board of directors. This Body adopted the Constitution and By-Laws, studied, revised, and adopted " Purposes and Objectives of the Urban League," and set April 11, 1961 as the date for the election of the League's nrst set of officers. Once the organizational phase of the Urban League was completed, the next step was to " hire staff, secure financing, and begin implementation of the program and objectives. In the interim (until staff was hired), the business of the League was to be conducted by the Executive Committee and volunteers. Concerted effort by Board Members in the areas of organization, fund raising, and public relations led to the initial success of the League.
The "Terms of Affiliation" for the Champaign County Urban League were signed by the National Urban League Office on May 3,1962. Nine days later, at the first Annual Meet ing of the League was held at t he Redwood Inn. The Personnel Committee recommended and the Board hired Robert O. Bowles as the first Executive Director of t.he Champaign County Urban League in September, 1962. Bowles served in this
capacity until November, 1965 when he accepted the directorship of the New Haven, Connecticut Urban League. Edward G. Alexander, who had come to the League as a graduate student and parttime
employee in the summer of 1964, was hired on a full ·time basis and became the Associate Director in August, 1965. Ale.xander served as Acting Execut ive Director from January, 1966 to June 15, 1966. (Ve.rnon L. Barkstall has been Executive Director of the League since June I5, 1966, except for the period January 1, 1969 to November 15, 1969 when he served as Executive Director of the Lake County Urban League in Waukegan, Illinois. Paul R. Keys succeeded Barkstall from February, 1969 until his resignation in August, 1969. Lorraine M. Sankey served as Acting Director from August, 1969 until Barkstall's return in November,
By the time of its birth in 1961, the League had already been pre-dated by several concerned and dedicated groups seeking racial justice for local blacks. These groups included-at least-the Council for Community Integration (CCI), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP}-local and University of lllinois student chapters-and the Champaign Human Relations Commission. AlI of these organizations were operated by volunteers. The Urban League was to be the first staff paid organization attending to the human/civ il rights needs of black citizens locally. While it is always dangerous to single out one or two (or recognition it is generally conceded that Donald E. Moyer, Sr. was the driving fo rce behind the League's formation . Don and his founding colleagues continually strove to bring about progress toward the goals of enhancing relations between the races, and improving the quality of life for black Champaign Countians.
The following narrative will point to some of the activities in which we have been engaged over the past twenty-five years in our quest to seNe our constituents and the entire community. We will highlight
effor ts on behalf of youths, adults, and specific emphasis directed toward the elderly. We take this opportunity to thank all of you throughout the community who from our earliest days, when we depended solely on volunteers and citizen financial support, have lent your sustaining faith and commitment. We are thankful to the United Way who in 1967 belped relieve the awesome burden of annual fund raising campaigns by including us in their family of organizations. Most of all, we thank our disadvantaged constituents who sustain their faith and trust in our organization although their life's burdens remain heavy in spite of our contributions toward their relief.
Accent On Youths
From its earliest days, the League has placed heavy emphasis on education and jobs (incorre) as a means to alleviate t he disadvantagedness visited upon our constituency. In this vein, early attentionwas directed toward enhanc ing the educatio nal and employment opportunities of our youths. Some of the projects included: The third-grade project wherein volunteers visited weekly o n a one-an-one basis with thirty boys
and girls. The volunteer and youth would do things together with an eye toward broadening the experiences and vision of the youth in regard to oneself, school, community and the vouth's future.
A career club (or high school youths with good promise for post high-school matriculation was initiated in 1964. This group became known as the CA-OPs (for career opportunities). Volunteers (largely professionals) fom the University of Illinois (U of I) and the community at-large worked with the group providing guidance in career exposure and selection, and placement on summer jobs-as close to their career interests as possible. High scbool grades of "B" average was a requisite for club participation. Although this was an excellent program for the attendees, the rather exclusive nature of the grade requirement eventually led to criticism and the demise of the program. Peer pressure led most "eligible" youths to refrain from participation. Hindsight suggests that open admission based primarily on interest would perhaps have been a better policy.
A career club for junior high-school youths was organized quite similar to the high school program. The grade requirement was a "e" average. The primary purposes of this program was to foster pride in academic achievement, and to smooth the transition from predominantly black elementary schools to "integrated" junior high-schools.
A secretarial club was introduced in 1964 to acquaint Negro girls with the increasing opportunities available to them in the secretarial field, especially at the U of I and at Chanute Air Force Base", The Graduating Senior Project was initiated with ten women (volunteers) establishing contact in January with the families and the 48 (1964) seniors in the local high schools. The purpose was to help with summer employment, enhance career and education choices, and to follow-up in the fall regarding outcomes re youths' choices. An architectural dtafting class sponsored by a U of I professor and a graduate student resulted in at
several youths leaming, then earning positions with local firms as draftsmen.
The Mayors' Day Camp program was fostered to demonstrate "how children of different races, backgrounds, and interests could live together and enrich each others' Jives". The initial program
enjoyed an enrollment of 150 youths between the ages of 6-12 who were bused daily to "Lake of the Woods for this six-week program.
Religious resources was a League emphasis, so development of the AU Creeds Equal Club (A.C.E. of Clubs). in conjunction with the Ministerial Association, was a natural step for the League to undertake.
Scholarship assistance has been an ongoing activity by the League since its earliest days. Mrs. Richard Edwards took a special interest and was heavily involved in this activity un til her death in 1975. The Urban League Guild th rough its fashion shows and rummage and bake sales, and other activities were major supporters of our scholarship efforts until the group went on inactive status in 1979.
The greatest boon to League Scholarship efforts has come since 1982 when Scott and Annabelle Anderson contributed the first of three very ge nerous gifts to our scholarship effort. The last gift was in the form of a 520,000 challenge (over a three-year period) which individual friends of the Urban League at this writing have come very close to matching.
With these efforts and others such as our formerly annual Fall Festival we have been able to provide substantial and much needed assistance to many local youths over the years. In recent years three local youths-Lesia Rawls, Kimberly Pittman and Kimberli Atkinson (twice)-won high honors in the National Urban League-Leggett Group annual essay contest. Ms. Rawls was among 15 receiving highest honors for 1981 from entrants across the nation. Among other significant efforts on behalf of youths we point proudly to the employment activity.- ties in which the League engaged until the formation of the Comprehensive Employment nod Training Act (CETA) and the current Joint Training Partnership Act (JTPA) programs. The League had administered several Neighborhood Youth Corps programs. Our 1970 program served 556 local
youths and was one of several pilot projects for summer youth employment nationally. In 1968 we jointly participated in the summer Youth Employment Service (YES) with Unit School Districts
No.4 and No. 116, Job Service, and the Champaign Chamber of Commerce and Urbana Association of Commerce. A milestone in t his organization 's educational life is the "integration" of school districts Unit No.
116 and Unit No.4. Urbana (116) anticipated t he reality of impending mandates or pressure to desegregate and, with comparatively little coercion, instituted a politically astute desegregation plan which displaced the heavily foreign (and voteless) Orchard Downs d istricl students. Unit No. 4 officials, UDder fairly covert pressure from the electorate-or their own personal unreadinesses resisted desegregation with rather vigorous resolve. An Equal Educational Opportunities Committee was [armed (on which the League CEO, Vemon Barkstall, served) to develop a plan to "integrate" the Unit No.4 schools. After considerable study, debate, and near-unanimous agreement, the committee presented a "model school" proposal that was eventually adopted by the schocl board. Mr. Barkstall offered opposition in the form ot a minority report refuting the plan on the grounds that the burden for desegregating the schools rested involuntarily on the shoulders of the black community while participation of whi tes being transported to Washington's "model school" (where 75% of the blacks there were involuntarily forced to vacat e) was strictly on a voluntary basis. Barkstall's recurring theme suggested that for integration to truly occur desegregation must be entered into with the nssumption that the process is mutually be neficial for aU concerned in the long run; hence, burdens should be borne in a spirit of mutuality, rather than the paternal benevolence which prevailed at the plan's adoption.
Some Adull Emphases
Aside from advocating for the rights and sharing the hopes and aspirations of constituents, an immediate emphasis upon the hiring of League staff was to address the area of employment opportunities
for blacks. In the early years of this organization employment opportunities were severely limited. Tax supported agencies and institutions were as guilty of restricting black advances as were private ones. The Employment Office (now known as Job Service) was not kindly regarded in the black community. The push of organizations such as NAACP, CCI, and the Champaign Human Relations Commission as well as the national civil rights movement- had wrought grudging changes in the attitudes toward. equal opportunity. Against this backdrop the early years of our existence saw League job placement rates at an all-time high. League assistant, Ed Alexander recorded more than 250 successful placements in his first year of employment.
Several years of success in this area followed. By the early 1970's we had experienced a dramatic improvement in the public face of employer attitudes. The Job Service had hired three black men who were instrumental in helping change black community attitudes about the "unemployment office" through their successful efforts on behalf of all applicants. Ernie Westfield won recognition from the League in 1972 as much for his efforts at Job Service as his leadership oC the local NAACP. To this day the League remains concerned about this most vital life's chances area. Advocating for equal opportunity, ameliorating nonprotected complaints (non-race or sex discrimination charges, for example), ana assisting in job searches remains integral aspects of our operation. The change of attitudes, the efforts of other mandated bodies, and the federal training programs have lessened the burden on the League to provide these services. By 1963, the League had set up a Center for Advice on Job APr.lication. In 1964, Carson Pirie Scott hired several participants from the Center. Proctor and Gamb e participated in a League sponsored Career Conference and hired William Y. Smith who later returned to the community graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law, directed the League's New Thrust (Neighborhood Services Program) initiative, and served the community in various endeavors including yoeman service in relation to the Frances Nelson Health Center.Advocacy efforts in all of the life's chances area is central to the League mission. As such, we deem it a programmatic function in this vein consistent efforts have been mabtained to secure employ·
ment for blacks not only as cashiers. tellers and secretaries, but in the critical arena of laboring class wage earners. We have consistency worked with and/or challenged "employers" to open up opportunities
for working class blacks. Forays onto the V of [ campus, Chanute Air Force Base, and the "7 Clinton Power Plant have been a staple in this regard. Involvement on equal employment opportunity committees (as is true for local education thrusts) was a foregone conclusion given our conciliating mode of operation-too often we met and met and talked until the major portion of the work was completed. Gains were, however, made. only to be eroded by the three recessions of the 1970's. Although his name will appear on few organizational rosters, nor has he sought pay for his efforts on behalf of indigenous blacks, one cannot speak of advocacy on behalf of blacks and racial justice without acknowledging the dedication and leadership of Roy Allen Williams. At the threat of damaging his radical credentials Roy has worked closely with the Urban League staff leadership to seek equality for blacks in all areas, with heavy emphasis on jobs and education.
In September, 1974, The Urban League of Champaign County published the Champaign-Urbana Minority Business & Organization Directory. This resource sought to "stimulate the growth and development of minority owned businesses" in Champaign-Urbana. The publication also emphasized "organizations and individuals who exist to serve the spiritual and social welfare needs of the people, free of charge." Entries include elected arid appointed officials, social welfare and health agencies, school and park board members, and religious and fraternal bodies, as well as service or product-for-fee listings.
Planning Workshop of Urban League of Champaign County, "Increasing Employment Opportunity in Champaign County" (1976):http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/25
Champaign-Urbana Minority Business & Organization Directory (1974) http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/29