Ebony Escapes! to the ‘Land of Lincoln’

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 10/10/2013, 4:19 p.m.

Before I passed through the city of Decatur, Ill., during my summer road trip to explore the “Land of Lincoln,” I didn’t know much about it other than it being located along Highway 72 in the central part of the state, approximately 46 miles from Bloomington to the north, 39 miles from Springfield to the west and 50 miles from Urbana-Champaign to the east.

I was aware of some Black history, plus some of the basic tourist attractions I saw online, but I figured I would delve more into it once I arrived for my one day in town. I rolled in about noon and was sitting at a restaurant counter overlooking the street, enjoying a delicious lunch and minding my own business, when two Black women came in and sat down next to me.

I said hello, and because I had never been there before, I struck up a conversation and asked if they could give me any insights into any historical sites, attractions and so forth of Afrocentric interest. The two were very friendly and had a wealth of things to share.

That’s when things got interesting!

Within 30 minutes, I learned that one of the women was the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and within an hour, they had provided me with lots of interesting tidbits and taken me across the street to meet several African-American businesses.

Among them was Victory Health Mart Pharmacy, named “Outstanding Small Business of the Year” in 2010, with two locations in town. Two doors down there was All Things Beautiful Collectibles & Gifts, specializing in unique vintage, primitive and folk art and country collectibles and gifts. When I mentioned some of the other places I would be visiting, including the African American Civil War Soldiers Monument (more about the monument below), the owner said, “That’s my uncle!”

Through these connections, I also learned about Passing the Torch of the African American Voice (referred to as “The Torch” by the locals), a monthly publication chock full of articles, op-ed pieces and other features of both local and national Afrocentric interest.

From The Torch, I learned about Martin Christian Radio, an online Christian music station accessible via computer, cellphone or iPad, owned by African-American Alexander Martin, the cousin of pop singer-songwriter John Lester “Johnny” Nash Jr. of the smash 1972 hit song “I Can See Clearly Now (the Rain is Gone).” Dupree Suits, Shoes & Casual Wear Inc., Robinson Barber Shop, Competitive Edge, Big Boy Kutz and Freestylzz Unlimited are other Black-owned businesses in town.

On the spiritual front, there’s Life Changer’s Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal Church, New Salem Baptist Church and Church of the Living God, among others.

It was wonderful to find out about all of these Black entrepreneurs, businesses and other entities that stem from the approximately 23 percent African-American population in this city of 75,407 people.

A wealth of history

To research the area’s Black history, and maybe even some of your own, be sure to visit the African-American Cultural and Genealogical Society, founded in 1993. Some of its many offerings include genealogy workshops, museum displays, sponsorship of the annual Black History Month, Juneteenth and Kwanzaa celebrations, essay and poetry contests and storytelling.