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New state task force aims to promote state’s Underground Railroad history

The Illinois Underground Railroad Task Force met for the first time Tuesday to begin devising a strategy for sharing, growing and celebrating the history of the Underground Railroad in Illinois. 

The task force was created last year under a bill sponsored by Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, and Rep. Debbie Meyers-Martin, D-Olympia Fields, who also serve as its co-chairs. It currently consists of 5 legislators – three Democrats and two Republicans – and 5 Illinois history experts, all of whom are unpaid for their participation.

During the meeting, the task force exchanged several ideas about how to best recognize Illinois’ connection to the Underground Railroad, including stories told by voices not commonly included. 

Task force member Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, said during a news conference that members want “to tell the entire story of the Underground Railroad.”

“So, we will be looking at not only the conductors, but also the freedom fighters that were coming along the Railroad,” Turner said. 

Jennifer Edginton, interim director of the Illinois State Museum, said people looking for more information or to get involved can find the Underground Railroad Task Force webpage on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website under the Boards and Commissions tab. On the website, people will be able to share relevant historical stories and read meeting minutes.

People will also be able to express interest in joining a subcommittee of the task force. There are currently four subcommittees focused on aspects such as economic and cultural impact for communities, and education and history. 

Although the subcommittees themselves will be temporary, Koehler said incorporation of their ideas will be ongoing. 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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