The City of Peoria now has a fitting tribute to these long forgotten citizens of Peoria, Illinois:

• The first enslaved person that young lawyer Abraham Lincoln helped free in 1841.

• The Union soldiers who laid their lives on the line to secure that freedom twenty years later, including soldiers who were at the original Juneteenth celebration in Texas.

• The everyday people who are buried to this day in south Peoria.

Almost seventy years ago, the old Moffatt Cemetery near the corner of Griswold and SW Adams St. was demolished so that it could be commercially developed. More than 2,600 of our fellow Peoria-area citizens remain there, under that development.

The locations of the old Moffatt Cemetery and the memorial site. Map courtesy of the Peoria Public Library Local History Section.

That includes Nance Legins-Costley, who spent most of her life in Pekin. From a young age, Legins-Costley fought an extraordinary series of court cases to win freedom from slavery in Illinois. Abraham Lincoln would eventually help her finally prevail before the Illinois Supreme Court in 1841, a full twenty years before the Civil War.

Union soldiers and other veterans remain on the site, as well, including Nathan Ashby – a friend of Legins-Costley’s son William – who was among the Union soldiers in Texas for the original events that are commemorated each Juneteenth.

Also, while some Peorians‘ remains were moved to Springdale Cemetery before the bulldozers came, those likely of lesser means were left with no stones to remember their lives in our region.

Through the creation of the Freedom & Remembrance Memorial, the community has created a permanent memorial to these forebears, all located on one site at the corner of Griswold and Adams.

Three Illinois State Historical Society markers and lighted flagpole have been placed on the site.

We also hope that this place will eventually be the site of a true gateway to the city of Peoria, honoring our past and celebrating the ongoing fight for freedom today.