Soon the city of Peoria shall have a fitting tribute to these forgotten citizens of Peoria, Illinois:

• The first slave that 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 future memorial site. Map courtesy of the Peoria Public Library Local History Section.

That includes Nance Legins-Costley, formerly of Pekin, who fought a series of court cases to win freedom from slavery in Illinois. Abraham Lincoln would eventually help her finally prevail before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Union soldiers and other veterans remain on the site with nothing permanent to mark their service to our country and to the cause of freedom, including Nathan Ashby – a friend of Legins-Costley’s son – 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 will create a permanent memorial to these forebears, all located on one site at the corner of Griswold and Adams. Three Illinois State Historical Society markers have been cast and are ready to be placed on the site. Funding has been secured for a lighted flagpole, and the land has been acquired for the memorial. Hopefully installation will occur in the first half of 2023.

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.