How Rockford’s WWI Camp Grant led to an African American community center
By Eric Wilson
via the WQRF-TV (IL) mystateline.com web site
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford is home to one of the oldest African American community centers in Illinois, a direct descendant of World War I’s Camp Grant.
For more than a year, Joyce Higgins has been the executive director of the African American Resource Center (AARC) at Booker Washington Community Center, 524 Kent St, but she’s been involved at the center for decades.
“The Booker Washington Center would not even exist if it wasn’t for segregation,” she said. “It’s an excitement to tell this history…there’s so much of it.”
Camp Grant was one of 16 cantonments across the United States, used to train soldiers. The camp, like the country, was racially segregated at the time.
“By November of 1917 to October 1918, a maximum of 13,898 Negro enlistees had come to the Rockford area,” Higgins said.
In the 1910 Census, Rockford had fewer than 200 Black residents, and soldiers volunteered for service, despite what many prominent Black leaders across the country were saying.
“Many of them were anti-war,” Higgins said. “They were like, ‘America is not gonna do anything for us.’ But, African Americans still lined up, 400,000 of them.”
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