SPOTLIGHT: Genealogical society promotes awareness

By Valerie Wells

(Decatur) Herald & Review

Published: Thursday, Dec. 29 2011 6:30 a.m. MST

This Nov. 23, 2011 photo shows an authentic maid uniform from the late 1800s and an exhibit regarding African American soldiers during the Civil War at the African American Cultural & Genealogical Society in Decatur, Ill. In addition to exhibits on African American history, the Society has a rich collection of books, interactive maps, and access to Census records from Southern states, birth and death certificates, cemetery records, slave schedules and other resources.

Herald & Review, Mark Roberts, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

DECATUR, Ill. — The outside of the African American Cultural and Genealogical Society looks considerably different than it once did.

The front window sports a new logo with a background silhouette of Zulu warriors on the march, matching a piece of art inside the redecorated and expanded Society at 314 N. Main St. The perforated window film was made by DynaGraphics Fast Impressions and was the idea of Jeff Hendricks, executive director of the Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Founder Evelyn Hood said Hendricks has been a partner in giving her and marketing director Mark Fuller ideas to expand and organize the collection. One addition is a slave's dress, more than 100 years old and very well preserved, once worn by Polly Ann Roberts, a maid and an ancestor of one of the society's board members.

According to Hood, statistics show that only about 1 percent of African-Americans in Macon County have researched their family history. The Society has access to Census records from Southern states, birth and death certificates, cemetery records, slave schedules and other resources.

"This is only the beginning," Hood said. "We have a lot more we want to do here."

The society began 18 years ago and is open 1:30 to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every other Saturday and other times by appointment. Call 429-7458.

The new look is a way to raise the society's profile so that more people will use of its resources, Fuller said.

"We're trying to draw more of a crowd and stand out," Fuller said. "This started all the way back in 2010 when we changed our official logo, and from there, we're moving into a new phase."

Students at Mount Zion High School recently donated an exhibit to the society, and several activities are planned for the coming months, Hood said.

A Kwanzaa celebration, an annual tradition for the society, will be at 6:30 p.m. today in the Decatur Public Library. Kwanzaa celebrates African heritage during a seven-day celebration commencing the day after Christmas.

When the outdoor look is finished, the building will be bright and colorful and stand out, Hood said. Inside, the books, computer stations, interactive maps, and collection of art and artifacts has expanded to the point where Hood is talking about a move to a larger location eventually.

"Just a few things that you change can make things so different," she said.

Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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