For years, Illinois has had African-American pioneers in any field of endeavors. A recent online poll asked readers to vote for the 10 people who are the most inspiring African-American leaders in the state’s history. Here are five of the trailblazers who made the cut.

Patricia R. Harris official portraitPatricia Roberts Harris was born in 1924 in Mattoon. She excelled in school and won a scholarship to Howard University, where she served as vice chair of the NAACP. Roberts graduated at the top of her class and went on to obtain a law degree. In 1965 she became the first African-American woman to serve as an ambassador to Luxembourg and hold a cabinet position in a presidential administration.


Minnie Minoso 2010Cuba native Minnie Minoso began playing baseball as a boy. In 1946 he signed a $300-a-month deal to play for the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. After the Major League color barrier was lifted, Minoso signed with the Cleveland Indians but did not get the opportunity to play many games. In 1951, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox and became the first black player in the history of the franchise.


Harold WashingtonHarold Washington was born in 1922 in Chicago. He served in World War II with the 18887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. After being honorably discharged, he graduated from Roosevelt College and Northwestern University School of Law. Harold was elected state representative and state senator, and he was elected Chicago’s first African-American mayor in 1983. While in office he increased the number of minorities in local government and advanced reforms to correct various racial injustices.


President Barack Obama

Barack Obama was born in 1961 in Honolulu, but he moved to Chicago and was a community organizer for low-income residents after obtaining a college degree. Obama attended Harvard School of Law and was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996. As a senator, he expanded health care services and childhood education programs for the poor. In 2004, he won a seat in the U.S Senate. Four years later he became the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American elected to the White House.


Cardiss Collins RestorationCardiss Collins, a Missouri native, began her political career serving as a committeewoman for Chicago’s Democratic ward organization. When her husband was elected to Congress, Collins served on the House Government Operations and Public Works committees. After her husband died she decided to run for Congress. She won and became the first African-American woman to represent Illinois in Congress. Today, she ranks as one of the longest-serving African-American women in the history of Congress.

ILI pumpkin 300x200The pumpkin has been a North American staple since before long before the arrival of European settlers, and Illinois farmers continue the big orange squash’s long tradition by growing more pumpkins than anywhere else in the world. Illinois grows 90-95 percent of the pumpkins used in processed goods, with most of the processing taking place in Morton, Illinois – which has claimed the title of “Pumpkin Capital of the World” since 1978.

In 1920, Morton developed a canning plant, now owned by Nestle/Libby’s. The plant covers 5,000 acres of fertile farmland devoted to producing pumpkins.

Read more ...

Woodfield mall generalVisitors to Illinois hit an all-time high in 2017. It marked the seventh consecutive year of record-breaking tourism in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Tourism.

In the last year, the amount of money people spent in the name of travel and fun across Illinois increased by 3.3 percent. That’s an increase of $1.1 billion from 2016.

The suburbs, in particular, are thriving. Cook County saw a 3.1 percent jump in tourism spending, while in Will County, spending was up by 5 percent, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s Economic Impact of Domestic Travel on Illinois Counties.

A new dining pavilion at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, a renovated golf course in Addison, the additional of Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee, a slew microbreweries popping up in the Northwest suburbs and new hotels and restaurants being built are facilitating the increase in tourism in the area. 

Read more ...

October AOM Headshot

William Butler is our October Artist of the Month from Peoria. He has used many types of two dimensional mediums, but he likes to paint with acrylic paint most.

How long have you been an artist or when did you start? Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion and if so, tell us about it?

When I was 6 years old I told my Dad I wanted to be an artist. No one in the family was surprised because I was always drawing. It was a family amusement to talk about how I would become a famous artist living in a mansion with all of my paintings on the walls. But no one, including myself, had a clue as to what it really meant to pursue that path. I came to know about making a living in graphic design and illustration, so I studied that in high school and college. I worked in that field for almost a decade. While I was at Illinois Central College, I met James Winn. He was substitute teaching for my regular illustration instructor, and I got to know him a little as a teacher. After graduating from ICC, I went to Northern Illinois University to finish my degree. My first job out of school was as a graphic designer and illustrator for AutoMeter in Sycamore, Illinois, which is just north of AOM Photo 5DeKalb. I decided to attend a Baptist church in town, and I reconnected with James Winn. In the interim, his life had changed dramatically. He was now represented by Struve Gallery in Chicago and was making a great living just painting all day and selling his highly detailed landscapes. He invited me to his home, and over time I learned about what he had been working towards all these years and his high status in the art world. The idea of being an independent fine artist became much more real to me. So, I set out to follow that path ever since. If James hadn’t been my teacher at ICC, I don’t think I would have gotten to know him four years later.

Illinois has been factored into your work in the past.  What does being able to live and work in Illinois mean to you?

Since Illinois is centrally located in the country, there are opportunities in every direction. For eight years, I showed and sold my art in art fairs in surrounding states and as far away as Florida. I have shown in galleries and places in Alton, Springfield, Bloomington, the Quad Cities, Chicago and various nearby suburbs.

What opportunities does Illinois present to local Illinois artists?

With Chicago and St. Louis so close, the possibilities are vast. Peoria has so many opportunities for artists with the many organizations, groups and places to exhibit. In the last twenty years, Peoria has grown dramatically in support of the arts and culture. There are many alternative venues to exhibit also. For example, I have shown my work in coffee shops, lobbies and libraries.AOM Photo 4

What do you like about Illinois?

I like the friendly people and there are lots of interesting and beautiful places in Illinois that I like to visit. I like to hike at Forest Park Nature Center, walk along Grandview Drive and in the historic Springdale Cemetery. I enjoy living, kayaking and working near The Illinois River.

What is your favorite medium to work in?

I have worked in just about every two dimensional medium, and painting is my favorite. I have come to prefer painting with acrylics especially because they are so versatile and are almost fool-proof. I also have come to appreciate a fast drying time. I tap into my inner child and play.

Where can people view or purchase your work?

Anyone can visit my public art studio and observe as I work on art on the third floor of the Contemporary Art Center located AOM Photo 7on the riverfront in Peoria. It is as if I am in a fish bowl. You can follow me on Instagram at @williamebutler1817 or visit

What artist inspires you and why?

My current series was inspired in 2006 by the sculptural paintings of Elizabeth Murray, especially the work of the last ten years of her life. American Masters just aired a documentary on her on PBS. She grew up in Bloomington, Illinois and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago. I was attracted to her doodle-like cartoon imagery and the outlandishly bright color. The scale of the work and the intricacy of construction draws a viewer in. The multiple shapes linked together seemed so innovative to me. She is in a category all her own.

halloween jack olanterns 1536838696ktPThe city of Highwood will host its ninth annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival Friday through Sunday, Oct. 5-7, in downtown Highwood.

The three-day festival will include live music, a food court, three bars, pumpkin-pie eating  and costume contest, carnival rides, a petting zoo, kids crafts, vendors and more.  

Festival hours are 4-10 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $3 per day, per person or $5 for the weekend, which includes all-you-can-carve pumpkins.

On the evenings, the city will turn off the electricity in downtown Highwood for ten minutes to showcase thousands of lit jack-o’-lanterns.

Since 2010, the festival has attempted to break the Guinness World Record of 30,581 for the most pumpkins carved and lit at once.

In 2010, Highwood made its first attempt to break the Guinness record, ending up with 26,000 carved pumpkins. Last year, 21,243 jack-o’-lanterns were displayed on 30-foot tall scaffolding in front of city hall.

The Highwood Pumpkin Festival attracts an estimated 70,000 – 90,000 people every year and generated more than $60,000 last year, according to organizers. Money raised by the festival goes to Make-A-Wish Foundation.

For information, visit