A Pekin pocket park will have its own tribute to Nance Legins-Costley, a civil rights pioneer
The Peoria City Council is expected to move forward Tuesday night with purchasing land for the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial.
The monument will honor the more than 2,600 people buried at the former Moffatt Cemetery in South Peoria. They include Nance Legins-Costley, the first person freed from slavery through the representation of Abraham Lincoln, in a court case that erased the façade of "indentured servitude" from Illinois law forever.
Though she was laid to rest in Peoria, Nance was a long-time Pekin resident.
Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman said there is an effort to recognize this tenacious woman in her adopted hometown.
"The two efforts kind of started out at the same time. They organically came to the surface as separate projects, but together, in the process," he said. "Ours has been underway for the last several years, as well."
Nance's struggle to secure her freedom began when she was 14 years old. She lived as an "indentured servant" in the free state of Illinois from the time of her birth, despite the fact she'd never signed up for it. It was slavery in all but name.
"She was quite solidified in her opinion that she was not indentured, that she was not a slave, but that she was free," said Ackerman. "The fortitude it would take for a 14-year-old girl in that timeframe to stand up for herself in that way. That alone is something that should be recognized and honored."
Abraham Lincoln eventually took her case. The Illinois Supreme Court sided with Legins-Costley in an 1841 decision recognizing her family's free status.
A new pocket park on the 400 block of Court Street in downtown Pekin will house a stone monument donated by a private citizen, as well as Illinois State Historical Society bronze placards with more information about Legins-Costley and her son, William Henry Costley, who was at Galveston, Texas on the original Juneteenth.
Ackerman said the memorial will be dedicated during the county's Juneteenth celebration this summer.