The NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement in Midwestern Cities – Lecture by Dr. James Ralph
By D. Rena’ Chaney
On September 21, 2015, Bradley University’s History Department in collaboration with the Peoria NAACP Chapter hosted a lecture given by Dr. James Ralph, (Dean of Faculty Development and Research, Rehnquist Professor of American History & Culture, Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont). Dr. Ralph is a scholar, author and editor who has a deep passion and interest in Civil Rights. His book, Northern Protest: Martin Luther King Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement presents a very defined outline of the movement. He is currently writing a book called, Protest in Peoria-The Struggle for Racial Justice in America.
Dr. Ralph delivered an informative and insightful lecture titled, NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement in Midwestern Cities. He shared information about the history of the Peoria NAACP and some of the members of the Chapter and their roles in the movement. His interest in Peoria’s past surrounding the movement evolved in the mid 1990’s while on a research trip in Chicago. During this trip he came across information that led his research journey directly to Peoria where he had the opportunity to meet members of the NAACP who were very active and instrumental in civil rights, social change and equality.
The relationships here in Peoria are part of his journey of his twenty year research. It initially started when Dr. Ralph sent a letter to the Peoria Public Library requesting information and assistance on what was taking place during the movement; the library responded and provided him with information on Dr. Romeo B. Garrett which initiated a more informed understanding of the black experience in Peoria (Dr. Garrett, First African-American professor at Bradley University and first African-American to receive a master’s degree from Bradley). He later had the opportunity to meet and interview Dr. Garrett through Ms. Millie Hall, who was an employee for the Peoria Public Library and a very well-known historian. Ms. Hall also provided assistance in Dr. Ralph’s research studies.
Dr. Ralph’s lecture provided quite a bit of information in various areas of his research. He made note of how a number of individuals stood strong in support of social change and civil liberties among African-Americans. He went on to state how there were a number of small, but short-lived organizations who rallied hard in the equality change by protesting and organizing sit-in demonstrations at many businesses. The NAACP, churches and individuals were very instrumental in demonstrating against discrimination and many other inequalities portrayed towards blacks. He was detailed in his descriptions and provided slides to support some of them.
The lecture was filled with stories of sacrifices and contributions, gains and disdains, failures and accomplishments from cities throughout Illinois fighting the same fight. The National NAACP was being informed of these actions as well. Some demonstrations were in collaboration in different cities by the dates of protest.
Those in attendance consisted of NAACP members, Bradley students and faculty as well as local citizens of Peoria. As the lecture came to an end Dr. Ralph opened up a Q & A session. Some attendees inquired about the details of his upcoming book regarding specifics of the history of Peoria which weren’t mentioned in the lecture.
As I waited to speak with Dr. Ralph, I began to think how both diversity and inclusion are accepted in some areas of life and how it is not. The stance a person chooses to take in their beliefs can possibly cause conflict with others and can make either a positive or negative impact and those are chances people take every day. We live in a very diverse world and it is continuously changing. So when I face challenges as an African-American and as a woman, I am more confident knowing and understanding the history of my culture. The progress which we have made from then to now challenges and encourages me to be a better person.