For Immediate Release
Obama heads list of minority trailblazers
SPRINGFIELD – The nation’s first African-American president heads the list of minority trailblazers selected in the Illinois Top 200 project, followed by two Native American rivals, a Chicago mayor and a groundbreaking diplomat and cabinet secretary.
Barack Obama, who rose from community organizer to senator to president during his time in Illinois, was the top pick in online voting conducted as part of the celebration of the state’s 200th birthday.
He was followed by Black Hawk, the Sauk warrior who fought American expansion into Illinois, and Chief Keokuk, a rival who gave up land to avoid bloodshed as settlers arrived.
The top five also includes Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor, and Patricia Roberts Harris, the first African-American woman to become an ambassador or serve in a presidential cabinet.
“This list reminds us that Illinois would not be what it is today without hard work and sacrifice by people of all races, religions and orientations,” said Governor Bruce Rauner. “We should all be grateful for the trailblazers honored here by voters in the Illinois Top 200 project.”
The Top 200 project lets Illinoisans vote every two weeks on the state’s most inspiring leaders, greatest inventions, top businesses and much more. By the state’s bicentennial on Dec. 3, voters will have chosen 10 favorites in 20 different categories – the Illinois Top 200.
Voting in the next category, top leaders, is underway at www.IllinoisTop200.com. The nominees include Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Jane Addams and Ida B Wells.
Here are the top 10 “minority trailblazers” chosen in online voting:
- Barack Obama – Obama was the first African-American president in U.S. history. He started as an Illinois legislator and then was elected U.S. senator in 2004. He came to national attention that year with a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention. Four years later, he won the presidency.
- Black Hawk – The Sauk warrior sided with the British during the War of 1812. Twenty years later, after being forced out of Illinois, he led hundreds of people back during the brief “Black Hawk War.” He also produced the first Native American autobiography.
- Chief Keokuk – Keokuk was a Sauk chief and rival to Black Hawk. Convinced that armed resistance was futile, he negotiated with U.S. officials during a series of removals of Native Americans from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
- Harold Washington – Washington was the first African-American mayor of Chicago, a victory the Democrat achieved despite opposition from many white leaders in his own party. He won re-election but died just months into his second term.
- Patricia Roberts Harris – A Mattoon native, Harris was the first African-American woman to serve as an ambassador. As secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Carter, she was the first African-American woman in a president’s cabinet, making her the first to enter the presidential line of succession.
- Minnie Minoso – Minoso was the first Latino superstar in major league baseball. Born in Cuba, he became the game’s first black Latino player when he debuted in Cleveland on April 19, 1949. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1951, becoming that team’s first black player.
- Steve Chen – Born in Taiwan, Chen came to the U.S. at 15, attending the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and then the University of Illinois. Three years after graduation, he changed the world of video by co-founding YouTube.
- Jean Baptiste Point du Sable –Du Sable was the first non-indigenous settler to take up permanent residence where Chicago would later spring up. Of African descent, he was a frontier trader, trapper and farmer.
- Cardiss Collins – Collins was the first African-American woman from the Midwest to win a seat in Congress. She was the first woman and first African-American named to the leadership post of Democratic whip-at-large.
- Jesse Jackson – Jackson began his civil rights activism as an aide to Martin Luther King Jr., who put him in charge of Chicago-based Operation Breadbasket. Out of that grew the organization now known as Rainbow/PUSH. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and again in 1988.
“Everyone in Illinois can take pride in the men and women on this list. In different ways and different eras, they stood up for their beliefs, put their talents to work and tried to make the world a better place,” said Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. “President Lincoln wanted to expand ‘the family of freedom.’ Barack Obama reaching the White House was a tremendous step in fulfilling Lincoln’s vision.”
The nominees who did not make the top 10 were Claude Barnett, founder of the Associated Negro Press; Roland Burris, the first African-American to hold statewide office in Illinois; African-American congressman Oscar Stanton De Priest; gay-rights pioneer Henry Gerber; John Jones, the first African-American elected to political office in Illinois; Black Panther leader Fred Hampton; economist Abram Lincoln Harris Jr.; football player Joe Lillard; Larry McKeon, the first openly gay Illinois legislator; “Free” Frank McWorter, the former slave who founded a town; Carlos Montezuma, the first Native American man to get a medical degree; early Japanese immigrant Michitaro Ongawa; and John W. E. Thomas, the first African-American elected to the Illinois legislature.
The Illinois Top 200 is a joint initiative of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.
The remaining categories are top leaders and unforgettable moments. Everyone is invited to suggest possible nominees in each category by using the hashtag #ILtop200 on social media.
The presidential library and museum uses a combination of rigorous scholarship and high-tech showmanship to immerse visitors in Lincoln’s life and times. Visitors can see ghosts come to life on stage, watch TV coverage of the 1860 Presidential election, roam through the Lincoln White House, experience booming cannons in a Civil War battle and come face to face with priceless original Lincoln artifacts.
The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln books, documents, photographs, artifacts and art, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history.