The Lion’s Den | It Continues to Play In Peoria



The City of Peoria became the center of attention in a recent New York Times article titled “The City that Once Guided a Nation Now Shows its Cracks.” The article focused on the looting that took place in the City following the murder of George Floyd and days of national and international protests. It is through this lens and the phrase, “If It Plays in Peoria,” that the writer attempted to show how Peoria has changed over the years from a Midwestern river town where Fortune 500 companies came for product testing and politicians and musicians came to launch their careers to its current claim to fame of social and economic disparities between African Americans and Whites. Peoria is now more well-known for crime, poverty, food deserts in African-American communities and its annual rankings as one of the worst places in the country for African Americans to live.

I felt that the article focused primarily on the looting and not enough on the duality of perceptions of the City of Peoria. While many will argue that, like many other urban cities, Peoria has fallen on hard times, I would say that the issues of race and inequality have always been present for many African Americans. In other words, the fight for social justice has always “Played in Peoria.” After all, it was in Peoria, 1947, where the late Civil Rights icon Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian started his fight for equality by participating in his first sit-in which led to the integration of Barton’s Cafeteria. According to Peoria Journal Star records, in June 1963, it was the late Reverend Blaine Ramsey, first vice president of the local NAACP, who organized boycotts of Peoria City Lines Buses, in efforts to increase minority hiring.

It was the late John Gwynn, president of the local NAACP, who on June 22, 1963, was quoted by the Peoria Journal Star saying, “we now have racial tension and discrimination in almost every phase of life in Peoria,” as he called upon then Peoria Mayor, Robert G. Day, to address the issue of lack of African American hiring at the Peoria City Hall and CILCO.

On Dec. 5, 1963, it was reported by the Peoria Journal Star that Byron DeHaan, then chairman of the education committee of the Peoria Council on Human Relations, while speaking to the Kiwanis Club, indicated that Blacks in Peoria were the victims of unfair housing practices.

Fast forward to the year 2020, and these issues are still “Playing in Peoria.” One can only hope that the duality of perception is removed at some point, and everyone can see and recognize injustice and realize, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “no one is free until we all are free.” Meanwhile, the band plays on.

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