Black History Month Series
Batavia has a history of welcoming people from all over the world, and that includes Black individuals and families who found their way here from the south, either as freedmen or runaway slaves. Three Black families were recorded in the 1860 U.S. Census. Throughout February we’ll highlight a few of Batavia’s Black settlers.
Judge Samuel Lockwood
Kane County and Batavia history notes that Batavia has provided a relatively safe haven for Black individuals. Either through providing stops on the Underground Railroad or allowing Black families to live and work without fear of being turned in to the bounty hunters who combed the area looking to return former slaves to their owners, Batavia was supportive to its new Black residents.
Batavia also became the home of an important abolitionist movement. In July of 1842, concerned citizens met at the Presbyterian Church in Batavia (today’s Congregational Church of Batavia) to form the Kane County Anti-Slavery Society. The Kane County Anti-Slavery Society appealed to every kind of abolitionist concerned with racial equality including Judge Samuel Lockwood who eventually moved to Batavia in 1853. From 1824 to 1848, Lockwood served on the Illinois Supreme Court where he led the fight against slavery in Illinois. During his tenure, the court declared that children of registered servants were free and that indentured servitude was illegal. Another decision freed the descendants of the slaves of settlers born after 1787. By the time the first settlers came to Batavia in 1833, slavery had been officially outlawed in Illinois.
However, in the 1850s Illinois still had a law that made it illegal for any freed Black person to settle in the state. Still, the law was largely ignored in northern counties such as Kane, and by 1860 there were 25 Black individuals living on North River Street – many were slaves who escaped.
Steven Smith (center, top row) was a slave in Kentucky who escaped and fled north by way of the Underground Railroad. He served in the Civil War and settled in Batavia with his family after the war. A photo shows Smith, along with his wife and son, together with several white friends who appear to be shop workers in town – indicating some Batavians were willing to break racial barriers.
Source: Batavia Historical Society
Civil War Veterans
When Fort Sumter was attacked April 12, 1861, by the confederacy, Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state. African Americans were not able to serve as soldiers until after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was enforced on January 1, 1863. After that, recruitment of Black soldiers started in earnest and many Black Batavians fought in the United States Colored Infantry. By the end of the war, United States Colored Infantry troops made up 10% of the Union Army.
Several of these are remembered on the Batavia Civil War Memorial Marker, located just inside the south entrance to Batavia’s Eastside Cemetery. The memorial honors the lives of the Black men who served in the United States Colored Troops. Listed are:
Bass, Sylvester, Co K, 102nd USCT
Chappell, Henry, Co B 29th USCT
Hall, John, Co B 29 USCT
Hammond, Beverly, Co B 29th USCT
Hammond, Theodore, Co B 29th USCT
Ozier, John Co F, 11th USCT
Smith, S. (Samuel), Co F, 4th USCT
Stewart, James, Co B 29th USCT
Stewart, Jordan, Co B 29th USCT
Watts, James, Co B 29th USCT
These men were either from Batavia or returned to Batavia after the Civil War. One veteran, Henry Chappell met Batavians Jordan and James Stewart, Beverly and Theodore Hammond, John Hall and James Watts when they all enlisted in Chicago. According to Chappell, when their regiment arrived in Washington D.C. by train from Chicago, they were paraded past President Abraham Lincoln who saluted them and thanked them for their service.
Several of the men had been former slaves or were the children of slaves. They ranged in age from 14-43 when they enlisted. The 29 th U.S. Colored Regiment fought at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia, the Siege of Petersburg, and in the final Appomattox Campaign. They were transferred to Texas, where they likely were when emancipation was announced on June 19, 1865, Juneteenth.
When the men returned to Batavia, they found work in the quarries, or as day laborers. Others built businesses serving other Blacks, such as barber shops and stores.
Source: Batavia Historical Society
Charles E. Hall
Charles E. Hall is a native son who became the “senior specialist on Negro statistics” in the United States Census Bureau in the 1930s. Two years before his retirement, Hall’s promotion to that position made him the most senior Black civil servant to have served in the U.S. Department of Commerce, where the Census Bureau was housed.
Hall was the son of Rev. Abraham T. Hall (pictured on the right) – the founding minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Batavia. Because Batavia closed its doors to Black students immediately after the Civil War, Charles attended a school set up at his father’s church for Black students. He went on to attend Wilberforce University, an African Methodist Episcopal college in Ohio. After trying his hand at a variety of positions, Charles, who was a Republican, served first as Assistant Secretary of the 1898 state convention in Springfield of the League of Republican Clubs. And then in 1900 as Assistant Sergeant-of-Arms for the 1900 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
In 1900 Congressman A.J. Hopkins of Aurora secured Hall’s appointment as a clerk at the Census Office, which later became the Census Bureau. Career advancement came slowly for Hall. It was unheard of for Blacks to exercise supervisory authority over whites, and field jobs, even in the North, were beyond the reach of Black Americans. He was initially denied a field assignment in Illinois in 1907 because as a Black man, Hall would not be allowed to occupy a seat in a parlor car, or a berth in a sleeper, or even patronize the dining car. He would have to ride in cars reserved for Blacks, then known as ‘Jim Crow’ cars. It would have been nearly impossible for him to stop at a hotel as well.
Nevertheless, Hall made a reputation for himself through studies he wrote that were published by the Census Bureau. This work resulted in his being given a senior position and membership in the “Black Cabinet” – a group of Black individuals working in government departments who met together to discuss how best to coordinate policy for Black people across agencies.
Charles maintained his voting address as Batavia throughout his Washington career. He died in Chicago in 1952.
Information source: The Batavia Historian, Vol. 41 No.1, January 2000.
Several Batavia streets are named for its Black settlers and one of those is John Ozier. Ozier was a Civil War veteran who was born a slave who escaped bondage in 1863 and made his way to Chicago where he enlisted. He came to Batavia after the Chicago Fire in 1871 and built a cabin home for himself and his wife Annie at the corner of River and Gore streets.
In the late 1890s, Ozier had a store near one of Batavia’s amusement centers, selling candy, tobacco, and tourist goods. He was friendly and popular with both whites and Blacks and was a proud member of Batavia Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a regular participant in parades and official gatherings. At the time of his death in 1919, at age 100, he was Batavia’s oldest citizen. (Source: “Images of America Batavia From the Batavia Historical Society,” by Jim and Wynette Edwards.)