Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 2023
Volume 116, Number 1
Coming to grips with the past is what historians do. Sifting through manuscripts, letters, contemporary news articles and other writings, as well as later analytical examinations of policies and their effects, a historian transcends the barrier of time, shining light on people and events to reveal new perspectives.
In this issue, we offer three fine examples of this process. A growing trend of study involves “commemoration”: How and why are some events remembered and who are the people or groups shaping that observance? Or why do some things become accepted as fact, repeated by subsequent writers when all available evidence contradicts the legend? And what really was the impact of political and economic strategies advocated and deployed by both political parties and two US presidents on East St. Louis?
Using the tools of history to explore the past after its political passions and need for legend have cooled, answers to fundamental questions emerge. Why and how did certain things happen? What were the goals and the outcomes?
“Commemoration,” or more accurately who would determine its methods and its target audiences is a major theme in Sean Jacobson's “Skokie as Sanctuary: Holocaust Survivor Leadership at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.” Some readers will recall that suburban Chicago community's time in the national spotlight between 1976 and 1978 when neo-Nazi groups wanted to march through its streets. At the time, 40 to 60 percent of Skokie's seventy thousand residents were Jewish, six to seven thousand of them survivors of World War II's horrors.
The results included a landmark US Supreme Court decision, a statewide mandate for teaching the Holocaust in public schools, the Holocaust Memorial Foundation and the Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Among the story's twists and turns are personality conflicts, zoning disputes, questions about whose memories have priority, and an important role played by a future governor of Illinois.
Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman is justly famed for many accomplishments but, as Mark Flotow demonstrates, locating Camp Butler's second site at Riverton is not among them. Yet, historians persistently grant the Ohioan a key role in the process. “Early Camp Butler and William Tecumseh Sherman: Persistence of a False Narrative” takes us through a convoluted process propelled by faulty memories, lack of surviving records, and the fact that the most influential claim of Sherman's role came a week after he died and was no longer able to contradict it. Flotow gives us a fine example of “not letting the facts stand in the way of a good story.”
Finally, Roger Biles and Mark Rose take us back into the politics of the late 1970s through the 1990s when “market talk” dominated discussions concerning how to revive troubled midwestern cities such as East St. Louis. “A President Visits East St. Louis: The Racialized Politics of Market Talk, Enterprise Zones, and Abandonment, 1980–2010” reexamines the assumptions of bipartisan economic policies and how these played out in East St. Louis, underscoring both racial divide and the proclivity of policy makers for hollow promises.
It has been several years since the Journal published a bibliography of articles related to Illinois history that appeared in this and other journals. Tristan M.D. Draper and Timothy Dean Draper bring us up to date in this issue's Special Projects section.
There is much to ponder in these fine articles and for future historians to weigh as they examine and reexamine our state's fascinating past.
As always, please let us know what you think.
Robert D. Sampson, PhD
Editor, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society
Skokie as Sanctuary: Holocaust Survivor Leadership at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center
Early Civil War Camp Butler and William Tecumseh Sherman: Persistence of a False Narrative
A President Visits East St. Louis: The Racialized Politics of Market Talk, Enterprise Zones, and Abandonment, 1980–2010
Roger Biles and Mark H. Rose
Research Articles in Illinois History, 2010–2022: A Bibliographic Overview
Tristan M. K. Draper with Timothy Dean Draper
President Bill Clinton delivers remarks to the East St. Louis community in the parking lot at Walgreens Drugstore on July 6, 1999. Joining him on the dais were Reverend Jesse Jackson, Dave Bernauer, then president of Walgreens, Dick Huber, then CEO of Aetna, Cathy Bessant, former Olympian Jackie Joyner Kersee, former professional football star Mel Farr, Senator Richard J. Durbin, then-US Representative Jerry Costello, and Debra Powell, East St. Louis mayor. Photo courtesy of William J. Clinton Presidential Library Image: P73956-27, July 6, 1999, Photographer: David Scull.