Posts By Kent Williamson

The History Of Slavery In Illinois: Part III

In part two of our series on the history of slavery in Illinois, we continued our discussion on slavery during the colonial period. During this time, Illinois was called Illinois Country, and included parts of Missouri and Wisconsin, all of which were under the control of New France. We talked about the many punishments that slaves — and their masters — were subject to when various infractions were committed. We also discussed the limitations of slaves as “property.”

Today we’ll finish up our discussion on Code Noir, the set of laws that governed slavery in Illinois in the early 1700s. 

Slave masters had sole discretion over whether or not to free slaves, but there were other factors at work. For example, we previously mentioned that a slave owner who impregnated a slave must marry the slave. This would result in the freeing of both the slave and the slave’s children. A slave’s master must be at least 20 years of age before they could legally free the slave — but only with parental permission. A 25-year-old master can do so even without parental permission.

Slaves were legally allowed many of the rights to which freedmen were entitled — but only when their masters transferred those rights. For example, slave owners could delegate a slave to serve as executor of their will upon the owner’s death. They could also ask slaves to tutor their children. In either of these circumstances, the slaves who were granted these rights would also be freed at the time of their master’s death.

The law also guaranteed that any slaves or freed slaves living in New France were subjects of France no matter where they were born. So long as they were free, they had the same rights as any other citizen — by law, if not in practice.

An anonymous history buff who also works for the Douglas Lipsky law firm said, “Freed slaves still lived a hard life. Not everyone accepted that they were free. Racism pervaded society during this time period. The laws were far more strict regarding freed slaves. The reality was that they could be placed right back into slavery or even into indentured servitude by random change or by breaking a random law. It was tough.”

The last thing you should know about all fines and fees associated with broken rules and laws in Code Noir is that the majority of this revenue went straight to the French royal administration. However, about a third of that revenue would be pumped back into the local economy — it went to the hospital in that jurisdiction.

These laws were in effect until Great Britain assimilated the territory after the French and Indian War in 1763. You might even feel that Code Noir was completely unnecessary — because in 1763, only about 900 slaves lived there. When the French escaped from the region, they took 300 of those slaves along with them.

The History Of Slavery In Illinois: Part II

In part one of our series on the history of slavery in Illinois, we discussed where this occurred and the implications of a set of laws called Code Noir. “Illinois Country” consisted of parts of Missouri and Wisconsin, which were all part of a larger territory called “New France” — obviously under French control. Code Noir determined what masters could do with slaves and what slaves could not do to their masters. We’ll start there.

Punishments were severe. They were considered a deterrent for certain types of behavior. We previously mentioned that a slave who struck his or her master would be killed as a matter of course.

Slaves who ran from their masters — but were caught — would be subject to having their ears cut off as punishment. Also, they would be branded to make recapture easier if the slave ran a second time. The second attempt would result in a month of hamstring mutilation and a rebranding. If the slave ran a third time, they would be killed.

If former slaves who were freed went on to harbor fugitive slaves, then the fugitive’s owner was allowed to beat the former slave who committed the infraction. Also, the former slave would be fined 300 pounds of sugar for each day the slave spent in their presence (which essentially put the former slave into slavery once again, in most cases). Anyone else who harbored a fugitive slave was subject to a lesser fine.

Masters were fined if a slave was wrongly put to death. In this way, slaves were not considered “property” in the same way they were in English colonies and American states after the American Revolution.

Still, they were property. If the master died, then the slaves he owned would be “equally split” among the master’s beneficiaries. Only when there was unpaid debt could the slaves be sold.

The History Of Slavery In Illinois: Part I

The Jamestown area of Virginia received the first documented slaves brought over by England, but the rest of the colonies also saw slavery as a valuable resource through which they could acquire new wealth and work land more easily. Although northern states were always somewhat more “enlightened” on the topic of slavery, it didn’t start out this way. This is the first part in our series on the history of slavery in Illinois.

England couldn’t keep the entirety of North America to itself. There was a great deal of competition to take and populate this land (that was already populated by Native Americans). Although the British Empire took control of much of present-day America, the French were far more dominant in the northern territories of present-day Canada. They also had a foothold in present-day Illinois — at least for a while.

Back then, Illinois was more formerly known as “Illinois Country.” And it was far bigger, too. It was part of a vast swath of land that included Wisconsin and Missouri. This region was only one component of “New France.” We believe the first slaves arrived in this region around 1720 — around a century after Jamestown imported its first Africans that were considered “property.”

There were laws that determined many aspects of slavery. It was called Code Noir, which translates to “Code Black.” It wasn’t just about slavery. It helped set rules and regulations on religion, sexual relationships, marriage, punishment, and prohibition.

One aspect of Code Noir that might surprise you is that even though slaves were largely considered property, it was stipulated that they must be baptized in a Roman Catholic Church upon arrival. Both slaves and masters who worshipped any other god or religion would be punished under these laws. Another sad reality? Those of Jewish ethnicity were banned from all French colonies in the New World.

Code Noir acknowledged that sexual relations between slaves and free men were inevitable. If children were born as the result of these romps, then an unmarried father would be forced to marry the slave — which would also result in the slave’s freedom. Children of the slave would also be granted freedom. Barring marriage, the slave’s master and his or her father would be subject to an enormous fine of 2000 pounds of sugar.

Slaves were allowed to marry, but only at the owner’s discretion — and only if they consented to the marriage themselves. Forced marriages were forbidden. Any children born to these slaves would also be born into slavery. Sexual abuse between freed men and their slaves ( was commonplace in colonial Illinois.

There were a number of prohibitions that slaves were told to accept. These ranged from the strange to the cruel. For example, slaves were barred from carrying weapons, selling sugarcane, gathering, assaulting a master, etc. A master could not sell a married slave couple’s prepubescent children. A slave who struck a master or his family would be killed under the law.

The Earliest History Of Southern Illinois

Illinois is known for its flat fields and wooded landscapes. But where did these vast swaths of land come from? How did they form? From Chicago headed south, you’ll find dozens of small towns and big farms. The farther you travel, the more change you experience. Here’s some of the earliest history of Southern Illinois — and we do mean “earliest.”

Associate Professor James Conder from SIU Carbondale said, “Southern Illinois is a bit different than most of the rest of the state. Looking north gives you a much different perspective than looking south.”

The reason why? Glaciers. Before the last Ice Age ended, glaciation in the area flattened the landscape around 150,000 years ago. Conder described, “It basically mowed over everything in the north and flattened it.”

More recently, another movement caused another significant period of flattening around 15,000 years ago. 

But the landscape wasn’t only determined by what was going on over the surface of the land — it was also determined by what was going on underneath the land. Continental drift over millions of years was a major factor in creating this naturally flat landscape.

This world’s landscapes are all the result of constant movement. The glaciers, the tectonic plates…and springs, streams, and rivers flowing from one end of the continent to the other. The Mississippi Embayment transports sediment but also helps regulate the climate of Illinois. It also sets the perfect conditions to make swampy terrain that you would find in the Southern Illinois wetlands.

Millions of years ago, all these conditions combined likely resulted in an inland ocean that would have creeped up over Southern Illinois. That’s part of the reason why the southern regions are so different from the northern ones. The conditions were also the ingredients for the bountiful natural resources you find here today: coal, oil, and natural gas.

Conder said, “You can definitely still see the effects today.”

The Weirdest Unsolved Cold Cases In The State Of Illinois

Unsolved mysteries and cold cases have entranced the American public for decades. We’re fascinated by urban myths and legends, and even the supernatural. When our forensics teams and authorities can’t figure out what happened, we often try to fill in the blanks on our own. But what happens when even that is difficult? Here are some of the strangest unsolved cold cases and mysteries in the state of Illinois.

Married couple Gilbert and Trudy Woods unearthed what would later be called the “Devil Stone” in their backyard in the 70s. The etchings included two intertwining serpents. Where did this stone come from? Nobody knows. But what happened once it was unearthed is the strange part. Gilbert had a heart attack. Trudy went blind for a few months. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis soon thereafter. 

The couple understandably came to believe the stone was cursed, and gave it to a friend — who experienced paranormal phenomena like lights turning on and off, and a bee infestation during the winter. Where is the Devil Stone today? ….Nobody knows!

An old urban legend says that a group of friends attempted to escape a freak thunderstorm by finding shelter in a nearby cave in the late 1800s. The group later went to the authorities after discovering a man dressed in a long black robe and the body of a woman dressed in white fabric. The woman was surrounded by candles as if some weird ritual were being performed by the cloaked man. But the police found nothing when they went into the same cave. Was the group of friends telling the truth? You decide.

In 1980, two men discovered the nude body of a woman near Airtight Bridge. She had been decapitated and her hands and feet severed. The extra parts were missed. She wasn’t identified until 1992 — but her killer was never found. And the worst part: How can you hire a wrongful death lawyer when you don’t know who to sue?

A deaf and mute teen was discovered stumbling through Jacksonville back in 1945. Police couldn’t identify him, and he was sent to a mental health facility where he would spend the rest of his life forever known as John Doe number 24. Toward the end of his life, he began to enact circus routines, leaving residents wondering about his childhood before police discovered him. He is the subject of a number of urban myths and theories about where he came from. Want to visit his grave? No problem. Mary Chaplin Carpenter purchased a gravestone for him.

Another urban myth says the ghosts of two albino twins inhabit the Albino Railroad Tracks in St. Clair County. The story arose after a farmer blamed an 1800s epidemic that ravaged a nearby town on the albino kids. He tied the children to the tracks where they were killed by an oncoming train.

Illinois Residents Want To Unionize Against Their Cannabis Employers

Recreational marijuana was only legalized for use in 2019, but revenue in 2020 came in at over $1 billion. That’s a major win for lawmakers looking to puff up the budget. But naturally, the chaos will follow. Now, many recently employed workers for the cannabis industry are considering joining the fight to unionize. They want what every unionized worker in the U.S. wants: higher wages and job security.

This is especially true amidst the pandemic. Believe it or not, marijuana dispensaries are filled with “essential workers!”

Director of organizing for the Local 881 district of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Moises Zavala says there’s a difference between a job and a career: “The industry has unfortunately just provided jobs, and not the well-paying careers that we all thought cannabis was going to generate.”

A unionization of the marijuana industry would be a big deal. Currently, there are “82 dispensaries, 21 cultivation centers and nearly 17,000 cannabis workers.” 

And the industry is only getting bigger.

Co-Director Martin Malin of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at Chicago-Kent College of Law said, “If they’re able to get some significant victories and negotiate some good contracts, they can build momentum, they can point to those as they organize workers at other facilities.”

The marijuana revenue at the state level was split between recreational and medicinal — but recreational provided the bigger piece of pie for Illinois, with nearly two-thirds of the revenue coming from dispensaries. 

2021 has already experienced significant growth in the sector. In the first two months alone, there was $232 million in marijuana sales. 

The marijuana industry pays on average $15 an hour around the country, and most jobs come with a benefits package as well, including PTO, medical, 401(k) and stock options because most recreational weed companies are public. 

Does COVID-19 Count As A Legal Disability In Illinois?

Recently, we discussed the legal definition of “service animals” in Illinois — and how difficult it was to find financial aid even when one of these animals is needed to carry out simple day to day tasks. Government benefits are not provided lightly, which is probably part of the reason why certain requirements of being disabled are not overtly funded through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). But what about COVID-19, a disease that can leave victims recovering for months and months?

A social security disability means that a person has a physical or cognitive limitation that affects their ability to find paying work. SSDI therefore kicks in to help fund daily necessities like paying rent or buying food. The problem is that it can take months or years for an SSDI application to be approved — and even though the Social Security Administration provides backup upon approval, that doesn’t help you during the process. 

Nursing home director of social services for a care facility in Massachusetts, Jodee Pineau-Chaisson remembers the day she received a life-changing call: “I was asked to go onto the COVID-19 units to do FaceTime calls so they could say goodbye to their family members. I was very scared.”

Even though she was 55 years old herself and therefore at an increased risk of experiencing serious symptoms if she contracted the disease, she decided to accept the task. It wasn’t three full days before she was diagnosed with COVID-19. Now, she routinely considers what happened. Maybe she was sweating too much or not socially distancing the right way.

She was hospitalized twice following the diagnosis, and took three months off of work. The Family and Medical Leave Act guaranteed that she was able to keep her job. 

Ten months later, Pineau-Chaisson is still experiencing serious symptoms of the disease. She explained, “Sometimes it can even be hard to walk up the stairs to my bedroom.” She suffered from memory loss and exhaustion.

And the scariest part? These symptoms can limit a person’s ability to work, but disability advocates still don’t have an answer as to whether or not COVID-19 “long-haulers” will qualify for SSDI.

Dr. Steven Martin for the UMass Medical School said, “If we end up with a million people with ongoing symptoms that are debilitating, that is a tremendous burden for each of those individuals, but also for our health care system and our society.”

Democrats already expect Republicans to fight any measures that would allow new additions to SSDI, which they see as an entitlement. U.S. Representative John Larson (D-Connecticut) said, “We know what’s coming. So, we have to make sure that we’re on top of this.”

Even though Pineau-Chaisson isn’t sure what the outcome will be, she decided to see a neurologist to facilitate an application for SSDI. Most applicants who file for an application are denied. Even those who eventually get in are denied more than once on the journey there.

Disability attorney Linda Landry said, “I do think it’s still an open question. It’s still a little iffy about whether [long-haulers] will be able to qualify.”

What Is A FOID Card And Why Are They So Popular In Illinois Right Now?

A Firearm Owner’s Identification Card (or FOID Card) is needed to legally purchase a firearm in Illinois — and not so surprisingly, applications for these cards skyrocketed in 2020. Why? Well, the answer might seem counterintuitive, but Democrats have always been great for gun sales. That’s because Republicans and right-leaning Independents tend to get scared into thinking that Democrats will try to steal their guns (without any real reason for believing it), and buy more as a result.

And with Biden on fire during the majority of the primary races and for the latter half of 2020, it’s not difficult to see why some Republicans wanted to buy a few more guns. But there are other reasons. Gen Z is coming of age quickly, which means it’s time for the next generation of gun owners to make their applications. And the novel coronavirus pandemic and social unrest throughout the year couldn’t have hurt either.

A new Illinois bill seeks to remove the FOID card requirement, though. Representative Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport) drafted HB 1770. He said, “My solution would be to scrap it, because most states aren’t doing it anyway. We have 46 states who are saying ‘this isn’t a good idea,’ so why haven’t we done this?”

Most conservative groups believe any restriction, limitation, background check, or delay is a denial of a person’s Second Amendment rights. 

Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson said, “What’s happening is FOID cards are coming out so slow, both on new cards and renewals, people can’t exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

And whereas the legal argument wouldn’t hold up, there have been enormous delays because of coronavirus. And not everyone agrees.
President of Gun Violence Prevention PAC Kathleen Sances said, “We completely oppose this bill and this idea. If we get rid of the FOID cards, we have 20,000 people who would have access to guns who were not legally allowed to have one.”

What Does Illinois Law Say About Service Animals For The Disabled?

A service animal is usually defined as a dog that provides a needed service for a disabled owner. For example, a deaf owner might use the animal to help keep him alert of potential dangers. A person prone to seizure might have a trained animal capable of running off to find help and alert bystanders that his owner is in trouble. The animals are extremely useful, and sometimes needed. What does Illinois state law say about service animals?

Finding financial aid in order to purchase (or rent) a service animal can be difficult. Going into a Los Angeles social security disability office won’t entitle you to any benefits you wouldn’t receive in an Illinois office, or vice versa, because social security disability insurance (SSDI) is a federal benefit. And sadly, SSDI does not entitle the recipient to a service animal. There is no specific fund set aside so that disabled folks can find what they need.

However, that doesn’t mean you cannot use the supplementary income from SSDI, Medicaid, or Medicare to help you make payments to an organization that rents out service animals or to buy and train your own. You might also keep in mind that SSDI often pays an initial lump sum to make up for the time it took for a disability benefit application to be approved — and that this period of time might have resulted in years of waiting. That means the first payment could be enormous!

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helps define the phrase “service animal” and lays out the tasks that an animal might perform for its owner — however, the ADA does not actually provide animals or assistance to those who require them.

Keep in mind that service animals are not emotional support animals, and they are not pets. Although the government provides little oversight into how service animals are trained, they are trained. 

Although there are no local, state, or federal laws that guarantee the right to own a service animal unless you can find the means to get one yourself, the Illinois Service Animal Access Act and White Cane Law do guarantee a person the right to be “accompanied by a service animal in public.” That means that a person cannot be forced off of a public property because they are accompanied by an animal. 

According to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office: “Violation of the Service Animal Access Act is a Class C misdemeanor / Violation of the White Cane Law is a Class A misdemeanor / *In certain circumstances, businesses must also permit the use of a miniature horse.”

Private business owners are also required to uphold these laws and act in accordance with the ADA as well. In Illinois, this means that a private business owner can ask whether or not an animal is a service animal — but he cannot request proof that an animal is a service owner. The private business owner should have no expectation or right to see the animal’s documentation. The latter is one of the most controversial stipulations of the aforementioned laws.

Illinois Experiences Political Upset When GOP Chair Filled By Senator Simmons

A Democratic committee named 7th District Senator Michael Simmons to fill the seat of GOP Chair, even though the job was expected to be given to Representative Kelly Cassidy because of her experience and leadership. Cassidy was a leading voice behind the 2019 cannabis measure and competed for her current seat after it was left vacant when Heather Steans stepped down. 

Simmons became a popular choice for different reasons: He grew up in the 7th District as an African American gay man. His experience isn’t as nuanced or storied as Cassidy’s but he worked for Senator Dick Durbin, who himself works under County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.

Chicago Ald. Harry Osterman said, “It was [Simmons’s] background, who he is as a person, how he connects with the neighborhood in a very grounded way, made a huge impression on me and made a huge impression on other committee members who supported him.”

Simmons said after his appointment, “There are a lot of disenfranchised people in the community. It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure but I feel like I’m ready. It’s a community I deeply love and I’m excited to go to bat for them.”

Critics of Simmons say he only got appointed over Cassidy because Cassidy didn’t want to wheel and deal with the Democratic committee in question. Allegedly, committee members had promised to hand her their votes if she only promised to support certain individuals.

Doris Turner was appointed to the state Senate when the seat was vacated by Andy Manar. Manar resigned after eight years of service after he received a job offer to become senior adviser to the governor. 

Turner said, “I am thankful to receive the support and appointment of the county chairs’ in the 48th district. This is an honor of a lifetime and not something that I will take for granted.”