ILIBHMBlack history month is a great opportunity to highlight the influence that many African Americans have on not just the world – but also right here in Illinois. To celebrate this Black History Month, we are highlighting Illinois-born Black figures that have made an impact throughout history.

Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930- Jan. 12, 1965) was the first African American women to have a play performed on Broadway. Chicago-born Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” opened on Broadway in 1959. This play won New York Drama Critics' Circle best play of 1959, making her the first Black woman to win.

Ramsey Lewis is a jazz composer and pianist from Chicago born May 27, 1935. Lewis has won three Grammys, seven Gold Records, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and many other awards for his notable work in jazz.  In 1957, Lewis formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio. This trio included Isaac "Redd" Holt as the drummer and Eldee Young as the bassist. Some of his popular songs are “The in Crowd” “Wade in the water” and “Hang on Sloopy”.

Oscar Micheaux (Jan. 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951) was a filmmaker from Metropolis who produced and directed over 44 films throughout his career. Micheaux became the first African American to produce a feature-length film. Micheaux used his films to portray Black people in a positive light and to display the struggles that they face. He was one of very few African American independent film makers to survive the sound era.

Katherine Dunham (June 22, 1909 – May 21, 2006) was a dancer and choreographer from Glen Ellyn. Dunham was one of the first African American women to attend University of Chicago and earn her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology. Dunham’s interest for dance began while studying at the University of Chicago.  Dunham used her dances and choreography to express Black culture. Her dance company, the Katherine Dunham Company, performed on Broadway and in major American cities.

Albert Raby (Feb. 20, 1933 to Nov. 23, 1988) was an activist from Chicago who worked hard alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to bring the civil rights movement to Chicago. Dr. King had chosen to come to Chicago because he was impressed by Raby’s sincerity of is commitment. In 1962, Raby helped create the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, which worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to launch the Chicago Freedom Movement.

Greene Vardiman BlackDid you know that the father of modern dentistry is from Illinois? Visitors to Lincoln Park in Chicago may have noticed a statute of a mustached man sitting seriously, overlooking the walking path. The statue, designed in 1918, honors Greene Vardiman Black, the father of modern dentistry and first dean of Northwestern University’s dental school. More than 1,500 members of the National Dental Association attended the dedication of the monument at its unveiling in 1918.

Greene Vardiman Black (1836–1915), grew up on a farm near Winchester, Ill. He studied under an older dentist, Dr. J.C. Spear in the late 1850s, a time when the science of dentistry was extremely rudimentary. By the age of 17, Black began studying medicine with the help of his brother, Dr. Thomas G. Black. In 1857, he met Dr. J.C. Speer, who taught him the practice of dentistry. After the Civil War, in which he served as a union scout, he relocated to Jacksonville.  It was here that he began an active career and conducted research in the developing field of dentistry. He studied dentistry for 20 months as was common at the time, followed by an apprenticeship.  He taught in the dental department at the University of Iowa before moving to Chicago in the 1890s. In the period after the Civil War, Black made many important contributions to the profession of dentistry. These include inventing the dental drill, using nitrous oxide for extracting teeth without causing pain, and developing the method for filling cavities, which is still used today. The phrase, "extension for prevention," is still famous in the dental community today and represents Black's idea that dentists should incorporate more grooves and pits than those currently exhibiting decay as a preventive measure against those grooves and pits developing tooth decay in the future, although today ideas have changed and focus much more on minimal intervention. Black published his concepts and ideals in his text called “Manual of Operative Dentistry” in 1896. Further, he organized “Black's Classification of Caries Lesions” which is still in use today. Since that time, only one more category has been added to his classification system. When you go to your dentist’s appointment, you can thank Greene Vardiman Black for most of the procedures that you experience!

lasertag 1200X800 1080x675Illinois is home to the world’s largest laser tag arena. The Edge, located in Belleville, is officially the world’s largest laser tag arena. In addition to the world’s largest laser tag arena, The Edge also has two arcades, mini-golf, five movie theaters, and a family friendly sports pub. The Edge also hosts hundreds of birthday parties and events each year.

Laser Tag is a recreational shooting sport where participants use infrared-emitting light guns to tag designated targets. Infrared-sensitive signaling devices are commonly worn by each player to register hits and are sometimes integrated within the arena in which the game is played. Since its birth in 1979, with the release of the Star Trek Electronic Phasers toy, laser tag has evolved into both indoor and outdoor styles of play, and may include simulations of close quarter combat, role play-style adventure games, or competitive sporting events including tactical configurations and precise game goals. Laser tag is popular with a wide range of ages. Indoor laser tag is typically played in a large arena. The packs are tightly integrated with the devices inside the arena. The arena devices, and the packs themselves may be linked into a control computer for scoring and control over the game settings using radio equipment or infrared links. The game computer often serves to control other game effects and to manage player scores.

Open since 1995, the laser tag arena at The Edge is home to over 14,000 square feet of pure adventure and adrenaline. Laser Rock is a multi-level arena featuring a variety of game formats that can play up to 60 people. Other well-known laser tag arena’s in Illinois include Laser X and WhirlyBall-both located in Chicago.

The Edge is located at 701 South Belt West in Belleville. Be sure to check out their website here

Paleontologists recently ceFossilized fishlebrated National Fossil Day, a day to educate populations about the scientific value of the study of fossils and the importance of preserving them for future generations. The nation recognizes National Fossil Day during Earth Science Week in October every year to promote public awareness of historic remains. Fossil discovery is not uncommon to Illinois. In fact, Illinois has recognized one particular fossil for being a unique state treasure.

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Scott’s law is named after Scott Gillen, a Lieutenant in the Chicago Fire Department who was struck by a drunk driver in December of 2000, while assisting at a crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway. He served 14 years on the department. According to the incident summary provided by the Chicago Fire Department, Gillen was dispatched to assist at an accident scene. Upon arrival, the fire department's truck positioned itself to protect the accident scene from traffic. Gillen was retrieving a piece of equipment from the truck when a passing car illegally crossed the center lane to cut in front of a semi-truck traveling in the outside lane. The car struck the semi-trailer truck, fatally injuring Gillen. While tragic, the incident inspired lawmakers to take action to improve safety conditions for first responders. As a result, “Scott’s law” was born.

Scott’s law is Illinois’s “move over” law. A move over law, requires all motorists to move over when they encounter any stopped or disabled vehicle or a vehicle that is displaying flashing warning lights. A person found to be in violation of Scott's law faces a fine of up to $10,000.The offender may be found to violate the move over law if they are driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs at the time of the violation. In addition, the law applies when motorists enter a highway construction area. Illinois has one of the strongest move over laws in the country because drivers are actually required to change lanes while in many other states the driver does not have to change lanes or the law is unclear. After a series of Scott’s law crashes in 2019, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law strengthening Scott's law to include every vehicle, not just emergency vehicles and tow trucks. Lawmakers also established a “move over” task force to study violations of Scott's Law and to help better protect emergency personnel working on highways and interstates. Illinois State Police also launched an interactive map showing detailed reports from each Scott's Law violation so drivers can be more aware on the roads. Despite being born of tragedy, laws like Scott’s law help keep Illinois first responders and construction workers safe each year.

Anyone seeking additional information can contact or call 217-782-6639.