From Slavery to Glory: African Americans Come to Aurora, Illinois 1850-1920

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From Slavery to Glory: African Americans Come to Aurora, Illinois 1850-1920. By Dennis Buck. (Aurora, IL: River Street Press 2005. Pp. 207. Illustrations, maps, index. Paper, $18.95)

Clear and well-written, Dennis Buck's From Slavery to Glory is an admirable addition to the publications of the Aurora Historical Society. Divided into four chapters, an introduction, bibliography, and detailed appendix consisting of Aurora's African American population from 1850 to 1880, 1900 to 1920, the book is brief (only 207 pages long).

About forty miles west of Chicago, Aurora was established on the banks of the Fox River. Initially settled by residents of Ohio, New York and other northern states, the town rapidly developed as a local trading, transportation and manufacturing center. By 1850, its population had reached 1200 - including two African American residents.

Black Americans, however, had played a part in Aurora from its beginnings - at least, in the abstract. Both it and surrounding Kane County were viewed as hostile to slavery. In 1848, for example, the members of the town's Presbyterian Church redefined themselves as Congregationalists after the general assembly of the former refused to condemn the South's "Peculiar Institution." Even the local Democratic newspaper, the Guardian, carried occasional editorials and articles denouncing slavery. In 1853, the paper approvingly reported, "17 passengers passed through this place on the'U. G. R. R. [the Underground Railroad]' and we saw one ... making for the depot about car time (70)." When the Civil War finally came, one out of every three men in Aurora served in the Union army.

With the abolition of slavery, white Aurorans faced a conundrum. …