Kane County History: Notable Black Americans From Elgin, IL

Kane County History: Notable Black Americans From Elgin, IL

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Elizabeth Marston, director of the Elgin History Museum, and adapted from “Elgin’s Black Heritage,” by E. C. Alft, local Elgin historian.

There are many remarkable Black figures in Elgin history. People who shaped the community while being subjected to racism and discrimination.

Most local history museums tell the story of their town’s development from the angle of the wealthy, connected and powerful people who first owned the land and businesses.

But equally important is the story of the regular person, trapped in the confines of their own time and status in history, who make an impact on local, regional and national levels.

Here are a few people you should know:

The Hall Family

Second Baptist Church in Elgin with early Elgin residents, including the Hall Family.

Mary Newsome came to Elgin as a baby on the Contraband train during the Civil War.

In 1882, Mary married John H. C. Hall, a free man from Chicago and the son of the Rev. A. T. Hall.

John served with the 29th U. S. Colored Infantry guarding Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas in Chicago during the war. John opened a barber shop with one of his younger brothers in Elgin.

Mary Newsome Wheeler and her son, Pete, on Emancipation Day or Juneteenth Celebration, 1937.

John Hall’s significance is from his willingness to participate in public life. He is the first Black person to be called for Kane County jury service and the first to run for Elgin City Council.

There was some amazement in 1887, when John was accepted as a member for the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic, and a white applicant was rejected.

Arthur (Pete) Hall was the son of John and Mary. He was a tackle on the Elgin High School football team of 1900, which held all their opponents scoreless until they ventured up to Minnesota and were overwhelmed by the Minneapolis Central.

The next year, Pete was elected team captain, and in 1903 became the first Black male to receive an Elgin High School diploma. With no good jobs in Elgin, Pete left for St. Paul, MN, in 1906 to train as a barber with his half-brother, Ed Hall.

Fond of music, Pete managed a professional quartet for many years and directed the senior choir at his church. He also composed verses for Black periodicals. One poem remembered his mother, Mary, on her birthday:

Another mile-stone, Mother,
And like the others, it will bring you:
A richer sweetness in each tender smile,
A wiser understanding of the faults in friends,
A deeper reverence for his God, the while
A greater love from me.

After the death of John Hall, the former Mary Newsome marred Lewis Wheeler. A son of this second marriage, Eugene L. Wheeler, served as a ward room cook in the U.S. Navy from 1917 to 1921 on ships transporting troops to and from France. (Negroes were at that time barred from becoming seamen.)

Mary Wheeler American War Mothers Group.

In 1945, when a local unit of the War Mothers was formed, it was named the Mary Wheeler War Mother’s Club in honor of the child born in slavery, the wife of a Civil War soldier, and the mother of a veteran of the First World War.

John Hall’s brother, Gus Hall, had a son named Lloyd A. Hall. He was born in Elgin in 1894 and attended Wing School through the sixth grade, when the family moved downriver to Aurora. Lloyd Hall graduated from East Aurora High School and then received a degree from Northwestern University.

After initial failures in finding a job, he was hired by the Western Electric Company over the telephone, only to be rejected when he reported for duty.

Dr. Lloyd A. Hall eventually became an industrial chemist and director of research for Griffith Laboratories, where he worked from 1925 to 1959.

Dr. Lloyd A. Hall, chemist.

Listed in Who’s Who in America, he was granted more than 100 patents and became widely known in the fields of biological and food chemistry for his work in preserving food, such as meat curing products, seasonings, emulsions, baking products, antioxidants, and protein hydrolysates.

When Dr. Hall was beginning his career in the 1920s, it was believed that spices preserved food, but Hall found that most spices, like cloves, ginger, and pork powder, held large amounts of dangerous molds, yeast, and bacteria.

He found a way to remove mixtures and gases by subjecting the food to a vacuum and then adding ethylenoxide gas into a vacuum chamber. “Vacuga” sterilization treatment was later applied to drugs, hospital supplies, and cosmetic supplies.

The 20th century scientific contributions made by Dr. Lloyd Hall made him one of America’s top food chemists. He died Jan. 2, 1971.

Thanks to the Hall Family of Elgin for their significant contributions over 100 years and three generations.

Elgin History Museum Reopens July 8!

The Elgin History Museum will be re-opening on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, with regular hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Two floors of exhibits located in the stately 1856 Greek Revival Old Main building will take you through Elgin’s development as a city.

Admission is $3 for the general public and free for members.

Read The Kane County History Series!

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