Majority on council back naming courthouse for Burgess; final vote next week

URBANA — A majority of Urbana City Council members on Monday night said they hope to see James R. Burgess' name affixed to the federal courthouse.

They voted for a resolution that urges U.S. lawmakers to initiate the courthouse-naming process at the federal level. Burgess' son, Steve Burgess, has been leading the effort to name the courthouse after his father, a bill that would eventually have to be signed into law by the President of the United States.

Burgess, who died in 1997, was the first black man to be elected to a countywide office in Champaign County. He was elected state's attorney in 1972 and was appointed a U.S. attorney in 1977. He also was a commander of the World War II tank battalion that was the first black armor unit to see combat in Europe.

The city council will take a final vote on the resolution next week. If approved, it only signals to the area's U.S. lawmakers that they want to see action on the federal level.

"I'd like to see our legislators respond and do the right thing," said Robert Lewis, D-Ward 2.

A number of pastors from area Baptist churches told the council last week that they would like to see the resolution approved. Some were present again Monday.

"I think he certainly isn't all things to all people and isn't a saint maybe ... but the story of him rising to do things that in his day people said he couldn't do" is compelling, said Brandon Bowersox, D-Ward 4.

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