WASHINGTON — Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, Wednesday introduced legislation to designate the U.S. Post Office at 302 E. Green St. in Champaign as the "James R. Burgess Jr. Post Office Building."
Burgess was the first African-American elected to countywide office in Champaign County (in 1972, as state's attorney), and later served as a U.S. attorney in East St. Louis. Burgess also was commander of an African-American armored unit in World War II in the European theater.
His son Steve, a resident of Urbana, originally had sought to have the federal courthouse in Urbana named for his late father.
That effort encountered resistance, and Steve Burgess said today he supported honoring his father with the Campustown-area post office building "because of its proximity and use by university students and the community. My father was a graduate of the UI law school in 1965."
Steve Burgess said he is "extremely humbled and grateful by the actions of our representatives in Washington to honor my dad, who was certainly a trailblazer during his time. I would especially thank Congressman Rodney Davis for listening and supporting my cause and honoring my dad. It is my hope that his life story and accomplishments will be an inspiration to generations of this community for years to come."
Davis, elected last November, has been serving Champaign-Urbana in the new 13th Congressional District for about three months. He said naming the post office for James Burgess "is but a small token of our gratitude" for his service to the United States.
"I'm pleased to have the opportunity to honor James R. Burgess, an inspiring individual and an American hero," said Davis. "Since James' passing in 1997, his son, Steve, and many others in Champaign-Urbana have looked for ways to commemorate the achievements of his life. Naming this building after him is but a small token of our gratitude for his service."
"I am proud to introduce this measure to honor Mr. Burgess, an accomplished Illinois war veteran and public servant," said Durbin. "I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to complete the effort long-undertaken by his loving son, Steve, and family to honor this worthy Illinoisan and patriotic American."
"James Burgess fought bravely as part of the first African-American armored Battalion to deploy during the Second World War," Senator Kirk said. "With this building, we remember his contribution to defending our freedom and protecting American values."
James R. Burgess Jr. was born on Dec. 19, 1915 in Algood, Tenn., and served more than 20 years in the Army.
After leaving the service in 1962, Burgess moved his wife and two sons to Champaign so that he could attend law school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he graduated three years later as the only African-American in his class.