URBANA — City council members delayed a decision on whether they want to name the federal courthouse in Urbana after James R. Burgess.
Some council members were ardently in favor of the resolution, and others wanted more information. Regardless of the city council's feeling, the decision ultimately will be up to the area's federal legislators and Congress.
Mr. Burgess, who died in 1997, was the first African-American 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 African-American armor unit to see combat in Europe.
Steve Burgess, Mr. Burgess' son, told the city council on Monday night that his father faced formidable challenges throughout his life that he quietly overcame. Burgess said his father showed "determination to be a free and equal individual, accepting no arbitrary limitations imposed by society."
Alderman Robert Lewis, D-Ward 3, said he and his father both knew Mr. Burgess.
"A man of integrity as he was, in my opinion, it would be foolish for us not to" ask that the federal courthouse be renamed, Lewis said.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox, D-Ward 4, said he needs more information about Mr. Burgess' history before he can make an informed decision. Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said he is not in favor of the resolution because he has not heard overwhelming support for the suggestion.
Alderwoman Healther Stevenson, R-Ward 6, said she does not think the council should be establishing a position on the issue at all.
"I do not believe this is a city council issue," she said.
To rename a federal courthouse, legislation must be introduced in the U.S. Senate or House. The resolution before the city council is essentially a formal request for Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk or Rep. Tim Johnson to do so.
Johnson and a Durbin spokesperson said in November that the two would review the request but did not promise they would support the resolution.