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History happens every day. The collections and exhibits at the Champaign County Historical Archives of the Urbana Free Library highlight our community’s rich history.

Through these collections, the archives aim to document daily life in Champaign County from 1833 to the present. Though books, microfilm and county records make up a large and well-loved portion of our materials, special collections comprise the vast majority of our holdings. These include papers and manuscripts from individuals; family history and genealogy research; administrative and programming records from organizations; and business records.

Special collections are important because they tend to document a specific family, organization or issue over an extended period of time through various media and record types. In July, the archives launched a call for a new special collection that will consist of community submissions that document racial and social justice movements in Champaign County.

Submissions may include photographs, voice recordings, videos, artwork, poetry, essays, reflections or anything else inspired by social- and racial-justice movements of the past or present. Our goal for this project is to provide a space for all voices to be heard equally.

The archives are no stranger to documenting social and racial justice in our community. Submissions to this new collection will augment and complement existing holdings, including eBlack Champaign-Urbana, the Urban League of Champaign County and various materials contributed by the League of Women Voters.

One significant collection that highlights local social-justice movements that was processed by archives staff in 2017 and is available to researchers is the “Progressive Resource Action Cooperative/Divest Now!” collection.

The cooperative was a grassroots social-justice organization that existed from 1985-2007. The impetus for the group’s formation was to provide a space for local involvement in the international outcry against apartheid in South Africa.

The group encouraged local businesses and major institutions, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to sever ties and divest funds from corporations that financially supported the racial segregation and oppression of the apartheid system in South Africa. In addition to the anti-apartheid movement, the gruop also participated in many local and international movements to support social-justice issues, including anti-war, women’s-rights, anti-violence and anti-racism causes.

The collection consists of over 20 boxes and includes memorabilia, correspondence, newsletters, press releases, posters, flyers and audio-visual materials.

To learn more about “Documenting Racial Justice in Champaign County,” visit For more information, feel free to contact archives staff at 217-367-4025 or

Donica Martin is director of archives and special collections at the Urbana Free Library.

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