Happy Birthday, John Jones!

John Jones, portrait by Mosher & Baldwin, 1882, courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

When I visited Springfield, Illinois last summer, I found a very interesting plaque at the Old State House downtown. It told the story of John Jones and his activism against Illinois’s Black Laws, a set of legal codes that pertained only to black people, and, as you likely and immediately supposed,  were terribly oppressive. Such laws have a long history in the United States and as long as they’ve been around, lovers of justice have been around to fight them. John Jones was one such person.

Born on November 3rd, 1816 to an American black mother and German white father, Jones had to make his own way early in the world. Jones’ mother did not trust his father to do right by his son so she apprenticed him to a tailor when he was very young. The resourceful Jones taught himself to read and write and, having learned what he needed to, he released himself from the tailor’s service by age 27. He then obtained official free papers for himself and his wife, née Mary Jane Richardson, and secured their freedom to live and travel by posting a $1,000 bond in 1844. While he and his wife were both born free, they had to worry about the numerous ‘fugitive’ slave catchers and kidnappers prowling around, all too happy to capture as many black persons as they could get ahold of, passing them off as escaped slaves in exchange for a substantial payoff.

The Joneses moved to Chicago from Alton, Illinois in 1845, where there was an established community of black entrepreneurs and therefore, more opportunities for families such as theirs. Jones worked hard and savvily, building up a very successful tailoring business and amassing an impressive fortune within just a few years. The Joneses used their success to help their fellow black citizens, making their home one of the key Chicago stops on the Underground Railroad. Jones poured much of his money and time into civil rights activism, working for the abolitionist cause and to overturn the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the already decades-old Black Laws of Illinois, sometimes with his fellow autodidact and activist Frederick Douglass. For the rest of his life, Jones was a prominent intellectual, moral, religious, and political leader in the black community of Chicago and beyond.

Learn more about the courageous civil rights leader John Jones at:

John Jones (1816–1879): Activist, politician, tailor, entrepreneur  ~ by Jessie Carney Smith for Encyclopedia.com

Jones, John ~ by Cynthia Wilson for Blackpast.org

Historical placard for John Jones, Old State House, Springfield, Illinois

*A version of this piece was previously published at Ordinary Philosophy

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Photobook: Marker and Train Station Where Abraham Lincoln’s Body Returned to Springfield, Illinois on May 3rd, 1865

Marker for Lincoln’s funeral train in the summer evening light, at the Springfield Train Station at 100 N. 3rd Street, Springfield, Illinois

Last year, I visited Springfield, Illinois to follow the life and ideas of Abraham Lincoln while following in his footsteps. The last Springfield site associated with Lincoln that I visited on July 29th, 2017 was the train station at 100 N. 3rd St. The brick station, though plain, has clearly been spruced up since the photos featured on Google Maps, dated 2007, that I find on the day I write this. There’s now a shady porch over the outdoor waiting platform, new paint and benches, and a handsome stone marker signed by Katie Spindell.

The marker commemorates the May 3rd, 1865 arrival of the funeral train carrying Lincoln’s assassinated body. He lies buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery, in the city where he established his legal and political careers, married, and raised a family. Read more about my Lincoln travels in articles linked here, or listen to the podcast versions.

Springfield Train Station at 100 N. 3rd Street, Springfield, Illinois

Screenshot of 2007 Google Maps image of the N. 3rd Street train station in Springfield, IL

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New Podcast Episode: New Salem, in Search of Abraham Lincoln

Statue of Abraham Lincoln as surveyor at New Salem, Illinois

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

New Salem, Sunday, July 31st, 2017

From the Michael J. Howlett building in downtown Springfield (part of which stands on the site of the Ninian Edwards house where Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were married and where Mary died), I head northwest on highway 97 to New Salem Historic Park. This is the site of New Salem, the small frontier commercial village which played no small role in Lincoln’s life as a young man striking out on his own. It’s a pleasant drive through farmland with homes and farm buildings and gas stations and tiny general stores scattered here and there. In a little under half an hour, I reach a wooded area, and soon after that, take the turnout to my left to New Salem. I stop for a snack at the little cafe offering a modest selection of hot dogs, nachos, sandwiches, and other things that take the edge off but don’t suffice as a meal. The park’s visitor center buildings are all closed because the air conditioning system isn’t working. I don’t blame them at all for not opening up: it feels very much like a summer day in the Midwest, hot and humid, and I imagine a full day indoors would get stuffy and miserable. But the park itself is open to roam, so I do… Read the written version here

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New Podcast Episode: Springfield, Illinois, in Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 5

Downstairs hallway in the Lincoln Home with the Lincolns’ original hatstand – but no, not Abe’s original hat

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 30th, 2017

I sleep in then linger over a continental breakfast-of-sorts in my rented room as I catch up on some rest, writing, and research. When I finally bestir myself in earnest, I head over to D’arcy’s Pint to enjoy a local delicacy for lunch. My brother John lived in Springfield for a time some years ago and told me I must eat a horseshoe while I’m in town. The internet tells me that this gastropub is the best place to enjoy this decadent regional take on the open-face sandwich, so here I am. I order a full-size one with the works, spicy, and a pint to wash it down with. They bring me a small mountain on a plate composed of Texas toast, french fries, ground meats, chopped tomatoes and other veggies, and cheese sauce, the spiciness added at the discretion of the diner from the little cup of (mildly) hot sauce on the side. It’s tasty enough, I can’t deny, and the cheese sauce is very good and appears to be homemade, not at all like the waxy bright yellow kind that comes from a can or jar. But it’s not the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten: it’s really starchy. Potatoes and bread in one dish? Hmmm. Still, it’s plenty good enough to pack up the other half to eat later. The physically-demanding, hiking-heavy portion of my journey is far enough behind me now that I just can’t digest a heavy meal of this size all at once… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Springfield, Illinois, in Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 4

Site of Stuart & Lincoln law office at Hoffman’s Row, Springfield, Illinois

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017, continued

I leave the Myers Building at the former site of Joshua Fry Speed’s store and Abraham Lincoln’s last law office on S 5th Street, and head north, crossing E Washington St, and continue halfway up the block. On my left (west), at 109 N 5th St / NW Old State Capitol Plaza, is a historical marker for the Stuart & Lincoln Law Office. John Todd Stuart was Lincoln’s first law partner, the man from whom he borrowed the law books he needed for his legal training, and his future wife Mary Todd’s first cousin. Lincoln received his license to practice law two years after he began his studies, and joined Stuart’s law practice as a junior partner in April of 1837. He was living over Speed’s store, having moved here to Springfield to embark on his legal career, so he walked more or less the same route to get to work as I walk today from the Myers Building… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Photobook: Jameson Jenkins and the ‘Slave Stampede’ Rescue

Jameson Jenkins’ lot in the Lincoln Home National Historic Site National Park in Springfield, Illinois, on 8th street next to the Henson Robinson House. On January 17th, 1850, Jenkins helped a group of 11 slaves escape northward, planting false rumors so that local papers would confuse the story and thus help the refugees evade capture. Jenkins was a drayman, and according to SangamonLink: History of the County of Sangamon, Illinois, ‘On Feb. 11, 1861, Jameson Jenkins drove [his near-neighbor] President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his last Springfield carriage ride, from the Chenery House at Fourth and Washington Streets to the Great Western Railroad depot — now the Lincoln Depot — as Lincoln began his trip to Washington, D.C.’.

The historical placard at Jameson Jenkins’ lot. The photograph is at an angle because the glare was so bright on the direct shots that most of the text and images were obscured

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Springfield, Illinois, In Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois. The Museum is to the left, the Library is to the right

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017, continued

After my visit to the Lincoln Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery and a quick stop to drop off my luggage at the room where I’ll be staying, I continue my Springfield journey downtown at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, at 112 N. Sixth St. It’s a large complex, the two public buildings each stretching the length of one city block along N. Sixth St. It has a very late-1990’s – early 2000’s style, neither particularly handsome nor offensive in my view, just… generic. I associate it with municipal buildings such as city halls, branch libraries, and large post offices, perhaps because so many were built in this general style in my native California throughout my teens and early adulthood.

I start with the Museum at the northeast corner of N. Sixth and E. Jefferson… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!