City of Pekin, IL


Press Release: Pekin Community High School Project Focus on Nance Legins-Costley


Event Will Recognize Pekin Community High School Class Projects Focused On Nance Legins-Costley History And Legacy

PEKIN, IL: City of Pekin Mayor Mary Burress and Tazewell County Clerk & Recorder of Deeds John C. Ackerman will host a Joint Press Conference on Thursday, June 1, at 11:00am at the Holman Center at Pekin Community High School to recognize the staff and students for their class work this past year concerning the history and legacy of Nance Legins-Costley, a historical Pekin resident and first enslaved individual emancipated by Abraham Lincoln. Pekin Community High School, the Pekin Public Library, and the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society will also post on their websites a link to the artwork, poetry, inspirational quotes, and video biography created by the students this past year:

This class work was inspired by the upcoming June 17 dedication in Downtown Pekin of the first memorial nationwide to Nance Legins-Costley and her son William Costley. The dedication is the focus of this year's Tazewell County Juneteenth Celebration and will feature Keynote Speakers Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lisa Holder White and author Carl Adams. The event will take place in the Pocket Park in the 400 block of Court Street in Downtown Pekin beginning at 10:00am and will be free and open to all interested.

This Press Conference on Thursday, June 1, at 11:00am will include recognition remarks by Tazewell County Clerk John C. Ackerman, Pekin Mayor Mary Burress, and NAACP Peoria Branch President Pastor Marvin Hightower with the Pekin Community High School Staff and Administration in attendance. Additionally the projects themselves will be available for review. The website featuring this collection of class work will be made public following the Press Conference and will be available to inspire the community to attend the Nance Legins-Costley and William Costley Memorial Dedication Event as well as other Central Illinois Juneteenth Events planned around this vital national historical event. Here again is the link to the webpage created by the Pekin Community High School Students:

Nance Legins-Costley was born into slavery when Illinois was still a territory. As such, she lived in slavery following Illinois' statehood and was sold several times before settling in Pekin. At age 14 she began legal challenges to her status as a slave, and in 1841 then young attorney Abraham Lincoln took her case before the Illinois Supreme Court, successfully gaining her freedom. She lived the majority of her life in Pekin, moving to Peoria in old age to live with her daughter. Her gravesite in Moffitt Cemetery was paved over and as such their currently is no monument to her life.

Her eldest son William Costley is recognized as the first male enslaved individual emancipated by Abraham Lincoln by the same legal action the secured his mother's freedom. He later enlisted in the Union Army, was injured in battle in Virginia but returned to his unit, the famed 29th Colored Infantry Regiment, when it was redeployed to Texas. On June 19 1865 the 29th Colored Infantry marched into Galveston Texas under the command of General Gordon Granger and posted the Emancipation Proclamation in the Public Square, an act that officially liberated the last stronghold of slavery within the United States and caused a citywide celebration we today mark as the National and State Holiday of Juneteenth. No monument exist in Illinois currently honoring the memory of William Costley, and nationally only his gravesite in Rochester Minnesota exist, in which his name is misspelled.