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Black History Month
Finding history where it lives: Group works to document African-American history in Southern Illinois

Pepper Holder was looking for a group or organization that could collect documents from communities across Southern Illinois that tell the story of the region’s African-American heritage.

In doing so, he met Walter Ray, political papers archivist in the Special Collections Research Center at Morris Library, at a weekly men’s group.

Holder, of Carbondale, said this chance meeting was the beginning of a project called Reclaiming the African American Heritage of Southern Illinois. As part of the Special Collections Research Center, these documents and photos will be available to students, teachers, historians, journalists, television and film producers, authors, genealogists and members of the general public who want to learn more about Southern Illinois history. Those items will be at the library.

Ray and Pamela Smoot, an archivist and historian in the College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said they are looking for items that may not seem important.

The first items collected were funeral programs dated from 1980 to 2016 from Marlene Rivers of Grand Chain. The incidental things that people have contain a lot of history, Smoot said.

“We are trying to collect things while they can still be found,” Ray said.

A flyer for the project seeks the records of nonprofit organizations, businesses, churches, political groups, individuals and families that document the character of the community, the people who live and work there, as well as services they provide.

“We are looking for things that people may have in attics or under beds,” Smoot said.

The first church documents collected were from Mount Olive Baptist Church with the help of William “Bill” Perkins. Many items were sent to Perkins by Ron Kirby, who lives in Arizona, but grew up in Colp. Kirby has collected memorabilia from Colp, No. 9 and Dewmaine.

Kirby sent several boxes of items, including documents, personal papers, cards, photographs, church anniversary booklets and newspaper clippings for the three towns.

When Smoot asked about No. 9 and Dewmaine, Perkins told her she was in No. 9. At the time, Smoot was sitting in the fellowship hall at Mount Olive Baptist Church.

He explained that No. 9 was named after coal mine No. 9. Dewmaine was the location of mine No. 8. No. 9 has about 150 residents. Colp has about 200.

“You want to know why it’s set up like that? They didn’t want the blacks voting in city elections [in Colp],” Perkins said.

“We give churches the opportunity to have people bring things in to be evaluated to see if they want to donate the item or we need to scan it,” Ray said.

Holder believes the project is important — and urgent.

“We lost a woman in Villa Ridge who was 104, and we are losing more every day,” Holder said.

He added that younger generations may not hold on to things or may move them to other places.

No organization is too small to document, and groups that no longer exist are as important to history as ones that are still active.

For more information, call 618-453-2516 or email the Special Collections Research Center at

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Illinois lawmakers revisit gun legislation in wake of Florida school shooting

SPRINGFIELD — Advocates for gun control have renewed their push to require Illinois firearm stores to get state licenses, saying federal regulations don't go far enough to ensure sales are handled properly.

The state Senate last year advanced legislation to license gun dealers, but it stalled in the House due to opposition from gun rights groups, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The groups argued that licensing would increase the price of purchasing a firearm by as much as $300. To calm those fears, Democrats in the Senate advanced companion legislation on Wednesday to limit the cost of licensing fees to $1,000 for a five-year period.

Lawmakers are revisiting the measure in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed and others were wounded.

Some lawmakers are also calling for an outright ban on semi-automatic rifles to try to prevent mass shootings, an effort that has repeatedly failed in Illinois.

But supporters of the licensing bill have said the more widespread crisis is handgun violence that's permeated communities in Chicago.

"We react, as we should, when there is a horrific mass shooting, but every day in my district and across the Chicagoland area, young people are dying from gun violence," said sponsoring state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. "I would like to do something to try to stop that."

Opponents are arguing that those who sell guns are already licensed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which requires background checks.

Todd Vandermyde is a former lobbyist for the National Rifle Association who now represents a group of gun dealers called the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois. He said the state measure could prove to be expensive for small businesses.

"We already have a federal licensing standard and we think it works reasonably well," Vandermyde said.

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Moving costs chancellor paid back to SIUC were for his daughter's home

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University System President Randy Dunn says he was not aware that SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno used university dollars to cover his daughter and son-in-law’s move until the expenses came under review.

Last week, Montemagno announced in a statement on his blog that he had reimbursed the university for moving costs associated with his second home after a “misunderstanding.”

In an emailed statement, Dunn said he didn’t know the second home was occupied by Montemagno’s daughter and her family “until what time the moving expenses came under review at the university.”

The chancellor’s employment contract allotted $61,000 for “actual costs of expenses related to moving and storage, if needed, of household, personal, and professional office possessions from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Carbondale, Illinois.”

In January, campus newspaper The Daily Egyptian reported that Montemagno’s daughter and son-in-law, Melissa and Jeffrey Germain, were hired into positions that had been created for them as part of a verbal agreement with Montemagno during his contract negotiations in June 2017.

Montemagno owned two homes in Edmonton, according to Rae Goldsmith, chief marketing and communications officer at SIUC. One was a “furnished rental” that was rented to the Germains.

“The two homes in Alberta were consolidated into one home in Carbondale,” Goldsmith said in an email.

The total cost of moving his daughter’s household came to $16,076.45.

When moving costs for the two households exceeded $61,000, Montemagno paid the moving company $4,930.03 upfront. Goldsmith said Montemagno reimbursed the university for the remaining $11,146.42 on Feb. 9.

“The chancellor has said he understood that the language in the contract could be interpreted in multiple ways, and he wanted to remove an additional distraction that would take away from the focus on revitalizing the university,” Goldsmith said.

The $61,000 in Montemagno’s contract was intended to include the relocation of his personally owned laboratory equipment, according to Dunn. Montemagno had expressed a desire to donate the equipment to SIUC.

But Montemagno believed the relocation of the laboratory equipment would be funded separately, Goldsmith said.

“The chancellor negotiated the $61,000 based on the estimates he had received for moving the homes; his understanding was that the equipment would be considered separately,” Goldsmith said.

The relocation of the laboratory equipment is still pending.

“At some future point, the SIU Board of Trustees may take a separate vote on providing funding for moving the laboratory equipment after they review what the equipment is, its potential utilization by SIUC scientists and researchers, and the appropriate facilities to house the equipment,” Dunn said.

The hires of Montemagno's family members are currently under review by a state ethics agency.


SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno responds to a question during an interview on Aug. 28, 2017.

Trump says raise age for buying assault rifles, defying NRA

WASHINGTON — The nation should keep assault rifles out of the hands of anyone under 21, President Donald Trump declared Thursday, defying his loyal supporters in the National Rifle Association amid America's public reckoning over gun violence. He also pushed hard for arming security guards and many teachers in U.S. schools.

"There's nothing more important than protecting our children," Trump said, adding that he'd spoken with many members of Congress and NRA officials and insisting they would go along with his plans in the wake of last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

But there were no words of support from the NRA for his minimum-age proposal — and outright opposition from organizations of teachers and school security guards for the idea of arming schools to deal with intruders.

"The NRA will back it and so will Congress," Trump contended as he called for raising the legal age of purchase for "all" guns from 18 to 21. A spokesman later said Trump was speaking specifically about semi-automatic weapons. The president's proposal came just hours after the NRA affirmed its opposition, calling such a restriction an infringement on gun owners' rights.

Trump has spent the past two days listening to ideas about how to stem gun violence at schools after last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Wednesday, he heard from students and family members of those killed in recent shootings and on Thursday from local and state officials.

Trump has been proposing a growing list of ideas, including more stringent background checks for gun buyers, reopening some mental institutions to hold potential killers and banning "bump stock" devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic machine guns.

He said Thursday that many teachers have military experience and suggested they be paid bonuses for the added responsibility of carrying weapons. He also appeared open to other proposals to "harden" schools, such as fortifying walls and limiting entry points.

One idea he didn't like: the "active shooter" drills that some schools hold. He called that "a very negative thing" and said he wouldn't want his own son participating.

Spokesman Raj Shah later said Trump was concerned about the name and would prefer calling them safety drills.

In Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he now is open to raising age requirements for long-gun purchases. That was the day after he was confronted at a CNN town hall by Parkland students and parents over his pro-gun votes and support from the NRA.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, another Republican, told reporters during a visit to the Kansas Statehouse that he supported raising age requirements, saying: "Certainly, nobody under 21 should have an AR-15."

NRA leaders emerged in unannounced appearances at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, blaming the FBI and local reporting failures for the Florida shooting.

"Evil walks among us and God help us if we don't harden our schools and protect our kids," said Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. "The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous."

NRA officials also accused Democrats and media outlets of exploiting the Florida shooting.

"Many in legacy media love mass shootings," spokeswoman Dana Loesch said at CPAC. "Now I'm not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold."

She and LaPierre did not mention the age requirement issue in their fiery remarks at CPAC. But Loesch said Wednesday night the NRA opposes the higher minimum age for rifles because, "if we are asking young men and women to go and serve their country (in the military) they should be able to also have a firearm."

She added, "I'm also thinking of young women" who may need a rifle for self-protection.

The NRA was an early supporter of Trump's campaign, and it remains unclear how far the president will go to cross them.

Shortly before LaPierre took the stage, Trump offered a rallying cry on Twitter, calling NRA leaders "Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing."

"I don't think I'll be going up against them," he said of the politically influential group. "I really think the NRA wants to do what's right."

In Congress, a bill being drafted by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., would apply more broadly than just to assault rifles such as the AR-15 used in the Florida shootings. It would raise the age requirements for all rifles.

In the end, Trump did not stray too far from conservative Republican orthodoxy. His focus when it comes to background checks is on mental health concerns and not loopholes that permit loose private gun sales on the internet and at gun shows. And he remains opposed to a full ban on assault rifles, Shah said.

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he was skeptical the president would follow though.

"The last time he showed support for sensible gun reform — no fly, no buy — he quickly dropped his support once the NRA opposed it. I hope this time will be different," Schumer said in a statement, referring to a measure backed by Democrats to prevent people on a terrorism-related "no fly" list from buying guns.