Last week, in this space, I talked about the state’s bicentennial and what it means.
It turns out I overlooked one major local force when it comes to history and the State of Illinois — John A. Logan.
I had a nice conversation this week with P. Michael Jones, director of the Logan Museum in Murphysboro, about Logan and what he means to state history — and really how important Logan is in the national conversation.
He pointed out many things to me, like the fact that Illinois had three major players in the Civil War — the president of the United States in Abraham Lincoln, a prominent U.S. Army general in Ulysses S. Grant, and an important volunteer Army commander in John A. Logan. Those same three people are the only ones mentioned in the official Illinois state song:
“Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,
Can be writ the nation's glory, Illinois, Illinois,
On the record of thy years,
Abraham Lincoln's name appears, Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois.”
(That’s only one verse of the song, and I bet you didn’t know we had a state song. I didn’t.)
We also talked about Memorial Day and the upcoming 150th anniversary of the national holiday — Logan issued General Order No. 11 in 1868 while he was Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday.
But the thing that fascinates me — and has always fascinated me — about Logan is his transformation as a person.
Early in Logan’s political career, he was a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jones said that one of his goals as congressman was to keep black people out of Illinois. In fact, in 1853, Logan helped pass a law to prohibit all African-Americans, including freedmen, from settling in Illinois.
But the Civil War seemed to have changed Logan, who resigned his congressional seat to serve in the war.
In 1867, Logan was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, this time as a Republican (also remember that the terms “Democrat” and “Republican” are way different today than they were then). In 1871, we was elected as a senator, again as a Republican.
His views had changed, as he was quoted as saying at one time, “I would rather have a negro sit beside me in the legislature,” and “a colored person in the White House would not be amiss.”
This was some 150-plus years ago.
At the time, I’m sure there were some people who thought (as would be the same thought today) that Logan transformed like this for the sole reason of receiving votes. But if that were the case, then why would the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass have said this: “No man has been bolder and truer to the cause of the colored man and to the country, than has John A. Logan.”
The point here is this: If a man could change 150 years ago, we can still change today. We still have time to get rid of some the hate that’s taking over our great country.
There’s something else to think about here as well — let’s not forget what Logan means to us as a community and as a state.
We’re going to celebrate the bicentennial of the state over the next year, and Logan needs to be a part of that. Plus, let’s not forget that the Memorial Day holiday is celebrating its sesquicentennial. Word has it there’s going to be some pretty cool events coming to Murphysboro and Carbondale in May.
In the meantime, go check out the Logan Museum in Murphysboro. It truly is, in my mind, one of the hidden gems in Southern Illinois.