#139: The Beginning of Pembroke Township with the Kankakee County Museum

In today’s episode of the Kankakee Podcast, we delve deep into the roots of Pembroke Township, exploring the rich African American heritage and the transformation of this unique community. So buckle up as we embark on a journey through time with tales of triumph, survival, and enduring legacy.

The Dawn of Freedom in Kankakee

Our trip down memory lane begins with a celebration of freedom. Alex Slotrack, a freed man before the Civil War settled in the Kankakee area, marked a momentous occasion in 1870. The passage of the 15th amendment, granting African Americans the right to vote, was a cause for jubilation—a milestone Alex celebrated by parading through town, courtesy of Leroy Payne’s livery stable. “It was a day of jubilation and an assertion of newfound rights,” recounts guest Jack Klasey.

The Great Migration’s Northern Star

As the Great Migration swept many from the South to the Northern states, Kankakee became a beacon of opportunity and escape from the oppression of Jim Crow laws. “Pembroke, with its promise of safety and subsistence farming, attracted many from Chicago and other areas,” adds guest Jory Walters. This movement was not just about relocation but survival and seeking a better life amidst challenging times.

Pembroke’s Modern Challenges

Fast forward to today, and Pembroke faces very different challenges. Lack of a tax base and businesses has deteriorated roads and infrastructure, as Lupe notes, “It’s tough seeing such a significant part of our history suffer from modern neglect.” Yet, through hardships, Pembroke has seen development with natural gas introduction and the establishment of farms like Black Oak Farm which have piqued local interest.

An Education Beacon: The Lorenzo Smith Legacy

Education in Pembroke has seen its luminaries, with the highlight being Lorenzo Smith, the region’s first black teacher who rose to become the superintendent. A 22-room elementary school built in 1960 bears his name, a testament to his contributions. “His story is one of resilience and dedication to teaching,” Jake remarks.

Historical Insights and Museum Treasures

The Kankakee County Museum plays a vital role in preserving the narratives of Pembroke Township’s African American community. From the Tedder family tree to the pioneering journalism of Virginia Porter, the museum’s exhibit on the African American experience is a treasure trove for researchers and history enthusiasts alike.

“But one of the most compelling stories we’re exploring today is the potential connection of Pembroke to the Underground Railroad. While there’s no concrete evidence, it’s a hypothesis that stirs the imagination,” Jack ponders.

The Echo of History in the Kankakee Podcast

As our episode wraps up, we reflect on Pembroke’s influence on American culture and history—from its potential role in the journey to freedom to being a hub during the Prohibition era, where African American musicians found unlikely allies in mob figures like Al Capone.

“Despite the dark times, it’s remarkable how history reveals complexity. Capone’s protective stance towards talented black musicians shows us a nuanced tale of the era,”

Every story from Pembroke Township adds to the rich tapestry of Kankakee County’s history. We’re continuously amazed at the impact of these narratives, brought to life through personal recollections, historical records, and community efforts.

Conclusion: A Community Carved in History

As the Kankakee Podcast unfolds the past and present of Pembroke Township, we’re reminded of the power of storytelling and community memory in shaping our understanding of history. We’re grateful to our sponsors and Pathfinder marketing agency for producing content that shines a light on these vital stories.

And to our listeners, if you relished this historical journey featuring Alex Slotrack, Jake Lee, and the inimitable spirit of Pembroke Township, don’t forget to subscribe to the Kankakee Podcast. Your engagement and support make this homage to local history possible.

Signing off, this is Jake LaMore, with a sincere appreciation for our community’s heritage and an invitation to keep exploring the stories that define Kankakee County. Stay tuned, and remember—our past informs our present and inspires our future.

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