Carver Center important in life of Galesburg

Tracking History

Tom Wilson
NEWS

Sunday, November 6, 2005

To understand how Carver Center became part of Galesburg's lifestyle it is best to go back to December 1942.

A Galesburg newspaper article declared that Galesburg was going to have company and must get ready for it on a big scale. Camp Ellis, a military training center with 50,000 soldiers, opened south of Galesburg, near the Spoon River in Fulton County. Nearly 4,000 of the soldiers were black and a suitable USO Recreation Center was needed to accommodate the black soldiers and their spouses. The facility was completed in early 1944. George Washington Carver Service Center would be used for local community programs when not being used by the soldiers.

John Early, the first president of the board of directors pointed out that everyone in the community was cooperative. Early said it was one of the best things that could have happened for the black community in Galesburg. He further said it had a lot to do with bringing the community together.

The first constitution of Carver Community Center listed the intended purposes as adopted by the original board. "The purpose of the Organization shall be to promote religious, civic, cultural, industrial recreational interest and activities; to serve all ages and both sexes; to direct character building and community betterment programs among the Negro citizens and provide service to Military Personnel of Galesburg and Knox County, Illinois. It shall aim to merit continued support of citizens of Galesburg and Knox County and of various religious, civic, welfare, educational, industrial and municipal agencies of the City of Galesburg and Knox County in the development of its objectives and work. Its character shall be non-partisan, interracial, non-sectarian and not operated for financial profit."

Unfortunately, in 1946 federal government officials announced that funds would no longer be available for operating the USO Center. Galesburg officials immediately began negotiations with the Federal Works Administration to buy the building and finance the operation through the Community Chest. On July 19, 1946, the city of Galesburg and the Federal Works Administration completed a deed that transferred ownership to the city. The transfer for $6,000 was subject to a condition that the city continuously use the property as a Negro recreation center for a period of not less than five years.

Carver Center became home to dances, dinners and a variety of social events. The programs were well received by both the soldiers and the public. The original budget was $9,500, with about half coming from the Community Chest, the forerunner of today's United Way.

Many famous people have visited Carver Center, including Olympic track star Jesse Owens in 1950, boxer Joe Louis in 1952 gospel singer Mahalia Jackson in 1960 and jazz musician Louis Armstrong in 1961.

In the 1970s, Carver Center expanded it's purpose to meet the changing and challenging needs of Galesburg and the area. Carver Center and its staff, many volunteers, has provided energy, rental assistance and social services to low-income residents.

George Washington Carver Community Service Center did in the beginning and continues today to serve education, social and recreational voids that occur in our city. Carver Center is not just a building on Depot Street, it is people of all races and religions and should not be taken for granted.

Tom Wilson is a local historian. Write to him at wilsont29@insightbb.com or at The Register-Mail, 140 S. Prairie St., Galesburg, IL 61401.

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