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Book chronicles lives, final resting places of area's first black residents
By Jerry Turnquist | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/5/2010 12:00 AM

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"This is everything I know about this subject in one book," said Elgin historian and genealogist, Raleigh Sutton about his third book "African American Cemetery Guide."

Subtitled "Four Generations of the Pioneer Families of Bluff City, Channing, Aurora, Batavia and other locations," the book is a compilation of biographies and final resting places of the area's earliest African-Americans.

Sutton says he began working on the book after Judy Brownfield owner of Books at Sunset in Elgin, asked him to help organize an African-American cemetery tour. The project, which later evolved into Sutton's book, drew upon more than 25 years of research he had been doing on these early settlers.

Sutton says he first became interested in researching the area's African-Americans more than a quarter-century ago when working at a memorabilia store in downtown Elgin. A man came into the business looking for a particular trading card, notes Sutton.

While he was unable to help the collector, it did lead to his contact with Denise Bell and other members of the Elgin African-American community. With their help and encouragement, Sutton embarked on research that would eventually lead to his first two publications about the area's African-Americans.

His newest book, some 108 pages, is filled with biographies of varying lengths of nearly 300 men, women and children - many who were the first to arrive in the area during the Civil War. Organized by cemetery, the publication has detailed maps showing the location where each person is buried.

Included in the book are people like former slave Mollie Brown, born in Missouri, who was sold three times before she finally escaped with a circus and found her way to Chicago. Also included

is the story of Abraham Newsome, born in North Carolina, who became a founder of Elgin's St. James A.M.E. Church and patriarch of the Black community.

Others include nearly two dozen African-American Civil War veterans buried in the Grand Army Republic, or G.A.R., section of Bluff City Cemetery. Besides Elgin cemeteries, Sutton's publication includes information for people buried at Lakewood Cemetery, east of Elgin, as well as cemeteries in Aurora and Batavia.

"The information in this book was painstakingly compiled by years of looking through old newspapers," explains Sutton. Much of the data also came from information from cemetery records at Bluff City Cemetery where Sutton is quick to credit the staff for all their help and cooperation.

Along with the individual accounts, Sutton's book also outlines the story of the first former slaves to arrive in Elgin during the Civil War. It also traces difficulties their children faced in attending area schools as well as housing and job challenges facing African-Americans.

As to the future, Sutton says he plans to gather data from area residents about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. "There are many stories that need to be recorded. I'd also like to teach a class about our area African-Americans to others. In addition to all I researched, I've lived through much of history myself," he says.

Copies of Sutton's book, which is being published in limited quantities, are being given to the Elgin Area Historical Society and to the Second Baptist Church of Elgin which will distribute them to some other area churches. They are also available at Books at Sunset on the Elgin's west side.