SPRINGFIELD – Members of the Illinois Underground Railroad Task Force had its first meeting where they selected State Senator Dave Koehler and State Representative Debbie Meyers-Martin as co-chairs, and outlined its findings from the first meeting and goals for the coming months.

“This task force will bring a better understanding of how the Underground Railroad operated, as slaves escaped the south for freedom and a better life in Illinois,” said Koehler (D-Peoria). “By giving Illinoisans a clear understanding of the past, we are creating a greater future.”

The Illinois Underground Railroad Task Force was created through legislation championed by Koehler last year – Senate Bill 1623. The task force will create a statewide plan to connect existing local projects and new projects to create a cohesive statewide history of the Underground Railroad in Illinois, while establishing new educational and tourism opportunities.

“The history of Underground Railroad is one of freedom, bravery and community. Because of its geographical location, Illinois has a robust history of sites, communities and individuals who helped on or used the Underground Railroad for a network of freedom,” said Jenn Edginton, interim director of the Illinois State Museum. “This task force will help explore more ways to bring this history to light.”

The task force – which held its first meeting Tuesday – is comprised of people from a number of organizations and agencies – like the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois State Historical Society.

Following its introductory meeting, members of the task force held the press conference to highlight how it will determine historical sites, connections they have to one another, and create a picture to recognize the history of the Underground Railroad.

“It’s time we bring to light our history that led us to where we are today,” said State Senator Doris Turner (D-Springfield). “Illinois played a crucial role in freeing slaves and we need to recognize the pioneers who fought for the rights of African Americans, giving them the freedom and justice they deserved.”

The task force will continue to meet throughout the next few months and will submit a report and recommendations to the General Assembly and governor by July 1.