Jacksonville has a number of interesting claims, including being the home to the Eli Bridge Company, which manufactures Ferris wheels and other amusement rides.
But there are two intriguing figures in the city’s hsitory that deserve exploration. One is Benjamin Grierson, who came to Jacksonville as a music teacher and band leader in 1851. He would become a successful Civil War era general and command the the 10th Cavalry — the Buffalo Soldiers.
When TNT produced the documentary “Buffalo Soldiers,” it included this: “The only White officer who supports the unit is Regimental Commanding Officer Colonel Benjamin Grierson. Ostracized by other officers for his enthusiastic command of the African-American troops, Grierson believes in the abilities, dedication, and record of performance of the Buffalo Soldiers and declines offers to lead at any other post. General Pike offers to relieve Grierson ‘of this self-imposed exile and have him commanding a real cavalry regiment within a month,’ but Grierson refuses.”
In 1983, Bob Marley and King Sporty wrote the song “Buffalo Soldier,” which kept the squad’s history alive in recent generations.
Another interesting figure in Jacksonville history is the late Ken Norton, who is best known for breaking Muhammad Ali’s jaw in a 1973 title fight. In his early days, Norton led Jacksonville High to the state football title and was a dominant track & field star. In a dual meet with another track power, Coach Al Rosenberger entered Norton in eight events — from sprints and hurdles to relays to jumps and throws. Norton won seven of the events and the Illinois coaches’ association got together to institute the “Ken Norton Rule,” which still limits athletes to competing in just four events at any meet.
Now city organizers are trying to establish a new history with the Jacksonville Promise. Trying to begin the program with 10 scholarships this coming spring, the goal is to create a system-wide Promise in the model of Kalamazoo.
Chuck Sheaff, Jacksonville Promise board president, recently told the local Journal Courier, “It cause people to move into the community.”