College students help revitalize important piece of Galesburg history

College students help revitalize important piece of Galesburg history
Published: Oct. 30, 2023 at 11:11 PM CDT
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GALESBURG, Ill. (KWQC) - History was recognized in Galesburg Monday evening as the community honored those who helped build the vital railroads still in use today. A ceremony was held to unveil a plaque dedicated to Mexican immigrants who played a key role in economic growth for Galesburg and surrounding communities.

From 1917 to 1956, workers of the CB&Q and Santa Fe Railroads lived in camps along the rail line with their families while they completed work on the railroads. This history was on the brink of becoming forgotten until local college students at Sandburg College helped revitalize it.

Sandburg College alumni, Joana Perez, says she and other students, with the school’s Hispanic Latino Student Association, researched the history of boxcar families in the Galesburg area and discovered where four campsites were located in the city. They then petitioned the City of Galesburg to install plaques at each location.

“As an organization, we wanted to do more than just community service more than just being active in campus,” said Perez, “we wanted to make an impact in our own community, making sure that our history is known.”

Irene Ponce is the president of the Hispanic Latino Research Group. Her father was born in a boxcar at one of the camps in 1921 and her husband’s family came from the camp honored at Monday’s ceremony.

“It’s important to recognize them while some of the people who actually lived there are still around,” said Ponce, “so they can see that they’re finally being recognized for their contributions. Galesburg is a railroad town, and the Mexicans helped build those railroads and maintain them.”

Anthony Law III agrees. He serves as an advisor and coordinator at Sandburg College in the office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“We’re a railroad community.” said Law, “The railroad has sustained us. We’ve lost factories, we’ve lost businesses, but the railroad kept us alive. And these people built the tracks the railroad runs on.”

Law says his students plan to petition the City of Galesburg to consider naming streets, parks or other landmarks in Galesburg after Mexican Americans from the community.