Project 2-3-1: Two Boxcars, Three Blocks, One City: A Story of Elgin’s African-American Heritage

Elgin History Museum, Grindstone Productions, and Ernie Broadnax
Elgin, IL

Project 2-3-1: Two Boxcars, Three Blocks, One City: A Story of Elgin’s African-American Heritage is a documentary film and traveling exhibit created in partnership with the Elgin History Museum, Grindstone Productions, and Ernie Broadnax to tell the story of Elgin’s black community. On October 15, 1862, two boxcars full of contraband (ex-slaves freed in battle) arrived in Elgin. These 110 refugees, mostly women and children, spent that first night at the Kimball House hotel after a long journey from Alabama. The following day, those who were sympathetic to the Union cause offered the freed slaves a place to live and work. Project 2-3-1 traces how these ex-slaves created a new life in a city that harbored both abolitionist sentiments and racial intolerance. The story continues through the 1960s Civil Rights era and into today, focusing on the challenges and accomplishments of the community.

The project set out to start a community effort to document African American History in Elgin as well as to broaden students’ understanding of Elgin’s relationship to the Civil War. It also sought to provide a local perspective and narrative for the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and give context to the complex problems of discrimination and racism on a local level.

The Project 2-3-1 film and exhibit support the museum’s mission to collect, preserve, and interpret Elgin’s heritage while also helping citizens make valuable connections between the past and current events. Project 2-3-1 gives the Elgin community a safe place to talk about race relations in their own city while viewing it through a historical lens. It helps stimulate pride in the Elgin African-American community and interest in documenting its history, and demonstrates Elgin’s connection to national movements and American history. The Elgin History Museum continues to engage new, more diverse audiences with this project, reaching an estimated 12,000 people (primarily students) through the film and exhibit.