Nance Legins-Costley’s family story remembered in Pekin

Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 6:01 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - The story of Nance Legins-Costley and her eldest son, William Henry Costley, continues to touch the hearts of people in the Pekin and Peoria communities.

Nance Legins-Costley, and her three eldest children, were residents of Pekin. They were also known as the first African-Americans to be freed from slavery in 1841 with the help of Abraham Lincoln.

After living in Pekin for 50 years, Nance and her family moved to Peoria where she died and was buried in the former Moffatt Cemetery.

Earlier this month, the area was officially named the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial Park in honor of those buried at the Moffattt Cemetery.

On Friday, local historians at the Pekin Public Library shared her story, along with William Henry’s story, in preparation for a memorial honoring them on Saturday in downtown Pekin.

The History Program Coordinator at the Pekin Library, Jared Olar, has researched her family’s story and he thinks it’s important that people in the community are aware of her impact.

“Fifty years she was a part of our community,” Olar says. “Pekin needs to have its own monument for her to get the whole story out there so that people can learn about an important aspect of our city’s history.”

The research and discovery of Nance’s impact have touched people well beyond the Pekin and Peoria areas.

A Jackson State University Student, Kiffany Dugger, is focusing her graduate thesis on the life of Nance and her son William. She says their story is an important part of Illinois’ history and the country’s history.

“The fact that this was such a significant part of history and virtually nobody knows about it,” Dugger says. “This woman had the courage in the beginning, at the age of twelve and on into adulthood, to continue to fight for her freedom.”

Dugger has become invested in Nance’s life story and says she’s excited to be in the exact spot where she fought for her freedom.

“Actually seeing the’s just a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I just could not pass up,” she says.

The memorial honoring Nance Legins-Costley and William Henry Costley will be unveiled Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in downtown Pekin.