Lacy McDonald

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ALTON - Lacy McDonald, director of the Genealogy and Local History Library in the Hayner Public Library District, is the newest contributor to RiverBender.com.

Every week, McDonald will be writing an article about Alton history from 1924. She said she is looking forward to sharing these stories with the community.

“There are some things that I can’t take to the full conclusion, but I’m at least trying to give everybody a little snapshot in these articles,” McDonald explained. “What I’ve been doing is going through the 1924 newspaper, and I chose 1924 because I figured 100 years ago was long enough where most of the people that were around will not be alive now to tell me that I’m doing this wrong, and it’s recent enough that the newspaper was in full force, there are lots and lots of articles every day, and it’s easy to read them.”

When McDonald finds a story that might be of interest, she clips it, saves it and begins doing more research. She said it takes a lot of time to find the context and facts of a story, but it’s important to her to make sure she is sharing everything that happened with as much detail as possible.

McDonald’s first article explores a ceremony at Union Baptist Church honoring three Alton High School graduates. The original 1924 newspaper article talks about the ceremony and who was in attendance, but as McDonald dug for more information, she quickly realized the significance of the event.

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“I started doing more research, and they were the only three Black graduates of this 90-person senior class in Alton High,” she said. “The original article just talked about the service and the people, and the more I looked into it, the more I found about the background information. They were the only three.”

Alexander Whitfield, Anna Marie Cole and Willie Alexander Young were honored at the Union Baptist Church ceremony. But while the ceremony itself was fun, the graduates faced many challenges. Whitfield, who was the first Black valedictorian in 50 years, was kicked off a Mississippi River cruise with his class because of his skin color. Cole’s father was blamed when their house was burned down and he died not long after being acquitted. All three students ultimately moved away from Alton.

McDonald hopes to provide some of this context in her articles, as she believes it’s important to share these details about what life was like in Alton back in the day. Her second article discusses state parks in Illinois and a call for “beauty spots.” The University of Illinois hosted a photo contest looking for photographs of natural beauty throughout Illinois, and Illinois Art Extension Committee member Katherine V. Dickinson encouraged Altonians to submit photos of the Riverbend region.

“People were traveling down to Illinois, which is cool because it’s kind of like an early version of tourism. And this was when there were only about five state parks, so they decided to highlight about 100 beauty spots in Illinois,” McDonald explained. “The automobile was really new in this time period, so people were buying maps that would [feature spots] off the beaten path.”

McDonald enjoys writing these stories and sharing the history with the people of Alton. She will continue to write these articles for RiverBender.com, to be published on Thursdays and featured throughout the weekend. Her next article will be about smallpox and will be published on June 20, 2024.

“I’m, like, living in 1924 right now,” she laughed.

You can keep up with her writing here.

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