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New Philadelphia the focus of an online event

The Abe Lincoln Project/Looking for Lincoln in Pike County
courtesy photo

The first U.S. community founded, platted, and legally registered by an African American was located in western Illinois. A descendant of the founder will lead an online program about the community.

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition is hosting the event as part of a series of online conversations. It begins at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 10.

You can watch and participate in the program through the Looking for Lincoln YouTube and Facebook video channels. The program will also be archived on those sites.

Frank McWorter founded New Philadelphia in Pike County in 1836. He was a slave who bought his own freedom. Over time he also bought freedom for more than a dozen family members.

Looking for Lincoln Executive Director Sarah Watson said the discussion about New Philadelphia will be led by Frank’s great, great grandson, Gerald McWorter, who is a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois.

“He started out his career studying history, not knowing that he would then be writing about his own family,” she said.

Watson said no buildings from New Philadelphia remain.

But the National Park Service has designated the location as a National Historic Site, and visitors can use technology to bring it to life virtually.

“An augmented reality application has been done so visitors can go out there and use the app and actually see what it would have been like,” Watson said.

“We’ve taken groups of kids out a number of times and it really brings it to life for them.”

Watson said Lincoln would not have known Frank McWorter and other residents of New Philadelphia. But she said the community’s founding happened during Lincoln’s time in Illinois, which is why her group is hosting a program about it.

Looking for Lincoln live conversations

Watson said prior to the COVID pandemic, her group did a lot of programming in communities throughout the Abraham Lincoln Heritage Area, which includes 43 counties.

She said the pandemic forced them to move their events online, which proved to be a blessing in disguise because it opened up the forums to people from across the U.S. and even from other countries.

“Because we do them live, they get to not only hear the program but then they get to ask questions in real time,” she said.

“It’s something that’s proven to be very popular even with kind of the end of COVID. People are still tuning in once a month.”

She said they’ve been holding the online events for about the past year.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.