The site of New Philadelphia, Ill., a town founded in 1836 by slave-born African-American Frank McWorter, has been named a National Historic Landmark based on the research of Juliet E. K. Walker, professor of history at The University of Texas at Austin. Fewer than 2,500 historic places bear this distinction.
New Philadelphia is the first known town platted and officially registered by an African American before the American Civil War. Walker documented the historic significance of the town and McWorter (1777-1854), her great-great grandfather, in the seminal book “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier” (1983, 1995).
“My great-great grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit led to freedom for 16 family members whom he purchased with profits from his business activities. The family also assisted others to freedom in Canada through the underground railroad,” Walker said. “My hope is the National Historic Landmark recognition for the town he founded will encourage greater interest in the history of black business in America.”
In an Oct. 27 letter to the National Park Service, then-Senator Barack Obama supported the nomination of the town as a National Historic Landmark, writing: “By including this site among properties designated by the National Historic Landmarks, public awareness of this site will increase and our nation’s appreciation for the historic significance of this multiracial rural community will increase as well.”
Walker is the founder and director of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the university. She is the author of “The History of Black Business in America” and editor of “Encyclopedia of African American Business History.” Her book “Oprah Winfrey: An American Entrepreneur” is forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press.
Learn more about Walker’s research.