U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), and U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) celebrated Senate passage last night of bipartisan legislation to designate the U.S. Postal Service facility at 302 East Green Street in Champaign, as the "James R. Burgess Jr. Post Office Building." The measure was passed out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs just on Wednesday, and now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
"James Burgess distinguished himself as a leader in the first African-American armored Battalion to enter World War II, and he later served the people of Illinois as Champaign County State's Attorney and as a U.S. Attorney," Kirk said. "I hope we can soon bring greater recognition to Mr. Burgess' achievements in service of our country and our state."
"This measure will honor Mr. Burgess' distinguished record of service, and help ensure that his trailblazing accomplishments continue to inspire future generations of Illinoisans," Durbin said. "I hope that the House of Representatives will swiftly take up and pass this bipartisan resolution so we can enact this fitting tribute to a true American hero, and complete the effort undertaken by Mr. Burgess' loving son, Steve, and family to honor this longtime public servant."
"I'm pleased that we've moved one step closer to honoring James R. Burgess," Davis said. "Since James' passing in 1997, his son, Steve, and many others in Champaign-Urbana have looked for ways to commemorate the achievements of his life. Naming this building after him is but a small token of our gratitude for his service and I am hopeful that the House will soon follow suit and help Steve complete the journey he started years ago."
James R. Burgess Jr. was born on December 19, 1915 in Algood, Tennessee and served more than twenty years in the Army, playing a critical role in a largely unknown part of American military history as a leader of the 761st Tank Battalion, the first African-American armored unit to enter battle in World War II.
At age twenty nine, Mr. Burgess was a First Lt. in command of one of the six companies who served under General George Patton in Europe. Upon his retirement from the U.S. Army he had reached the rank of Major.
Soon after leaving the service in 1962, Burgess moved his wife and two sons to Champaign so that he could attend law school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he graduated three years later as the only African-American in his class. He was elected Champaign County State's Attorney in 1972 and is still the only African-American to be elected county-wide in Champaign County. Later, he was appointed as a U.S. Attorney for a large section of downstate Illinois.