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She was the first Black person freed by Lincoln, long before his presidency. Her grave was paved over and her story hardly known.
The name of Nance Legins-Costley could resonate amid the likes of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and other abolitionist figures. But her story is hardly known. Not in Illinois, where – despite anti-slavery laws – she was born into bondage. Not in the city of Pekin, where – despite anti-Black attitudes – she became a beloved community figure. And certainly not in Peoria, where – despite her impressive life – she is buried in ignominy.