WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., today celebrated Congressional approval of their bipartisan legislation to designate the U.S. Postal Service facility at 302 E. Green St. in Champaign, as the “James R. Burgess Jr. Post Office Building.”
The bill, H.R. 1707 – which was passed by the Senate unanimously last night – now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
“Since Mr. Burgess’ passing in 1997, constituents in my district and especially his son, Steve, have been looking for a way to commemorate the achievements of his life,” said Davis, the chief sponsor of the bill.
“When I was first elected two years ago, Steve approached me, seeking my help to honor the life and legacy of his father. It’s taken a lot of time and work and while I’m proud that this bill is headed to the president’s desk, I have a heavy heart. More than one year ago, Steve Burgess passed away suddenly. Steve worked tirelessly over the years to get this project to the finish line, and it’s heartbreaking that he won’t be able to see it through to completion. Naming this building after Mr. James R. Burgess is both a small token of our gratitude for his service and an opportunity to honor his son, Steve.”
“Naming a post office in Champaign is a fitting tribute to Mr. Burgess’ distinguished record of service, both as part of our nation’s military overseas and right here in Central Illinois,” Durbin said. “I am proud to join my colleagues in completing the effort undertaken by Mr. Burgess’ late son, Steve, and family to honor this longtime public servant and trailblazing Illinoisan.”
“James Burgess made history as a leader of the first African-American armored battalion in WWII, and he served our country and the people of Illinois as Champaign County State’s Attorney and as a U.S. attorney,” Kirk said. “The renamed post office in Champaign will recognize his contributions to central Illinois and honor his life and commitment to public service.”
James R. Burgess Jr. was born on Dec. 19, 1915 in Algood, Tenn., and served more than 20 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 29, Burgess was a first lieutenant in command of one of the six companies who served under Gen. 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.