Downtown Portraits of Untold Black Stories

Untold Black Stories of Alton Comes to Life With New Exhibit

Everyone has a story to share.

A group of Alton residents came together to record and share their stories of life in Alton. As Black residents, they all had a different perspective of life. Some of the stories are funny. Some are stories of humble beginnings. Others celebrate life. And those stories were recorded by StoryCorps and celebrated by Jacoby Arts Center with large-format portraits gracing the windows of downtown Alton businesses. The new exhibit of Untold Black Stories of Alton will run through early July.

"These are personal stories of family devotion, faith, dedication to hard work, friendship, honor, and reciprocity. They are filled with laughter, humility, and respect," said Rachel Lappin, Executive Director of Jacoby Arts center. "Through this listening tour and photography exhibit, we discover a rich and often untold history. We see ourselves in these stories. They help us find our way back to one another and imagine a more inclusive society."

Walking down Broadway Street in Alton is now a walk through Black memories and reminiscences. Lose yourself in the stories of these 15 story tellers and city residents. Download the Untold Black Stories of Alton mobile app here and listen to their stories as you view their portraits.

The Untold Black Stories of Alton is a collaboration between Jacoby Arts Center, Alton Main Street, Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau, All Town, USA, and Hayner Public Library designed to catalyze diversity, inclusivity and equity within the downtown Alton historic district and engage the community with these Untold Black Stories of Alton.

Printing of the portraits is sponsored by The Mythic Mississippi Project, a public engagement venture of the University of Illinois that promotes community development through Cultural Heritage programming. Professional Photography by Bishoppe Kamusinga and Cedric Parker. Design by Tyrone Stevenson.

This project was made possible with support from Illinois Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly.

And now on to the stories!

Aaron and Ariyah

Best friends Aaron Atkins and Ariyah Smith (Photo by Bishoppe Kamusinga)

Best friends Ariyah Smith and Aaron Atkins discuss when they first became aware of societal inequalities and racism, their friendship and their love of art.

Their portrait is located in the front window of Jacoby Arts Center, 627 E. Broadway.

This is their story.

Courtney and Nana Becoat

Courtney Wilson with his mother Nana Becoat (Photo by Bishoppe Kamusinga)

Nana Becoat talks to her son Courteney Wilson about his thoughts on racisim, diversity in Alton and activism.

Their portrait is in the front window of Jacoby Arts Center, 627 E. Broadway.

Here is their story.

Nancy and Leah Becoat

Mother and daughter, Nancy and Leah Becoat. (Photo by Bishoppe Kamusinga)

Leah Becoat talks to her mother, Nancy Becoat, about how she experienced racism and her love for Alton.

Their portrait is in the front window of The Conservatory, 554 E. Broadway.

Listen to their story.

Faye Taylor and Wanda Walker

Sisters Faye Taylor and Wanda Walker (Photo by Bishoppe Kamusinga)

Sisters Faye Taylor and Wanda Walker reflect on their family, race and the neighborhood they grew up in.

Their portrait is featured in the former Alton Refrigeration Building, 520 E. Broadway.

This is their story.

Tracey Northern and Eric Walker

Brothers Tracey Northern and Eric Walker. (Photo by Cedric Parker)

Brothers Tracey Northern and Eric Walker reminisce about their childhood in Alton. They also talk about what they were like as kids and share their gratitude for their mother.

Their portrait is featured in the windows of the Alton School District Building at the corner of Broadway and Henry streets.

Listen to their story.

Rosetta Brown and Lee Barham

Rosetta Brown and Abe Lee Barham (Photo by Cedric Parker)

Rosetta Brown and Abe Lee Barham talk about growing up in Alton, why community activism is so important, and their hopes for Alton's youth and future.

Their portrait is housed at the Alton School District Building at the corner of Broadway and Henry streets.

This is their story.

Amiah and Antione Williams

Amiah Williams talks to her father Antione Williams (Photo by Cedric Parker)

Amiah Williams asks her father, Antione Williams, about his faith, his happiest memories and words of wisdom for his children and future generations.

Their portrait is featured at the Alton School District building at the corner of Broadway and Henry streets.

Listen to their conversation here.

George Terry, Diane Ingram, Carson Ingram and Faye Taylor

George Terry, Diane Ingram, Carson Ingram, and Faye Taylor (Photo by Bishoppe Kamusinga)

George Terry, Diane Ingram, Carson Ingram and Faye Taylor reminisce about what it was like growing up in the Alton neighborhood known as Mexico. This excerpt is part of Episode 5 of the All Town, USA podcast.

Their portrait is in the front window of Williams Office Products, 500 E. Broadway.

Listen to their story.

Jason Harrison and Willie Franklin

Jason Harrison and Willie Franklin

Jason Harrison asks his uncle, Willie Franklin, about his very first job at age 10 (you won't believe it!), working for Olin during the Vietnam War, and what advice he wants to impart on future generations about never giving up.

Their portrait is in the windows of the former Karen's Craft Building, 417 E. Broadway

This is his story.

Bryden and Norman Barnes

Bryden and Norman Barnes

Bryden Barnes asks his father, Norman Barnes, about growing up in Alton, what he's most proud of, and his hopes for his children.

Their portrait is located in the former Karen's Crafts Building, 417 E. Broadway.

Listen to their story.

J. Eric Robinson and Stephanie Young

J. Eric Robinson and Stephanie Young

Stephanie Young asks historian and professor J. Eric Robinson about his views on how U.S. History is taught, how complex history is, and about parallels between historic events and current events.

Their portrait is in the former Karen's Crafts Building, 417 E. Broadway.

Listen to their conversation here.

Gregory and Jason Harrison

Gregory and Jason Harrison

Jason Harrison asks his father Gregory Harrison about Rocky Fork, memories from childhood, and advice for his great, great grandchildren.

Their portrait is located in the former Karen's Crafts Building, 417 E. Broadway.

This is their story.

Autumn and Jasmine

Autumn Brown and Jasmine

Sisters Autumn Browne and Jasmine Hardimon share gratitude for what their mother taught them, and reflect on the greatest lessons they have learned in life.

Their portrait is in the Madison County Urban League window, 408 E. Broadway.

This is their story.

Steve Johnson and Lloyd Potter

Steve Potter and Lloyd Johnson

Steve Potters asks Lloyd Johnson about what life was like growing up on the family farm and the reason he felt compelled to take over the farm and continue on in the family tradition.

Their portraits is in the window of the Madison County Urban League, 408 E. Broadway.

Listen to his story.

Campbell Sisters

Yvonne Campbell and Evelyn

Twin sisters Yvonne Campbell and Evelyn Campbell discuss their upbringing, the impact of COVID, and the importance of community.

Their portrait is in the front window of My Just Desserts, 31 E. Broadway.

This is their story.