Hard Times in Illinois, 1930–1940
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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October 23, 1937


The University of Illinois enrolled approximately 120 black students in the fall of 1937. A group of around forty students, half white and half black, were attempting to end discrimination at area Champaign-Urbana restaurants. Mixed groups of these activists showed up at eating establishments and requested seating. On occasion restaurateurs adulterated the food served in order to discourage this behavior. In one instance a group of these students took a sample of contaminated food to the university health officer for examination. He found that white pepper had been added to a cheese sandwich and made a complaint to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

That agency turned the matter over to the Illinois Department of Agriculture which in turn delegated it to its division of foods and dairies. Inspector James Burke was sent to Champaign-Urbana to investigate. After associating himself with several of the activists he too was served a cheese sandwich saturated with white pepper at an area restaurant. Subsequently Burke identified himself as a food inspector and confronted the manager. The manager agreed immediately to cease adulterating food. In Burke's report to his superiors he stated that the word had gotten around regarding Department of Agriculture vigilance in relation to food service and that he anticipated no future incidents in Champaign-Urbana.

Points to Consider

What was Marvin Eisner planning to have James Burke do?

Locate Champaign and Urbana on a map.

Which university is located at Champaign-Urbana?

Describe the discrimination taking place there in 1937.

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