Ethnic Heritage Museum salutes Victory Bell Oct. 4

From press release

The public is invited to attend the unveiling of the Ethnic Heritage Museum’s newest exhibit, “A Salute to Victory Bell…The Nation’s Longest-serving Alderman.” The unveiling will be from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, with a special presentation at 3 p.m.

Bell was born in Durant, Miss., the son of sharecroppers. He learned at an early age that families need economic and educational opportunities to become independent. Bell’s father came to Rockford in 1943, and he and his brother came to Rockford in 1945. He attended Montague School, Washington Junior High School and graduated from West High School in 1953.

In October 1953, Bell began working for Illinois Bell Telephone Company as a janitor. He was employed with Illinois Bell Telephone for 10 years.

In 1971, Bell became the first African-American to be elected to public office in the Rockford community. During his 38 years of service as Fifth Ward Alderman, he worked to get minorities in the police and fire departments and elected to public office.

During his service, Bell became a strong advocate for southwest Rockford, tourism and the Ethnic Heritage Museum. Four tourism destinations are in the Fifth Ward: Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Garden, Graham-Ginestra House, Ethnic Heritage Museum and Klehm Arboretum.

Bell is proud of his work promoting economic development in southwest Rockford. He has been very instrumental in the development of two new housing subdivisions in the Fifth Ward. And he worked with former Mayor John McNamara in creating Klehm Arboretum.

Some of his other major accomplishments were working with Pilgrim Baptist Church to rehab Central Avenue and its extension. He worked with the city to extend Harrison Avenue to Montague Road and later to Springfield Road. He was a strong supporter of the expansion of the Rockford Public Library Montague Branch.

Married to Carol D. Bell in 1981, they have six children and six grandchildren.

The Ethnic Heritage Museum, 1129 S. Main St., is a six-room house built in 1890s and is unique in its blend of ethnic groups. A distinct group sponsors each room or gallery in the house: African-American, Polish, Italian, Lithuanian, Irish and Hispanic. A visit to each gallery will give insight into the values and traditions of each of these groups and appreciation of their contribution to life in Rockford.

The Ethnic Heritage Museum may be the only museum in the United States that preserves the cultural history of more than one ethnic group. And it receives no tax dollars.

The “Salute to Victory Bell exhibit” will display items revisiting his career, his accomplishments and early life in Rockford. The exhibit will be on display until Sunday, Nov. 29. Admission is free to the public, but donations are appreciated.

For more information, visit or e-mail or

The museum is handicap accessible. Group tours can be arranged by contacting the museum at (815) 962-7402 or e-mailing

From the September 30 – October 6, 2009 issue.

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