With the formal dedication of the Bicentennial Plaza – A REALTOR® Community Partnership just weeks away on Aug. 26, a community panel involved in the project discussed the significance of the plaza and what it brings to Springfield’s historic downtown.

Bicentennial Plaza panel 2018

(l-r) Moderator Justin Blandford, Tim Townsend, Mark Johnson and Herman Senor

“Illinois REALTORS® was privileged to be able to work with so many partners to accomplish this transformative project, which we hope will tell the story of how a city – and more broadly – a nation has worked toward achieving Abraham Lincoln’s goal of equality and opportunity for all,” said Illinois REALTORS® President Matt Difanis as he opened the event.

The panel discussion, “Home and Community: The 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act,” examined the fair housing-related aspects of the plaza. The discussion was the seventh in a series of town hall discussions being held in Springfield this year to commemorate the state’s bicentennial.

Thursday’s panel discussion at the Illinois REALTORS® headquarters included Tim Townsend, historian at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site; Mark Johnson, historian with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; and Herman Senor, alderman of Ward 2 in Springfield. Justin Blandford, curator of the Illinois Governor’s Mansion, served as moderator.

The panel talked about the evolution of the Bicentennial Plaza project spearheaded by Illinois REALTORS® CEO Gary Clayton, the stories from Springfield’s past that they chose to tell and the role the plaza plays in connecting the historical corridor between the Abraham Lincoln Home, the Illinois Governor’s Mansion and the state Capitol.

“What we hope is that people visit the (governor’s) mansion and the Lincoln sites and they use the plaza as a walking trail and learning tool,” Senor said.

The 16 panels that flank the Bicentennial Plaza tell the stories of some of the people and events that are part of the city’s complex history including the 1908 Springfield Race Riot that spurred the formation of the NAACP; Anderson Holman, an early African American homebuilder in the city; and Frederick Douglass’ visit to the governor’s mansion in 1866.

The Bicentennial Plaza is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln’s vision for an America of opportunity and the stories that were chosen—some known and others told for the first time—show the role even everyday people have in moving society forward.

“Hopefully our panels here will remind people that change is slow…but that it does happen for good eventually and regular folks are part of the process,” Johnson said. “You and I and people who are going to follow us can go out and do things in our everyday lives that can help skew that arc of the moral universe for the better.”

The panelists would like to see the Bicentennial Plaza promoted as another historical stop for tourists, schoolchildren and others to visit when they come to Springfield. Townsend said the way the Bicentennial Plaza and panels have been designed and presented will encourage people to stop, read and learn more.

Townsend said he also hopes people walk through the Bicentennial Plaza and come away inspired.

“Maybe they’ll think about their own community or wherever they have traveled from and wonder, ‘what are the stories in my hometown?’” he said.

The Bicentennial Plaza – A REALTOR® Community Partnership will be dedicated on Aug. 26 for Constitution Day as part of the year-long celebration of the state’s 200th birthday. Learn more about the plaza and the dedication ceremony at www.illinoisrealtors.org/events/bicentennial/bicentennial-plaza.

The project is a Signature Legacy Project for the Illinois Bicentennial and the plaza dedication ceremony on Constitution Day is a Signature Legacy Event for the Bicentennial.