The Paris Waterworks operated by Troy Porter sat where Sylvian Park is today. The man in the picture although unidentified could possibly be Porter. (Special to The Prairie Press)

Poter: A local black leader

When someone mentions civil rights one tends to automatically think of Dr. Martin Luther King and his assassination. Others may think back to 1960 when four college students entered Woolworth's in Greensboro, N.C., and sat at the whites only counter and refused to move.

Although these events are important, the civil rights movement started just after the American Civil War.

Troy Porter was born April 15, 1855, in Fayatte County, Ky. His father was named either John or Troy Porter and his mother was named Winnie. His father enlisted into the Union Army and was killed at The Battle of Perrysville in 1862.

Porter's mother was born a slave. She escaped and made it to Camp Nelson in Kentucky, from which she was moved to Ripley, Ohio. In 1865, a Union officer named the Rev. Granville Moody influenced Winnie Porter to move herself and her son to the booming town of Paris, Ill.

They arrived in Paris when Troy Porter was 11, and he went to work learning the trade of plumbing, gas and steam fitting. On Nov. 21, 1876, just 11 years after arriving in Paris Troy Porter started his own business and developed a reputation of working harder than most. He married Cora Bass of Sullivan in December 1899 and developed into a man that many wished they could become.

By 1910, Porter was well-known and liked. A contemporary described him as a shrewd long-headed man with an unerring business instinct. This was obviously apparent by his wealth and the extensive business he developed.

Although he was a plumber by trade, Porter was never satisfied with just being a plumber. He was also the caretaker for the Paris Water Works. He wanted to out do everyone and built the largest, most-modern and best-stocked establishment in Central Illinois. He always wanted to assure if there was a big contract to be had, he was ahead of the competition.

There was never a job too big for Porter and his crew to take on. Some of the bigger jobs his company completed included running a water line from the Wabash River to Robinson, Ill., paving the principle streets in Paris as well as doing most of the grade work for the building of the interurban between Terre Haute, Ind., and Paris. He also went above and beyond helping out the Paris community and was very liberal in assisting any good cause he could.

Being a prominent black businessman, Porter was also part of many other groups. He was a member of the Grand Order of Odd Fellows and sat on the executive committee of the civil rights group the National Afro-American League. Sitting on the executive committee Porter and his fellow members were concerned by what was the biggest civil rights matter since the Civil War – the race riots at Spring Valley, Ill. The riots involved wrong doings by the Italian miners, the mine company and the city.

The year 1909 brought tragedy to Porter's life. His mother, Winnie, passed away at the age of 101 and this made the bond with his wife, children and the city of Paris stronger. Porter and his family owned a great deal of property in Paris, some of which was very valuable. They also owned a farm within six miles of the city they bought for $17,000.

One reporter for the New York Age said in 1908 that Troy Porter lived in a finely appointed home on one of the best residential streets of the city and was happy in his family and relationship.

Troy Porter lived his life to the fullest of its extent. It was a time where many thought he was not equal because of his skin color, but he made the best of everything through his hard work and dedication. Being this way allowed him to make everyone his friend, even the likes of Booker T. Washington.

His life ended Aug. 25, 1929, when he passed away at Terre Haute.

The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944