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portrait of Alexander Lane

portrait of Pamela Smoot

May 4, 2012

Lecture to Present Life of Civil-War Era African-American Legislator, Physician

A presentation of the life and legacy of Alexander Lane, a trailblazing African-American Illinois legislator, will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. The event is sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and SIU School of Medicine Department of Medical Humanities.

Born into slavery in pre-Civil War Mississippi, Lane was the first African-American male to attend Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1876. He became the first principal of the black primary school in Carbondale. He went to medical school in Chicago and later became a well-known physician there. In 1906, he became the ninth African-American elected to the Illinois General Assembly and was reelected in 1908. He died in 1911 and is buried in Carbondale.

Dr. Pamela Smoot, a Lane biographer and assistant professor at SIU Carbondale, will discuss his remarkable life. “Lane demonstrates how the university has engaged in diversity from the mid-19th century through today,” she said.

A reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Pearson Museum at 801 N. Rutledge St. in Springfield. The program will begin at 6:30 p.m. SIU President Glenn Poshard and SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng will be the special guests. Copies of Dr. Smoot’s research paper will be available at the event.

The event is free, but RSVPs are requested by Friday, May 18 and can be directed to Matt Baughman, Institute associate director, at or (618) 453-4001.

The presentation also will highlight the Alexander Lane Internship endowment, which will provide SIU Carbondale students the opportunity to jump-start their careers in public service and politics. The paid internship will allow at least one student—preferably a minority—each spring to work with a member of the Illinois General Assembly in conjunction with the Legislative Black Caucus.

The Institute has already received contributions and pledges of more than $100,000 toward the endowment. Donations may be made online at, by phone or at the event.

“Alexander Lane is an important, and overlooked, part of SIU history, and he is a role model for today’s students,” said David Yepsen, Institute director. “An internship in his honor will be a living legacy for him that can inspire and help our students — and provide a service to the community and policy makers today.”

There are nine members of the Illinois General Assembly currently serving in the Illinois House and Senate who are graduates of SIU Carbondale, and all are supportive of the Lane Internship program, including state Reps. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington), John Cavaletto (R-Salem), Jerry Costello (D-Smithton), Will Davis (D-East Hazel Crest), Paul Evans (R-O’Fallon), Chad Hays (R-Catlin), Jil Tracy (R-Quincy), Art Turner (D-Chicago) and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa).