Terri Zearing

Business Owner

It would be difficult to put into words how much I admire Owen Lovejoy.  When he lived in Princeton, Illinois in the late 1830s, he was breaking the law by harboring escaped slaves.  He risked being thrown into jail and losing his livelihood for making the decision along with his wife Eunice, to help slaves on the Underground Railroad.  His brother Elija had already been murdered by an angry mob in Alton, Illinois for his stance against slavery.  In spite of knowing that he could also be murdered for his anti-slavery views, Owen Lovejoy continued to help the cause of anti-slavery throughout his entire life.  He was brave beyond my understanding.  He stood up in his community as a person who will fight for what is right, no matter the consequences.  He is a hero.

My daughter, Sallee and I own a small bakery/ coffee shop on North Main Street in Princeton. Recently, we decided to support the Black Lives Matter movement by hanging a large “Black Lives Matter” banner over the top of our building. We knew not everyone would support our decision.  We were told we were poking a sleeping bear by putting up the banner.  My husband had a high school classmate stop and ask if we really needed BLM in Princeton. 

Personally, we would have a very difficult time explaining why it was so important for us to hang this banner. We were hoping people would not take it as a political stance. Sallee said it best when she said, “I have never viewed myself as a racist.  Now I realize that I have benefited all my life from white privilege and the inherent racism in our country that caused it.  I just want to do something so that everyone can be on an even playing field.   I want to do something to move that forward.”  Also, in the end, I think we just wanted a visual statement showing that we were against racism in our country, and we wanted to invite our black and brown communities to feel welcome and supported in this town.

Did our decision to hang the BLM banner impact our business? To be honest, it has had its ups and downs. We have lost some customers and we have gained some.  But we don’t feel alone in making this decision. When you think about it, did Owen Lovejoy need to have an Underground Railroad stop in Princeton?  Did he need to bring this controversy to this town?  I think he felt strongly about the wrongs of slavery so he took action. Did Colin Kaepernick really need to take a stance on racial injustice on national TV during the opening of an NFL game?  I think he felt strongly about recent events that underscored the systemic racism in our country, so he took action.  Why did Nike feel the need to make Colin Kaepernick the face of their “Just Do It” campaign? I think they felt strongly that the world needed to see them take a stance in support of racial equality, so they took action.  

When you think about it, did Owen Lovejoy need to have an Underground Railroad stop in Princeton?  Did he need to bring this controversy to this town? 

“Be Like Lovejoy.”  I am proud to say we tried to follow Owen Lovejoy’s example and that of Colin Kaepernick and Nike. Like them, we knew we would have to take the bad with the good. We took action, and we are proud to stand by our decision. 

 While educating myself on the Black Lives Matter movement and what it stands for, I am struck by one of the belief statements:

 “We affirm our humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”  

Heroic, just like Lovejoy.