Each one of us comes from a different background, different towns, and a multitude of heritages. We all know someone or a name from our community that has gone on to do great things. Centralia, Illinois is no different in that regard, and Centralia High School alum Deborah Eubanks Hugg wanted to celebrate those who have made a difference and inspire others to do the same.
After catching up with some old friends at their 1985 class reunion about beautifying Centralia, the CHS Legacy Mural was born in 2015. The following year would prove to be difficult with gathering donations, materials, and most importantly – artists.
Hugg was able to secure several professional artists from the area including a couple of high school art students. The artists spent hundreds of volunteer hours to outline and paint each individual legacy. After six years of being displayed, a restoration project is under way to restore the art back to its former glory.
The mural consists of 15 CHS legacies all with various backgrounds including professional basketball players, civil rights activists, artists, scientists, and even musicians in ‘The Presidents Own’. With so many unique stories and backgrounds, Hugg needed an equally unique setting to house the mural.
“I chose the Centralia Community Youth Center mainly because it will be a symbol,” Hugg said. “Kids going into the center will see it every day. No matter what background, religion, or situation they are in, if they work on their talent, they can go anywhere they dream.”
The youth center may seem like a fitting place for the mural solely due to its nature, but another reason Hugg decided on that location was in part to Herb Williams, Executive Director of the center. Williams was included as one of the 15 legacies to be told on the mural due to his basketball legacy and civil rights activism.
“I was shocked when I found out I was on the mural from Deb,” Williams said. “But I feel honored to be up there with people I knew and looked up to when I was growing up.”
Born in Chicago, Williams was raised in Centralia after his family relocated for his father's job. While living in Centralia, he became a strong basketball player helping CHS enter three straight state tournaments in the 1960s. He continued his basketball career as a starter for Evansville College for three years, becoming a two-time NCAA division champion.
After his college career, he went on to coach Evanston High School near Chicago to the 1984 state final. Williams’ coaching career would then merge with civil rights activism as he accepted an assistant coaching position at Michigan State University, becoming one of the first black coaches in NCAA Division I.
As his coaching career slowed, Williams returned to Centralia to mentor future generations of children. Though he may not boast about himself, he wants to help the kids in the community to chase their dreams like he did. The CHS Legacy Mural is not just a reminder to those in the town that greatness once came from Centralia, but that it still can.
“I served as Mayor here, and when I was, I talked with this young boy at the center,” Williams said. “I told him he can be anything he wants; he could be like me. ‘I don’t want to be like you,’ the boy said. ‘I want to be the President.’”
Williams admits that the boy’s aspirations to be something greater than him is humbling. It reassures Williams that what he and his staff are teaching at the center is making the right impact.
“I can’t save them all, I know that. But if I can save one and he saves one and he saves one and so on, that’s what this is all about. This is what we preach here,” Williams explained.
To see the CHS Legacies Mural, head over to the Centralia Community Youth Center located at 1224 E Rexford Street where you can learn not only about Williams, but about 14 other Centralia legacies. If you see Herb, be sure to say hi and ask him about a few of the names, he would love to talk with you!