Exhibit at library to feature founding African American family in Mattoon

MATTOON — An exhibit featuring a founding Black family in Mattoon, “Picture Perfect: Zella’s Traveling Scrapbook,“ will be on display at the Mattoon Public Library from Thursday, Jan. 5, to Feb. 28.


The exhibit tells the story of Zella Powell’s family through panels and family documents, such as a scrapbook, photos and letters. Powell’s granddaughter, Stephanie Wright-Griggs, will make opening remarks at 4 p.m. Thursday on the library’s first floor. She will be there earlier in the afternoon on an informal basis.


Powell is one of two Black women who recently had an Eastern Illinois University residence hall named in their honor. The former Douglas Hall is now Powell-Norton Hall. Powell, a 1910 graduate, was the first African American graduate at what was then EIU State Normal School.


The displays from Wright-Griggs show, among other things, how her grandmother moved from a middle class experience in Mattoon to going to the university, which started a career as an educator in Mattoon and Chicago. The panels describe the family’s history, including their time in Mattoon, where Powell’s father was born.


“This exhibit significantly adds to the library’s place in understanding our community’s history,” said Library Director Carl Walworth. “The documents preserved by this family help tell an important component of Mattoon’s early years. We are looking forward to sharing this display and we welcome the opportunity to hear first-hand from Wright-Griggs this week.”

The EIU hall’s other namesake, Ona Norton, was the matriarch of a prominent Black family in Charleston. She started providing off-campus housing for students of color in the 1950s when it was difficult for them to find such housing and she was active in several community groups.


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