EXCHANGE: Bringing Madison County history into 21st century
When Bryan Mathis was growing up in the Venice housing projects in the 1950s, he knew he wasn’t supposed to ride his bike over the railroad tracks.
Mathis’ grandmother had migrated from Mississippi years before, and he grew up in the Lee Wright Homes in what is now north Venice. The train trestle was the dividing line for racial segregation back then, he said, but Mathis didn’t know that. “I didn’t know any better, I never knew I was poor,” he told an interviewer in 2016. “I never understood the color issues, I never understand why I couldn’t go past the train trestle back there.”
Of course one day he and his cousin rode up to the train trestle, but they were seen by his uncle. “I got a spankin’,” Mathis said, and an education from his uncle on why he could not cross the trestle” ”Because you can just simply come up missing.”
It was the time of Emmett Till, he explained to Lesley Thompson-Sasso, an interviewer working with Madison Historical. Mathis’ stories of growing up in civil-rights-era Venice are part of the oral histories being collected by this new online encyclopedia and digital archive, a cooperation between the Madison County Regional Office of Education and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
It’s the brainchild of regional superintendent and gubernatorial candidate Robert Daiber. Daiber said when Madison County celebrated its bicentennial in 2012, he realized that the last comprehensive history book written about the county was published at the centennial — in 1912.