by Thelma Sardin
Chatham resident of forty-eight years and former United States Senator Roland W. Burris will be honored by his alma mater, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIUC) on Feb. 23. As part of the SIUC’s Black History Month observance, a reception is being held in Burris’ honor for the donation of his U.S. Senate and state government papers to SIUC’s Morris Library, according to a recent press release.
The university will receive Burris’ speeches on the Senate floor, legislation he introduced, transcripts of committee meetings, photographs of activities with colleagues and constituents during his time in the Senate, both in Washington and throughout Illinois.
Burris, a 1959 graduate of SIUC worked in Illinois state government for nearly twenty years prior to his 2008 U.S. Senate appointment. He has also had several “firsts” as an African American. He was the first African American to win statewide office when he was elected comptroller and he was also the state’s first Black attorney general.
“It’s great to be honored by my alma mater. As an alumnus, I have a great affinity for the university and am very involved,” Burris stated in the release.
Four years ago, he found the Roland Burris Endowment Fund at SIUC. Burris cautioned that the fund is not for scholastic ability, but to help students who are in financial need. “I set up an endowed scholarship for students in need of gap funds, books and travel. I know many students who’ve quit, because they couldn’t afford the little things,” he said.
In a recent interview with the Citizen, Burris revealed that three other entities were interested in receiving his documents but SIUC was ultimately selected. The Senator also says he has hundreds of plaques and he is not sure whether they will be donated or not.
Burris understands the importance of higher education. After completing his undergraduate degree, he attended Howard University’s School of Law and earned a juris doctorate in 1963.
SIUC’s president, Glenn Poshard expressed his enthusiasm for Burris’ honor. “Southern Illinois University is honored to receive the official papers and files of one of Illinois’ finest public servants. The fact that Senator Burris is one of our own adds even greater importance and dignity to this auspicious event,” he said.