Mary Alexander was born in a small Tennessee town and came to Champaign in 1938 after college graduation. She came with the idea that employment opportunities would be plentiful, open housing was in place, but she found this was not true, so she set about the work of trying to improve the plight of the African-American populace.
She joined forces with the League of Women Voters to improve housing opportunities and to bring more programs into the schools that would serve the underprivileged children. In 1954, she became a member of the newly organized Council for Community Integration, spearheaded by W. Ellison Chalmers and many interested faculty members. It was an interracial organization whose goal was to persuade the community to value persons and make no distinction because of race, creed or nationality. In 1964, the Mt. Olive Baptist Church named Mary “Woman of the Community” for her dedication toward her work in Civil Rights within the Champaign Community.
She co-founded the Champaign-Urbana Improvement Association headed by the late Reverend Graves. Its basic purpose was to crumble the walls of segregation in employment. The first project was to picket the new J. C. Penney Store. A boycott was formed and after three weeks, J. C. Penney opened its employment to African-Americans. Several local businesses followed. She retired from the University of Illinois as a Food Service Administrator after more than 25 years of service.
Mary Alexander has been active in many school and community organizations including P.T.A., the Urban League, the Champaign Human Relations Commission and the East Central Illinois Area Office on Aging. She was a lifetime member of the Salem Baptist Church and Church Women United.
She is the mother of two daughters and two sons.