James R. Burgess, Jr.
James Burgess was born in 1915 in Algood, Tenessee. He was reared on a farm in Putnam County, Tennessee. He attended Darwin High School and went to Junior College on an athletic scholarship. Mr. Burgess pitched for semi-pro baseball teams.
He married Doris Murray and they had two sons.
Mr. Burgess entered the Armed Forces in 1941. He was in combat with the 761st Tank Battalion that served under General George Patton, including at the Battle of the Bulge. A World War II veteran, he went on to serve as a special agent in the Counter-Intelligence Corps, retiring as a major in 1962.
Mr. Burgess graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA degree in 1961, and earned his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1965. After serving as an assistant state's attorney in Chicago and Champaign, Mr. Burgess was elected State's Attorney of Champaign County in 1972.
He was the county's first African American State's Attorney and was believed to be the first African American elected to this office in Illinois. In 1977, he was appointed as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Illinois, later designated the Southern District. Based in east St. Louis, he served in that position until his retirement in 1982. Mr. Burgess was a member of the American, Chicago, Champaign Seventh Federal Circuit and Illinois State Bar Association. He was also a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association.
James served on the advisory board for the First United Methodist Church of Champaign, where he was a member, along with serving on various other church committees. He also served as a member of the MacMurray Board of Trustees and was a lay member of the Central Illinois Conference. He served for many years on the Board of Directors of Covenant Hospital, the Frances Nelson Health Center and was one of the founding members of the Prairie AIDS Foundation.
James R. Burgess, Jr. passed away suddenly in 2013. He was 55 years old. In 2014, the Champaign postal facility at 302 E. Green St. was named after him, an effort put forth by James’ son, Steve.