Why Black Oaks?

The Black Oaks Sand Savanna

We are named in honor of the endangered dwarfed black oaks that thrive on what remains of what was once thousands of miles of black oaks savanna. This transition zone between forest and prairie was created by retreating glaciers of the last ice age.

Proverbial west winds formed sand dunes and ridges that are now a habitat to rare and endangered plants and animals. The dwarfed black oaks are just 1 of 22 rare plant species that grow on the savanna including the endangered orange fringed orchids and yellow false indigo. The western glass lizard, the race runner and the plains pocket gopher can be found here as well.

The residents of Pembroke Township/Hopkins Park have been the succeeding stewards of what is now one of the most prized ecosystems in the state of Illinois referred to as the Kankakee Sands. This tradition of stewardship dates back to the care of the savanna by the indigenous people, the Potowatomi, who did controlled burns that maintained the savanna.

Hopkins Park is in Pembroke Township. Pembroke is one of the oldest black rural townships. It was founded by a runaway slave named Pap Tetter before the Emancipation Proclamation. Folk history tells us that he and his family of 18 children escaped from North Carolina around 1861. His originally acquired 42 acres of what is now called Old Hopkins Park, created a safe place for other runaway slaves and the Potowatomi who did not go to reservations. Hopkins Park was a terminal for the underground railroad and became a secure space for ethnic diversity among the indigenous people and those who migrated there. In the northern migration, Pembroke came to be the largest black farming community north of the Mason Dixon Line. During World War II, these farmers answered the nation’s call for hemp. Pembroke was the 3rd largest hemp producer in the nation.

The name Pembroke has Welsh roots and means “aqueduct”. It was a key spot along a trading route that linked Fort Dearborn in Chicago to Vincennes, Indiana.

Pembroke was known as a favored gaming area due to the abundance of wildlife. It is said that celebrities including presidents would frequent the area to hunt.

While Pembroke has been said to be one of the poorest areas in the country, it is rich with history, heritage and generations who have kept a commitment to caring for the land.

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