.grecaptcha-badge { visibility: hidden; }
Close this search box.

WEATHER ALERT: Severe storms expected late this afternoon and evening

Tuskegee Airman honored in new Decatur public school

A rendering of a new magnet school under construction near Oak Grove Park in Decatur.

DECATUR – American Dreamer STEM Academy in Decatur will become Ellsworth Dansby Jr. Magnet School, when it moves into a new building.

The Decatur Public Schools District 61 Board of Education voted unanimously for the new name on Tuesday night.

“A lot of times we celebrate people because they have been celebrated for a long time,” Principal Rida Ellis told board members. “Our kids do know Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.” 

Ellis said this was a chance to celebrate a local hero.

Born in Decatur, Ellsworth Dansby, Jr. served in World War II as a master sergeant. He was part of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African Americans to serve as pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The initial support crew for the airmen, including Dansby, first trained at Chanute Field in Rantoul in 1941 as the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The unit later moved to Tuskegee, Alabama, where it became the foundation of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Dansby later served on the Decatur Board of Education. He died in 1989.

A new K-8 building for American Dreamer STEM Academy is already under construction on the site of the former Oak Grove Elementary School, using federal COVID-19 relief.

Ellis said the idea for the new school name began in a cultural competency training session for her staff. The consultants, Dallas-based 1st Class Educator, asked those in the room if they knew who Dansby was – to crickets.

Those on the new building committee looked at each other with the same idea, Ellis said. Eventually all committee members chose Dansby out of three names.

The school will be renamed once it moves into the new building.

Dansby’s son plans to attend the groundbreaking for the new school on Friday, September 29, according to Ellis.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

More Stories From Illinois Public Media