Richard Blue was born on February 22, 1842 in Dayton, Ohio. The names of his parents are unknown, but it was reported that his mother was from Virginia and his father was from Ohio. He was recorded as “mulatto,” an outdated and now offensive term for a person of both white and Black ancestry. According to the 1850 United States Census, Blue was a member of the white Rayburn family household for much of his youth. Because of this, he was likely not enslaved. Enslaved Black individuals were only listed statistically on the United States Census between 1790 and 1860. Beginning in 1850, free Black individuals were listed by name.

     Blue appears on the Judge James Rayburn family census by name in both 1850 and 1860. Still, the exact nature of his relationship with the Rayburn family remains unclear. An 1881 article alleges that Judge James Rayburn, head of the Rayburn household, raised Blue, and furthermore, an 1896 article says that Blue “had been taken into the family a few years before” the Rayburns came to Illinois. Both indicate a closer relationship than employer, or parents’ employer.

     In 1851, Judge James Rayburn and his family left Ohio and moved to Old Town Township in McLean County, Illinois, which is located southeast of Bloomington. Blue, then nine years old, moved with them and worked as a farm laborer for the family. No other Blues appear on any other Rayburn census, leaving Richard’s parentage a mystery.

     When the Civil War broke out in 1861, many free Black men attempted to join the Union Army, but were refused. It was not until 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Abraham Lincoln, that they were allowed to join. On February 3, 1865, Blue enlisted in the Union Army, joining the 29th United States Colored Infantry, Company A, in Springfield, initially serving as a private. Blue was somewhat disabled due to a foot injury he received while chopping wood on the Rayburn farm in 1857. Because of that disability, he was assigned to musician duties, soon achieving the rank of principal musician.

     In May 1865 (after the war ended), the 28th Indiana, 29th Illinois, and the 26th and 31st New York (all of which were Black regiments) were transferred to Texas for garrison duty, guarding the U.S-Mexican border, as well as looking out for Confederate uprisings. Bad weather forced many of the ships carrying the men to stop off the shore of Galveston for supplies on the way to the border of Mexico. By coincidence, many of the regiments–including the 29th–were present in Galveston when General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 on June 19. This order declared,

The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued two years prior to this, but that news had been purposefully kept from the enslaved individuals in Galveston. News of emancipation relied on the ability of Union Troops to communicate that information, thus the news traveled slowly making Texas the last state to free enslaved people.

     Texas was not a pleasant assignment. Longing for home and feeling unsafe, William McCoslin–who served with Blue in the 29th and would later work in Bloomington politics with Blue–wrote, “I know I represent the feelings of almost the entire regiment who have suffered with me…If we remain in this unhealthy country, disease will finish our decimation.” The 29th Regiment served along the Rio Grande until they finally mustered out in Brownsville, TX on November 6, 1865, six months after the war ended.

     Blue was among the roughly 180,000 Black soldiers who served in the Union Army (roughly 10% of the total Union Army). Thirty-nine of these soldiers were from McLean County, (twenty-six of those served with Blue in the 29th). Thirteen of the thirty-nine died, out of a total 40,000 deaths of Black soldiers during the war.

     Black soldiers were almost always treated unequally when compared to white soldiers. They were paid $10 per month, while white soldiers were paid $13 (or about $2,100 and $2,800, respectively, in 2023). Furthermore, Black soldiers had an additional $3 per month deducted from their pay for a clothing allowance, bringing their net pay down to $7 (about $1,500 in 2023) per month, while white soldiers received their full $13 per month. When this discrepancy was protested, it took eighteen months of debate in Washington D.C. to decide on equality for pay and supplies for Black soldiers.

     Additionally, Black soldiers were disproportionately assigned “fatigue duty” such as digging latrines and clearing roads. John Abbot, a young Black man from Bloomington serving in the 55th Massachusetts Regiment, wrote that his regiment “has the praise of being the best regiment that has ever been in this department, and yet they don’t feel disposed to give us what is the most essential to us as a people and a race–and that is equality with the white man.” McCoslin, echoing Abbot, wrote that the Black soldiers “responded to their country’s call to see the day when justice, according to merit, and not prejudice according to color, would be their reward. Oh my wounded country! suffering, lacerated from slavery’s bloody knife…”

     After the end of the war, President Lincoln stated that “without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the south could not have been won.” Today, Blue’s name, along with the names of the other thirty-eight Black soldiers from McLean County, are listed on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington D.C., which commemorates the military service of the 180,000 Black soldiers in the Union Army, and the roughly 29,000 Black soldiers in the Navy.

     By 1866, Blue settled in Bloomington, and was no longer a member of the Rayburn household. By 1868, he was living at 306 S. Madison Street, where he remained for the rest of his life.

     Blue married Emily L. Cooper on May 5, 1870. She was born in Shawneetown, Illinois on March 7, 1840, and moved with her family to Bloomington in 1857. Emily and Richard would go on to have six children, three of whom survived to adulthood. Their first child, born in 1871, did not live long enough to be named. The following year, their daughter Belle was born on April 30. She was followed by a son, James, in 1880, and a daughter, Lutie, in 1884. Another son, Richard, was born in November 1886, but died at the age of three from diphtheria on October 22, 1890. In 1891, Richard and Emily lost another infant. All three of those children, who died at young ages, are buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington.     

     Unfortunately, Emily (called Letitia in her obituary), died on March 22, 1898. She contracted la grippe (influenza) in the fall of 1897, which resulted in kidney trouble. Her funeral was held on March 24 in their home on South Madison Street. She too was buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.

     Sometime around 1868, Blue opened what would become a very prosperous barbershop in downtown Bloomington. By 1870, Blue was joined in business by Walker Hill and their shop moved to the Royce Block, located on the corner of Main and Front Streets, one of the most prominent commercial buildings in town at that time. Blue’s patrons were exclusively white, because at this time it was not considered acceptable for a barber to serve both white and Black customers, regardless of the race of the proprietor. There were instances of barbers having Black and white customers in some northeastern communities where Abolitionism was strong,  but the accepted norm was not to “cross the color line.” Additionally, with the relatively small population of Black individuals in Bloomington, it was more financially viable to cut white people’s hair.

     Blue also worked occasionally as a butler and was remembered by many Bloomington residents as a staple of private parties. It was said that “with Dick Blue at the door to receive the guests and to superintend the serving of the refreshments…any party was bound to be a success.”

     Working as a butler allowed Blue an audience with Bloomington’s political class. In October 1881, Senator David Davis offered Blue the position of butler in his Washington residence, but it does not appear Blue took Davis up on that offer. This request was no small distinction. A fellow Bloomington resident, Davis was a close acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln, and served on the Supreme Court from 1862-1877 (resigning to take a Senate seat representing Illinois). Similarly, in 1883, Blue was reportedly offered the position as the “attendant in the private office of the Executive” by Republican Governor of Illinois John Marshall Hamilton, whose campaign Blue had supported and who, “like other prominent politicians, has had an eye upon Dick for a long time past.” The position would pay $75 per month (about $15,000 per month in 2023), but it would have required Blue to give up his barbershop. Therefore, it appears that Blue did not take the job.

     Though Blue was successful in many areas throughout his life, politics proved to be his true passion. He remained active in both local and state politics for much of his life, working towards Black empowerment and fighting for Black rights.

     In April 1866, Blue and McCoslin, along with members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (to which Blue belonged), helped welcome famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass back to Bloomington. Douglass previously spoke in Bloomington in 1859. Blue served on a three-person committee (along with McCoslin and Samuel Witherspoon) to draft resolutions for the occasion. The resolution they drafted read as follows:

Resolved, That in the present distracted condition of the country it is eminently proper and necessary that all just and constitutional means should be employed quieting popular excitement, the removal of unreasonable prejudice, and the obliteration of all hostile feelings growing out of the late unhappy civil war.

 On the day of the lecture, this committee escorted Douglass to the stage.

     Douglass spoke of the recent assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Reconstruction, and made “well-timed denunciations of President Andrew Johnson.” At the close of Douglass’s message, the AME Church (known as Wayman AME today) committee presented him with a “silver headed cane as a token of our highest regards, hoping he will receive it not for its intrinsic value but as a testimonial from true friends.”

     On March 30, 1870, the 15th Amendment, which granted Black men the right to vote, was formally adopted as part of the United States Constitution. The amendment stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

     On April 1, when word reached Bloomington about the passage of the amendment, a large crowd gathered outside the Minerva Block, where Dr. Herman Schroeder resided. Members of the crowd watched as Dr. Schroeder, a white man, walked down the street arm-in-arm with a Black woman, while a band comprised of a fife, tenor, and bass drum performed outside his residence. The Pantagraph reported the good doctor “had long ago promised” to do this in order “to show that there should be no distinction on account of color.” Crowds filled the sidewalk to watch the “parade, and in every instance gave way and allowed ample room for them to pass.” However, while “this unique performance was received by some as a good joke on the Doctor, others condemned” the display.

     Despite the lukewarm reception to Dr. Schroeder’s demonstration of support for the adoption of the 15th Amendment, it was an exciting time for Black citizens. Blue, along with four other Black men, served on a committee to arrange a public demonstration in celebration of the adoption of the amendment. The committee drafted a resolution saying that “we, as people of color, deeply feel the embarrassing circumstances under which we have for too long been compelled…our condition as a people can best be elevated by such a change in the constitution and laws of our country as shall guarantee equal rights before the law…[we express] our sincere thanks and esteem for the men and party who were the means of carrying the Fifteenth amendment into affect.” At the celebration, which was held on April 6 at Dr. Schroeder’s Opera House on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington (where the Museum Square is today), the Declaration of Independence was read, and there was music, speeches, and a twenty-nine-gun salute.

     The anniversary of the adoption of the amendment was celebrated several times over the next few years, as well. In 1881, Blue, Colonel Isabel, and Robert Savage called a mass meeting to enlist help from the public to plan the celebration of the passage of the 15th Amendment. Blue was appointed chairman for planning the celebration, which was held on March 29 that year. Two years later, on March 29, 1883, there was a celebration at the Washingtonian Hall. The Pantagraph reported that the hall “was literally crowded” with members of the Black community, and “a few white folks” who joined in the celebration. Blue, Gus Hill, and General Ira Bloomfield were among the speakers, and there was music, dancing, and supper.

     Due to newfound voting rights, combined with citizenship which was conferred upon all people born in the United States with the passage of the 14th Amendment, Black men were now allowed to serve on juries. Richard Blue has the distinction of being the first Black person to serve as a juror in Bloomington’s history, and was called for that duty at least four times in his life.

     The first case for which he served as a juror was that of Bloomington vs. Bateman in May 1870. H.M. Bateman owned two popular restaurants at 110 W. Front Street and 111 North Street and was charged with violating “The Sunday Law,” a city ordinance that prohibited most business from taking place on Sundays. The evidence presented at the trial stated that “Mr. G.C. Jones purchased some ice cream, and a Mr. Gillespie bought a glass of lemonade” on Sunday, April 24 from one of Bateman’s establishments. The case ended in a hung jury, standing 5 to 1 in favor of the city. The city council voted to direct the city attorney, Stilwill, to discontinue the prosecution against Bateman. Less than a month later, the Sunday Law was amended to allow the sale of “cigars and tobacco, refreshments, ice cream, soda water, lemonade, and ice from wagons on Sundays.”

     In April 1874, Blue served on a jury again, this time on a coroner’s jury. Augustus Bradley, a railroad agent, was found dead in his bed by his adopted ten-year-old daughter, Carrie, early on the morning of April 28. He was shot through the head. The jury ruled that the wound was self-inflicted. Blue was summoned to jury duty for the third time for the November 1885 Circuit Court session, but it is not known if he was chosen to serve at that time. And in July 1908, he served on another coroner’s jury, which found that a man named C.B. Scruggs, who suddenly died on a streetcar, suffered from heart disease.

     Blue was also familiar with being on the other side of a court case. For much of the spring and summer of 1881 he was involved in a property dispute with his mother-in-law Nancy Cooper’s neighbors, Charles and Jane Winslow. The land in dispute, owned by Emily Cooper, was approximately sixty feet long, ten feet wide, and worth $20 (about $4,000 in 2023). The Winslows’ claimed that part of Cooper’s property belonged to them. Both sued Cooper on multiple occasions for trespassing, but all suits were thrown out by the courts. Charles was arrested twice for tearing down Cooper’s fence. Cooper was arrested as well, on charges of assault and battery against Charles. The situation continued to escalate until Charles tore down Cooper’s fence with an ax. Cooper retaliated by throwing hot water at him, and they fought to a draw. A judge ruled in favor of Cooper.

     In June, a trial over the property saw sixty witnesses testify over the course of two days, but the jury deliberated only fifteen minutes before ruling in favor of Cooper and Blue. This was the Winslows’ seventh suit over the property, all of which had failed. By then, court fees had come to over $900–or about $193,000 in 2023. In September 1881, Jane Winslow appealed for a change of venue as she felt that the judge and the county were prejudiced against her. It is unclear whether this was granted, but the following September, the case had appeared before the appellate court in Springfield, and the judge there ruled in favor of Cooper. By this time, court fees had run up to over a thousand dollars (about $209,000 in 2023).

     Aside from his engagement in activities related to the judicial branch of government, Blue became heavily involved with the election activities. He often represented Bloomington at various political conventions across McLean County and Illinois, participating in general Republican conventions, as well as the segregated Black Republican conventions.

     In June 1870, Blue represented Bloomington at the County Congressional Convention, a meeting to decide the county’s choice of Congressional candidate and select thirteen delegates to represent McLean County at the District Convention in Springfield later that summer. In May 1872, he was an alternate delegate to the Congressional District Convention in Springfield. Blue served as one of the Bloomington delegates to the McLean County Republican Convention twice, in 1872 and 1874. At the 1874 convention, he was approved by the credentials committee,(meaning that his membership was contested at one point). In 1877, at the Third Ward Republican Primary, Blue was chosen as the delegate to the city convention. In February 1884, he served as a delegate from the 14th congressional district and presided over the meeting of the state “colored” central committee in Chicago. And that spring, Blue was an alternate delegate to the State Republican Convention in Springfield. 

     In September 1886, at a meeting of Black citizens that appointed a delegate to the Black convention in Galesburg, Illinois in October of that year, Blue was elected the secretary. At the convention, it was decided to send representatives to the Illinois State Legislature in order to demand equal rights for Black citizens of the state. In February 1892, at a meeting of the Central Committee of McLean Republicans, Blue and Gus Hill called for Black Republicans to “be represented on the congressional delegation.” Just one month later, Blue served on the Bloomington Republican Central Committee for the municipal campaign, representing the Third Ward, and in April, he was the Bloomington delegate to the 14th district Republican delegate convention. In August of 1896, Blue and Robert Savage were elected delegates to the Republican League meeting in Peoria.

     In 1879, wanting to move beyond the behind-the-scenes political roles, Blue threw his hat into the ring and ran for local office. On the evening of March 11, 1879, a mass meeting of Black voters was held at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Bloomington where it was discussed the importance of Black voters to come together “to take into consideration what plan the colored people ought to assume before the day of the election arrives.”

     Speeches were made by numerous members of Bloomington’s Black community, including Gus Hill, who stated that “the time had now arrived when the colored people should arise and demand office from the hands of the Republican Party.” Hill continued on further, stating that “If the new City Council failed to appoint a colored man to office, then the faith in Republican promises and pledges was not as strong as it had been cracked up to be.” Other speakers echoed Hill’s sentiment, owing to the fact that the Black population in Bloomington was large enough to demand some kind of representation in the administration of city affairs. Blue spoke as well, stating that it was necessary for Black residents of Bloomington “to unite together in one political party. If they ever expected to obtain anything in the distribution of office at the hands of the City Council they must be united as one man.”

     It was during this meeting that Blue was nominated as a candidate for alderman of the Third Ward, which had the highest percentage of Black residents of Bloomington living in it at that time. Blue was well respected by members of both the Black and white communities in Bloomington. That, combined with his long record of political activities, made him the logical choice for a Black candidate in the upcoming municipal elections. He, along with two other men, co-wrote several resolutions stating that in “looking to the further elevation of our race, consider that positions of trust are the places that raise or lower the standard of men; that the color of the skin should not be the slightest objection as God did not intend all to be white or all black.” And furthermore, “that as colored men were loyal to the government in time of war, so in peace we will be true to our trust and honest with our fellow men” and deserved to have men of their “own race filling positions of trust and honor.”

     Blue accepted their nomination for alderman. And while he was running on the Republican ticket, he stated that he would “make the run independent of party.” Blue ran with a broad platform. He wished to be a candidate of “all the colored people, irrespective of party,” and asked for all the votes of good people.

     Blue’s active campaign was well-received. According to a Pantagraph article on April 19, he was well respected by the citizens of Bloomington. The Pantagraph continued by noting he was a man of “good education and practical experience and would no doubt, if elected, serve the people of his ward with credit.” Despite this endorsement and confidence in his abilities, he received only 156 votes, losing to the incumbent alderman, William W. Stevenson, who received 360 votes.

     The following evening, a serenading band visited his home to play, honoring him for his efforts in running for political office. Blue never repeated his run for alderman, though he badly wanted the position and many of his friends urged him to try again. However, in the announcement of the birth of his son James on March 26, 1880, it was stated that Blue “doesn’t care whether or not he is elected alderman now.” It would be a full century before Bloomington-Normal elected a Black alderman, which was Eva Jones in 1979.

     However, while Blue did not succeed in being elected as an alderman, he did receive a political appointment. He was appointed a mail carrier for the City of Bloomington by newly elected Mayor Elisha B. Steere (a fellow Republican) in May 1879. The role of the mail carrier was somewhat of a political position, often assigned based on partisan loyalty. Blue held the position, in addition to operating his barbershop, for at least one year.

     Additionally, in May 1884, Mayor Benjamin Funk nominated Blue for the position of Oil Inspector of the City of Bloomington. Blue’s nomination was confirmed by a city council vote, in which Blue achieved an 8-4 majority. Blue received the position and was granted a $500 bond (about $99,000 in 2023). He served in this role until at least the following May.

     Much of Blue’s political work was focused on securing Black rights and advancing Black empowerment. In March 1878, at a meeting of 125 Black voters in Royce Hall (a cultural center located in the Royce Block), Blue was among the speakers who persuaded voters to adopt a resolution declaring “that our freedom as men and enfranchisement as citizens will not be properly exercised until we are rid of political slavery…[in the] future we will co-operate with such men and favor such measures as we believe best for the interests of the colored people and men who make their living by labor.” In other words, they felt that their political power was not being used to its full effect and that Black voters should have more power than they had been granted.

     Blue was on the state executive board of the Afro-American League, a national organization that worked to end discrimination and lynchings and fought for full equality for Black Americans. Much of their activities revolved around raising awareness and remaining educated on current events. To this end, at a meeting of the Bloomington chapter of the league in November 1895, they heard a speech by Reverend Robinson, who had fled from his home state of Texas because of “his opposition to the mobs.” He “told of the recent lynchings and burnings.” At the state convention of the Afro-American Protective League the following year, Blue led a discussion of civil and legal rights, considering, among other things, a universal Emancipation Proclamation celebration and a $100 pension for all formerly enslaved persons over sixty years of age.

     Blue eventually served as the president of the state Afro-American League. An 1899 letter to him said that the league was “characteristic of the energy and zeal you have always exhibited in every enterprise with which you have been connected,” praising Blue for both his good work on the league and for every other endeavor he undertook.

     In the years following Emancipation and the 15th Amendment, Black citizens almost exclusively voted Republican. However, by 1880 (only ten years after Black men received the right to vote), “many in the community felt they were not receiving enough political patronage, considering how overwhelmingly they supported Republican candidates.” At a July 1882 meeting of the Black voters of Bloomington and Normal (at which Blue served as secretary), it was decided that the voters in attendance would stick with the Republican party. An article covering the meeting noted that the attendees were “exercising the same sound judgment and prompt political foresight which has characterized their deliberations in the past.” On the state level, it was decided at the Fourth Convention in Springfield in 1889 that in light of the passage of the 1885 Civil Rights Act, an improving relationship with the Republican party, and the publicized lynchings committed in the Democratic southern states, the Republicans were the best option, even with imperfections.

     Blue was extremely active in the Black Republican circles of Bloomington. In August 1872, he was elected one of the 27 vice presidents of the Grant and Wilson Club, an organization of voters who supported the election of Ulysses S. Grant. In the summer of 1884, Blue, along with several others, served on a committee to organize a Blaine and Logan Club of Black voters. When that club met in August, Blue was elected vice president. The following year, he organized and spoke at a Blaine and Logan club of one hundred Black voters in Normal. These clubs supported the Republicans James G. Blaine for president and John A. Logan for vice president in the 1884 election.

     At a meeting of the Colored Republican Club in September 1888, a good number of Democratic and Independent voters attended, as well as the usual Republicans. Blue gave “a good sound speech [that was] full of good solid thoughts and was appreciated by the listeners” at the end of the meeting. In March 1892, he was president of the Harrison and Morton Club and in August of that year, he was the vice-president of the Harrison and Reid club, both organizations of Black Republicans. At a meeting of Bloomington Republicans in June 1892, the “well-known” Blue “made a stirring address which was heartily received.” He was among those who gave “brief vigorous speeches” at an April 1894 meeting of Black voters in support of Edgar Heafer, a Republican candidate for Bloomington mayor, which was called “one of the most unique caucuses of the present interesting campaign.”

     For several years before and after the turn of the 20th century, Blue was employed by the Republican party in Springfield as a doorkeeper, ensuring that the only people inside the chamber were those permitted to be there, as well as enforcing the rules of decorum among the representatives. The position is elected by the House at the beginning of each general assembly. It is unclear how long the job required Blue to be away from home, since he still lived in Bloomington during this time.

     He was first up for the job at the Republican caucus in January 1897, but lost it to Captain Ed Harlan. In December of that year, the House of Representatives gave him the position of janitor. He worked twenty days there, earning a salary of $2 per day (about $375 in 2023). He did get the position of caucus doorkeeper in 1899 and held it through 1904, serving as a third assistant doorkeeper. In 1905 he was a janitor in the House of Representatives again and kept that job until 1907. Finally in 1908, he returned to the assistant doorkeeper position at the House of Representatives and the Senate. According to his obituary, he was a doorkeeper for the Illinois General Assembly for twenty years.

     In addition to his political activities, Blue was involved in a variety of cultural activities and was an active member or officer in many local clubs. In June 1881, he contributed an essay to a meeting of a Black literary society. The Pantagraph noted that meetings of the club “are always largely attended.” Black literary societies were becoming popular throughout the United States during this period. Also called reading rooms or debating societies, Black literary societies were seen as a way for members of the Black community to become more politically active, as well as better readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers. These groups were a way for “African Americans to develop a literary background as well as the oral and written skills needed to express and represent themselves with confidence” in the safety and comfort of a group of their peers. On the national scale, literacy also supported voting rights, since many southern states required literacy tests to vote–in theory, to ensure an educated electorate, but in practice, a measure to suppress the Black vote. In February 1885, Blue served as the temporary president of the Bloomington Literary and Protective Association, a non-partisan, all-Black club for intellectual pursuits.

     Blue was also a prominent figure in the local Black Odd Fellows club, a fraternity based around fellowship and charitable works. In Blue’s time, there were over a thousand lodges in Illinois alone. Blue served as their delegate to the club’s Grand Lodge in Mattoon, Illinois in 1890. He petitioned for Bloomington to be the next venue for the annual meeting of the state organization, which, if successful, would have attracted 15,000 people to Bloomington. He was elected district Grand Master of the club in 1894.

     Following his musical experience in the Civil War, Blue continued to perform in a

“colored glee club” in Bloomington-Normal, which frequently performed at political events. In October 1880, the club won first prize at a singing competition at a Republican rally in Bloomington, winning $15 (about $3,300 in 2023). By December of that year, he was the leader of the club. The club performed at an 1883 celebration of the anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment and at a reunion of the 94th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers (the “McLean County Regiment”) that same year. In May 1885, he and three other men sang at a celebration of John A. Logan’s election to the United States Senate. Blue and his group made another appearance in April 1887 when he led the quartette at a celebration for the anniversary of the birthday of General Ulysses S. Grant. And by 1888, Richard Blue’s glee club was a frequent guest at meetings of the Old Town Republicans.

     Blue’s activities slowed in the years leading up to his death, but he remained prominent in local politics for the first half of the 1910s. He was an election judge for the ninth precinct on at least two occasions, the first in June 1910 and the second in February 1912 for the Republican primary.

     In the spring of 1912, he was on the arrangement committee for a rally held in support of the incumbent Republican president William Howard Taft. The rally was held in the Coliseum in Bloomington on April 5th, and featured a twenty-five-piece band, as well as an address from former New Hampshire governor Nahum Josiah Bachelder. Blue heartily endorsed Taft, and in September of that year predicted that he would win 108,000 of the potential 109,000 Black votes in Illinois. Taft lost to Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.

     Blue was among the McLean County delegates to the Republican congressional convention of the 17th District in September 1914. At this convention, they endorsed Republican congressional candidates John A. Sterling (who was up for reelection) and Frank L. Smith. In 1915, Blue delivered the welcome address at an entertainment fundraiser for his church, Wayman A.M.E., hosted by “a number of the leading women of the city.”

     Blue fell ill within the following two years. His occupation was listed as a barber until his death, but it is unclear how long he actually held the shop for. As of 1920, he was still living at 306 S. Madison Street, now joined by his oldest daughter, Belle, and her husband James Claxton.

     Richard Blue died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on March 26, 1921 following a sharp decline after about four to five years of illness. He was universally praised, with The Pantagraph calling him “one of Bloomington’s oldest and most highly respected citizens,” and the Sunday Bulletin describing him as a “staunch and influential Republican.” He was buried on March 29 in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery after a funeral service at the Wayman A.M.E. Church, of which he had been a long-time member.

     Richard Blue was a dedicated member of the Bloomington political community and unparalleled in his commitment to civic engagement. His legacy lives on as Bloomington remains a center for progressive politics in Central Illinois.

How to cite this page
DeCosta, Madeline. “Blue, Richard.” McLean County Museum of History, 2023, Accessed 17 Apr. 2024.
DeCosta, M. (2023). Blue, Richard. McLean County Museum of History,
DeCosta, Madeline. “Blue, Richard.” McLean County Museum of History. 2023. Retrieved from