Victory Bell was born on March 7, 1934, in Durant, Mississippi. His parents were Bea Bell and Gladys Thompson. Victory said, “I came from a sharecropping background. I had a sense of what I desired and didn’t have, but I did have strong family values growing up around my grandparents and extended family. This has been very important for me.”
Victory’s family migrated to Rockford, Illinois from Durant in 1945. As they migrated here from Durant, the people traveling would either go to Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, or Iowa. Victory stated, “Rockford, at the time, had the largest machine tool industry in the world, so companies allowed African Americans to bring friends to work there.”
Victory stated, “I attended Montague Elementary School; later I went to West High School. While at Montague, there were great barriers because it was a mixed race school. In Durant, I went to an all Black school; however in Rockford, I had to adjust to having a White teacher. I remember, Mrs. Burns my teacher, she was a committed educator; she recognized my difficulties. She spent lots of time with me, encouraging me to study. She helped me with special assignments and with my handwriting. When I attended West High School, it was the most integrated school in the city. I graduated from West, in 1953.”
Victory continued, “At the time I was in high school, religion played a main role and was the guiding principle for African Americans. In the 50’s, the churches in Rockford were strong in religion, education, and family values, which promoted positive life. We worked collectively in a united front. The community had high expectations of you as well. Then Blacks got caught up in the Affirmative Action Movement instead of equality of ownership of their own community. I think, with open housing and fair housing, Blacks just left their communities; those that were socially and economically able, remember empowerment and economic opportunity is what brought families to Rockford.”
“When we arrived in Rockford in 1945, there was very little decent housing. We normally lived with other people who rented rooms. We had four families living in a two story residence, and it was common for them to have separate times to cook. They had scheduled times to use the one kitchen. One of my sisters got married and this gave us another place people could stay. People can live where they want to live now as long as they can afford it.”
Victory said, “I began working at Illinois Bell Telephone Company as a janitor right after I graduated from high school in 1953. By 1964, I was promoted to supply clerk, where I was in charge of the mailroom and responsible for delivery of all mail throughout the entire City of Rockford and the Chicago area. In 1966, I was promoted to the Material Supply area-equipment and wiring; I took care of the stock room.”
Victory continued to get promotions: to Installation Department as an Installer and then, in 1969, was promoted to Plant Dispatcher, where he dispatched assignments to Installers for home and business installations. He said, “On April 1, 1970, I was promoted to manager of installations where I managed 12 employees. I did this job for 21 years and retired in March, 1987, after 33 years on the job.”
Presently, Victory is working at the Illinois Secretary of State Motor Vehicle Department.
His long career as a politician began as a precinct committeeman in 1962. He was elected to the 5th Ward and served 8 years in that position. He has been very active on the Winnebago County Political Action Committee – as President for all Black Precinct Committeemen throughout Winnebago County. He has been instrumental in promoting county board members for their seats, and he helped Mayor McGaw get elected in 1970. In 1971, Victory was elected as alderman. He has served in this position for 35 years. He is the longest office holding alderman throughout the United States. Victory said, “I got my political exposure through the Booker Washington Center, churches, the Elks Club, and the American Legion. Some of the other social outlets were: the Lush Head, neighborhood clubs, Booker Washington Center, Eldorado, and the American Legion. The churches were the anchors, which held our community together throughout the West Side of Rockford. Another place that opened in the 50s was ‘The Silver Grill Restaurant’ on Green Street, which was owned Joe Ella Levingston. Customers came from all parts of the city to visit it.”
Victory added, “I helped get Joe Latin hired as the first African American automobile mechanic for the State of Illinois. I had a hand in getting others elected for positions as well, like Margie Sturgis to the State Pardon Board in 1972, Charles Parteete as Civil Service Commission, and Al Spates to the Police and Fire Commission. I learned at an early age that I wanted equality and didn’t feel I had to leave the 5th Ward to gain some status and still believe this today. The school system, banks and realtors didn’t treat the South and West Sides of Rockford fairly, so when you think of systematic racism, it was created by them.”
Victory stated, “I was keenly aware of what role politics would play in the advancement of African Americans; but people who were elected were not really promoting these ideas and beliefs. I realized we needed to get people elected who were committed to our agenda. Our agenda was all about jobs, education, housing, and equality for all.”
Victory said, “Some of the obstacles my family faced were similar to the underground railroad because, when people migrated here, they had to use a pass for the railroad, usually under an assumed name. When we migrated, we left one destination, let’s say Mississippi, usually at 12:00 a.m. and arrived in Chicago between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. within the next 2 days. They would sit in the train station in Chicago, which was at the 12th Street Station, until midnight and then come to Rockford. They usually came in groups as large as 25 to 30 people. This happened every weekend. The groups would include family members and friends.”
He met Carol, his current wife in Rockford. They got married on November 21, 1981, and have been married for 25 years. They have six children: Jeffery, Gregory, Victor, Michelle, Roger, and Bradley.
Stokes, Ernest. Victory Bell. Black Rockfordians: Their Journey through the Forest City: An Oral History Project. Cherry Valley, IL: FDS Pub., 2007. 8-10. Print.