Charles Box, a native Rockfordian and former Mayor, was born February 24, 1951, to Horace and Adeller Blake Box. In 1947, his family migrated from Arkansas to Rockford, Illinois. Charles stated, “When I was born, we lived in a place located on Rock River Avenue. We never wanted for anything. Growing up, I never thought about being rich or poor; we had food on the table and always took vacations.”
Charles continued, “In Rockford, in the late 40’s, if you had a strong back, you could work in the factories and foundries, and make a good living; however, things began to change in the late 60’s with computers, technology, and other advances. My first summer job was bagging groceries at Po Joe’s Pacemaker, about 3 blocks from my home on West State Street. Today, if you don’t have a high school or college degree, it would be hard to find a job. Most of the machines they work on now require you to have a degree to read the blueprints.”
Charles said, “My family is most recognized for ‘Box’s Barbeque,’ our family’s business. ‘Box’s Barbeque’ opened in 1966 near the corner of Morgan and Main Streets. In 2003, we finally closed the business. We figured we had a good run; we were in business for 37 years. People loved our food. We decided ‘let’s go out on top;’ we didn’t want to be forced out of business.”
In high school, Charles participated in three sports: football, basketball, and baseball. In his junior year of high school, Box was in the National Honor Society and was most valuable player for the football team. He held the position of associate editor of the school’s yearbook as well. Charles said, “Even though neither one of my parents graduated from high school, they instilled in us the need to graduate from high school and then go to college.”
Box went to college and graduated from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1976 and Dartmouth College in 1973 with an AB degree in History.
Charles became Legal Director for the City in 1981 and held that post for six years. He then became City Administrator for two years, and, in 1988, he ran for Mayor of Rockford. Rockford had never had African American mayor before Charles Box. About the event, he said, “My family and I decided that I decided that I should run for Mayor of Rockford, so I did.”
That year, Box won the election with 63% of the vote; he ran again in 1993 and received 73%, carrying 125 out of 126 precincts. Then, in 1997, he ran again and received 52 percent of the vote.
Charles explained, “Rev. Salters, Rev. Gilbert and others played a major part in the community, and they laid the groundwork for us to move forward. You notice that most of those can-do people were ministers. I can categorically say that, without the help of the ministers in 1989, I would have never been elected Mayor.”
Box was mayor for 12 years. He currently serves as Chairman of The Illinois Commerce Commission for the State of Illinois. He has served on many boards and organizations, too numerous to mention. Charles said, “My greatest achievement came when I spearheaded the West Side Alive Program. It was gratifying to see the faces of kids who had never had their own bedroom.”
Stokes, Ernest. “Charles Box.” Black Rockfordians: Their Journey through the Forest City: An Oral History Project. Cherry Valley, IL: FDS Pub., 2007. 16-17. Print.