SPRINGFIELD – A new report raises questions about how a state panel formed to promote awareness about the African slave trade spent its money.
An audit released Thursday shows that the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency paid the Amistad Commission $100,000 to prepare and distribute materials to assist schools in training students about the history of slavery.
But Auditor General William Holland said a memo shows the money was spent on a catered event costing $98,000. Nearly half that amount was earmarked to pay, transport and house four keynote speakers, while another $10,000 was set aside for unknown administrative and indirect costs.
Historic Preservation Agency spokesman David Blanchette said the event was for teachers and resulted in them taking information from the daylong conference to help them in the classroom. About 250 people attended the event.
“We are satisfied that those were legitimate expenses,” Blanchette said.
The Amistad Commission was formed by lawmakers in 2004 to promote awareness of slavery and the African slave trade. It was named in honor of a group of 53 Africans who were transported on the Spanish slave ship Amistad. They overthrew their captors and helped galvanize efforts to end slavery in the U.S.
Among the members of the board at the time of the event were the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was President Barack Obama’s pastor. He resigned from the panel in 2008.
Holland said failure by the agency to monitor the grant “could result in the misuse of funds.”
Blanchette said the commission has been virtually inactive since the conference.