Decatur is the largest city and the county seat of Macon County in the U.S. state of Illinois. The city, sometimes called "the Soybean Capital of the World", was founded in 1829 and is located along the Sangamon River and Lake Decatur in Central Illinois. In 2000 the city population was 81,500, and 76,122 in 2010, due to continued population decline. Prior to the 2010 census, Decatur was the sixth-most populous city in Illinois, but is no longer listed in the top ten Illinois cities outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area. According to Sperling's Best Places, Decatur's metropolitan area population is 114,749.
Decatur is a classic Midwest USA small city situated with homes and park areas facing Lake Decatur, and with many historic brick buildings downtown. This city is home of private Millikin University and public Richland Community College. Decatur is a college town with treelined streets and vast industrial and agricultural processing production and is located in the Interior Plains of North America. Decatur is home to the corporate headquarters of international agricultural conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland which laid off 335 workers in Decatur and 1200 companywide in 2012 according to Crain's Business newspaper.
In the transition from a manufacturing to a service economy, Decatur has experienced some population decline as new development activity grows to the outer Decatur metro area, seemingly blurring the detectable boundaries of contiguous city limits of neighboring communities Mount Zion, Harristown, and Forsyth.
Decatur has become an affiliate of the U.S. Main Street program, in conjunction with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Post No. 1 of the Grand Army of the Republic was founded by Civil War veterans in Decatur on April 6, 1866.
The Edward P. Irving House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1911, is located at #2 Millikin Place, Decatur. In addition, the Robert Mueller Residence, 1 Millikin Place, and the Adolph Mueller Residence, 4 Millikin Place, have been attributed to Wright's assistants Hermann V. von Holst and Marion Mahony.
Decatur was the first home in Illinois of Abraham Lincoln, who settled just west of Decatur with his family in 1830. Lincoln gave his first political speech in Decatur about the importance of Sangamon River navigation that caught the attention of Illinois political leaders. As a lawyer on the 8th Judicial Circuit, Lincoln made frequent stops in Decatur, and argued five cases in the log courthouse that stood on the corner of Main & Main Streets. The original courthouse is now on the grounds of the Macon County Historical Museum on North Fork Road.
On May 9 and 10, 1860, the Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur. At this convention Lincoln received his first endorsement for President of the United States as "The Railsplitter Candidate." In commemoration of Lincoln's bicentennial the Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel on June 6 & 7, 2008.
ADM price-fixing case
In early November 1992, the high-ranking Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) executive Mark Whitacre confessed to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent that ADM executives, including Whitacre himself, had routinely met with competitors to fix the price of lysine, a food additive.
The lysine conspirators, including ADM, ultimately settled federal charges for more than $100 million. ADM also paid hundreds of millions of dollars [$400 million alone on the high fructose corn syrup Class Action case] to plaintiffs/customers that it stole from during the price-fixing schemes. Furthermore, several Asian and European lysine and citric acid producers, that conspired to fix prices with ADM, paid criminal fines in the tens of millions of dollars to the U.S. government. Several executives, including the Vice Chairman of ADM, did federal prison time.
The investigation and prosecution of ADM and some of its executives has been reported to be one of the "best documented corporate crimes in American history". The events were the basis of a book named The Informant as well as a film named The Informant!
On April 18 and 19, 1996, the city was hit by tornadoes. On 18th an F1 tornado hit the city's southeast side, followed by an F3 tornado the following evening on the Northwest Side. The two storms totaled approximately $10.5 Million in property damage.
Jesse Jackson protest
In November 1999, Decatur was brought into the national news when the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition protested the two-year expulsion of seven African American students who had been involved in a serious fight at an Eisenhower High School football game under a recently enacted "zero tolerance" policy. Six of the students were arrested but not charged after the fracas. Four were later charged as adults with mob action, a felony. Jesse Jackson intervened in the incident, bringing the controversy to national attention, protesting both the severity and length of the punishment and also alleging racial bias (schools in Decatur in 1999 had an enrollment that was about 44 percent black and five of the six Decatur students expelled in the prior year were black). Jackson pointed out he was invited by the students' parents and that he spoke with them, the kids, ministers and teachers before protesting the zero-tolerance severity of the punishment: "No one can survive zero tolerance," Jackson said. "We all need mercy and grace."
Outside of Decatur, public support was largely against the School Board's decision but changed once a videotape of the incident surfaced filmed by a parent at the game. Broadcast on national TV news, it showed a melee that swept through one end of the grandstands, with kicking and punching, as some of the fighters tumbled over the rails. The game was stopped and players gawked at the fighting in the bleachers. Ed Bohem, the principal at MacArthur High School who attended the game, described it as a riot: "I feared for the safety of our people -- my parents, my students," Bohem said, referring to the crowd in the bleachers. "You had people pushed through bars, people covering little children so they wouldn't get hurt. It was violent." Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition organized marches that included hundreds of people bused in from outside the area, criticizing the school board for what Jackson said was unfairly harsh treatment of the boys over a fight. Jackson was arrested and detained briefly; however, charges were later dropped. School officials say the students involved in the fighting were known as truants, described three of them as "third-year freshmen", and noted that the seven students combined had missed 350 days of high school.
The issue dissipated when the school board reduced the original expulsions from two years to one year and agreed to let the students earn credit while attending an alternative school.
The students involved in the fight have since taken different paths in life: with one being sentenced to state prison for 10 years for a 2004 felony drug conviction; another having finished college (helped by a Rainbow PUSH scholarship); another working as a butcher; and a fourth being arrested for home invasion in 2009. Jesse Jackson was criticized for turning what could have been a legitimate criticism/discussion of the effects of "zero tolerance" policies into a racial "three-ring circus" by attempting to present the seven youths as victims of bigotry (which backfired when the home video of the incident was released).
Firestone Tire plant closing causes turmoil
Decatur was named the top small metro area in 2000 by Sperling Best Places, due to its park system, 2 local colleges and vast manufacturing. The subsequent Firestone Plant closing in 2000 caused layoffs of over 5,000 workers and large numbers of foreclosures and abandoned homes. In May 2000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contacted Firestone Tire about the high incidence of tire failure on Ford Explorers, Mercury Mountaineers, and Mazda Navajos fitted with Firestone tires. Investigators found that several models of 15" Firestone tires (ATX, ATX II, and Wilderness AT) had very high failure rates, especially those made at Firestone's Decatur plant. Investigators also found that the failure rates were brought down to normal levels when installed on other sport utility vehicles. The plant opted to pay off the lawsuits rather than recall the tires. This was one of the leading factors to the closing of the Decatur plant. Another leading factor that led to the closing of the plant, was the age of the facility and the equipment. Firestone officials have been quoted saying that the plant was going to be closed in the near future anyway and it happened to coincide with the tire failures.