Remembering Erma Bridgewater

Just a few days ago, Erma Bridgewater, native and long-time resident of Champaign, Illinois, passed away at the age of 99.

Image taken by Brent Faklis of Jason Patterson’s charcoal on canvas.


Erma Scott Bridgewater was born on November 24, 1913. She received a sociology degree from the University of Illinois in 1937.  She was also a member of the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Two years after graduating, she became the Director of Champaign’s Department of Recreation at the Douglas Center.   She continued to work for the the city of Champaign in a variety of positions until her retirement in the 1980s.

Involvement in, and support of, community was a central theme throughout her life. In 2001, Erma Bridgewater and Ellen Swain, the Student Life & Culture Archivist, sat down for an interview at her home in Champaign.   This interview is available for streaming or reading on the Archives’ Oral History Projects webpage.

Because of Erma Bridgewater’s unstinting support and participation in her community, she was recognized at a 2010 symposium celebrating people working to make a difference in Champaign-Urbana’s African American community.  Her story is included in Difference Makers 2010: An eBlack Champaign-Urbana Publication.  In 2011, Jason Patterson also included a charcoal on canvas of Erma Bridgewater in 23 Portraits, an art show that featured 23 influential African American women from Champaign-Urbana at the Murphy Gallery, University of Illinois YMCA Building.

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