ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — The Midway Village Museum unveiled a newly acquired portrait of Winston Ward, a former slave who became a longtime Rockford resident.

Ward was born a slave and lived in Tennessee between 1833 and 1841 before moving to Rockford to start a new life.

He grew up and raised a family on Rural Street.

Ward also attended Allen Chapel AME Church, which is currently led by Rev. Dr. John Halbert, who said he had to come and see the painting on Friday.

“I want to understand just a part of what that history and how it connects with the church where I am right now,” Halbert said.

Other guests at today’s unveiling, like Rev. William Martin, of Providence Baptist Church, said the portrait gives people an insight into the history of African-Americans in Rockford and their contributions to the city.

“To know we are in Black History month and just to find this find here in Rockford, Rockford history, it was amazing. It gave me goosebumps and chills,” Martin said.

The museum’s curator of collections, Laura Furman, said the organization is honored to preserve a part of Rockford’s history and display it for all to see what the life of freed slaves was like in the 1870s and 1880s as they migrated to Rockford.

“I think it is just a wonderful story about a resident who might have gone completely unnoticed without the preservation of this painting,” Furman said. “It just tells us a lot more about the early residents of the Rockford Black community.”

Halbert said he wanted to find out more about who Winston Ward was as a person.

“[His history has] probably been lost or overlooked, but now it will be revealed and that gives me excitement, like ‘yes! yes! another part!’ As a matter of fact, I’m probably find go home and look for myself starting today,” he said.

Staff at the Midway Village Museum, located at 6799 Guilford Road, say they are still digging to find out more information about Ward. The portrait was donated to the museum in December 2022.