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The Honorable Earlean Collins

Earlean Collins was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and was one of fourteen children. Collins moved to Chicago, Illinois, as a teenager and graduated from Wendell Phillips High School. She later attended the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Campus.

Collins’ introduction to Illinois politics came through her marriage to Otis Collins, who served for eight years in the Illinois House of Representatives. However, Collins and her husband separated and by 1975 she was living in Oak Park, Illinois, and working for the Department of Children and Family Services. She was encouraged at that time to run for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. Collins became the first African American female to be elected to the Illinois Senate in 1976.

In the Senate, Collins served on the Committees on Insurance, Appropriations, Pensions & Licensed Activities and Elementary & Secondary Education. In addition, she chaired both the Transportation and the Developmentally Disabled Homeless Committees and was Vice-Chairperson of the Labor and Commerce Committee. She was the first African American female in a leadership position in the State Senate, serving as Democratic Leader of the Executive Committee. Among the pieces of legislation introduced by Collins was a proposal directing the Illinois police to draw up guidelines for high-speed pursuits. She also sponsored a bill to require handgun buyers to complete an eight-hour firearm safety course.

In 1994, Collins ran for the position of State Comptroller of Illinois. She received the nomination of her party, but was ultimately defeated. Five years later, she resigned from the Senate after two decades to run for Commissioner of the Cook County Board, where she currently serves. Remarried, Collins is the mother of one son. She has been honored by the Chicago Urban League, receiving their “Beautiful People Award.”

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Marital Status



Henry Weathers Elementary School

Sharkey County High School

Wendell Phillips Academy High School

Chicago State University

University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Springfield

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Rolling Fork



Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food

Fish, Vegetables

Short Description

City commissioner and county commissioner The Honorable Earlean Collins (1937 - ) was introduced to politics by her former husband Otis Collins. In 1976, Collins became the first African American female to be elected to the Illinois Senate. After twenty years in the Illinois State Senate, Collins was elected to be the Commissioner of the Cook County Board.


Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

Illinois General Assembly

Cook County Board of Commissioners

Favorite Color

Black, Blue, Green

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Earlean Collins' interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Earlean Collins lists her favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Earlean Collins talks about her parents, Charlie and Cary Branch</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Earlean Collins shares her memories of growing up</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Earlean Collins talks about her father's death</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Earlean Collins talks about her special relationship with her mother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Earlean Collins describes her childhood personality</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Earlean Collins talks about her father and her experiences with racism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Earlean Collins recalls her school years and her history of public speaking</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Earlean Collins reflects upon the influence of her favorite teachers, her mother, and black history</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Earlean Collins talks about how her family's move to Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Earlean Collins describes her run for the Illinois General Assembly in 1975</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Earlean Collins talks about her first campaign in 1975 for the Illinois General Assembly</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Earlean Collins describes her ex-husband Otis Collins and his experience in the Illinois General Assembly</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Earlean Collins details her college education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Earlean Collins recalls her work with seniors, students, and teenage mothers as an Illinois State Senator</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Earlean Collins talks about national unity and progress</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Earlean Collins talks about breaking barriers in the Illinois State Senate</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Earlean Collins describes her work as Cook County Commissioner</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Earlean Collins talks about running for Cook County Commissioner</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Earlean Collins describes her personal sacrifices as a politician</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Earlean Collins reflects upon her legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Earlean Collins talks about campaigning without major funds</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Earlean Collins lists her hobbies</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Earlean Collins talks about The HistoryMakers</a>







Earlean Collins talks about breaking barriers in the Illinois State Senate
Earlean Collins details her college education
Your years in the, in the senate [Illinois State Senate]--what do you think is your most important achievement?$$God, I had a lot of them. Well, there--there were (laughs) a lot of them. I'm trying to reserve those for the book. But the fact that I was the first black female ever to serve in the history of the Illinois Senate, I, I think was a major breakthrough. And then the second fact was that was the most chauvinistic place--and again I want to reserve a lot for my book on that. It was not only chauvinistic in terms of relationship between men and women, it was a private club, practically made up of all lawyers. Mostly lawyers made up the Senate and rich folk made up the Senate--businesspeople, but mostly lawyers. And I was able to--and there's no such thing as you were in a leadership role or chaired a major committee or anything of that nature. When I went there my first year, I was appointed chair of the Black Caucus. And, of course, when we organized--and that, all that goes in my book, to the book--but I, I became the first female to serve, to preside in the Senate [Assistant Minority Leader]. And that had never happened before, black or white. So not only was I the first African American female to serve there, I was the first female all around to serve in in a leadership capacity where I presided over the [Illinois State] Senate.$I went to teachers college [Chicago Teachers College, now Chicago State University, Chicago, Illinois] and--two years--and then I went to University of Illinois [University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Campus]. And I finished there and then I started taking some graduate courses, University of Illinois. I never did get my master's degree. And at the time I went, you know, went down state and I started in Sangamon State [now University of Illinois at Springfield, Springfield, Illinois]. And it was just really too much. I, I couldn't--I couldn't handle being a legislator and, you know, going back to, to grad school at the time. So I, I didn't. And the separation from my husband [Otis Collins] and I--that, that posed some problems too. But I, I guess my, my--I always wanted to be a lawyer. And I haven't never really achieved that goal and sometimes I even think about it now. All my colleagues used to tease me about practicing law without a license on the floor because I could always cite constitutional law. I would always get them, you know, on different things when, when I felt that they were doing something wrong. But that probably was my biggest ambition: to be--to be a--to be a lawyer. Yeah.