In 1995, Dr. Lyn Hughes founded the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum to commemorate the thousands of African-American men who staffed Pullman sleeping cars for more than a century, between 1869 and 1969. Twenty-three years later, Hughes is convinced that the museum’s renewed attempt to catalogue the 20,000 descendants of these men will constitute her legacy. “Long after I’m gone,” she said, “it will be in history books. It will be part of the record that nobody can take away, no matter who’s mayor, no matter who’s alderman, no matter who’s president.”
All of my life I sat in history classes when we were young, and we didn’t see ourselves. No one ever handed me a book full of Black women, about Black women, by Black women, ever, in my public education.”
In national conversations about the legacy of anti-Black racism in America, the subject of racial violence is often only discussed as being a Southern phenomenon. We can recall examples of the violence used to enforce the South’s racial hierarchy: Jim Crow laws, the lynching of Black men, and the bombing of Black churches. Despite the popular narrative of the North being much more progressive than the South, with the abolitionist movement and more economic opportunities for African-American citizens after slavery, the history of Chicago in the early twentieth century also exhibited continuous occurrences of racial violence and discrimination. The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, which lasted for a full week and resulted in thirty-eight deaths and over 500 people injured, is an often-overlooked event in Chicago’s history that undergoes new examination in the book A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield, published this January.
Tucked away on a quiet residential street in Greater Grand Crossing, an unassuming house boasts a rich legacy. From 1953 to 1994, the house located at 7428 South Evans Avenue was home to none other than Gwendolyn Brooks, the Topeka-born, South Side-raised poet, author, and teacher. Built in 1890, today the house remains modest but well-kept by its current owner. Its one-and-a-half story gray and white exterior is a welcome change among the predominantly brick two-story houses surrounding it. Though the house is far from flashy, a closer look reveals endearing details, such as the delicate white latticework tucked below its welcoming veranda. Its simple structure is transformed into something truly remarkable when one imagines the world of creative expression it held for the four decades that Brooks lived there—and what it took to get there.
Nothing in the facade of the fire station at the intersection of 55th and University Avenue betrays the location, underneath the firehouse, of a Cold War–era bomb shelter. All functioning bomb shelters are alike, but each decommissioned shelter was decommissioned in its own way. This one turned into a gym.
In May of 1937, eight-year-old Lorraine Hansberry moved with her family to a home in the all-white neighborhood of what is now West Woodlawn, in an act that helped fight a racially segregated housing system in Chicago. Two weeks ago, a crowd of over one hundred convened just a twenty-minute walk away from that same childhood home to watch Sighted Eyes / Feeling Heart, a new documentary honoring Hansberry’s life as both a playwright and activist.
When Anne Keough, the branch manager at Blackstone Library, looked in the cabinets behind her desk during recent renovations, she didn’t expect to find a treasure trove of historic documents. Blackstone Library opened in Kenwood in 1904 as the first branch of the Chicago Public Library system. In Keough’s office sat volumes of Shakespeare from the late 1800s, old copies of the Hyde Park Herald, and decades-old library policies. Weekly editor Rod Sawyer spoke with Keough about her discoveries, the history of the Chicago Public Library System, and the importance of time capsules.
This week on SSW Radio, we spoke with a home baker, a library branch manager, and heard stories from Englewood Speaks
On Saturday, September 29, 1906, the Great Lakes were struck with a gale. That same day, the barge, Car Ferry No. 2 was carrying twenty-eight railroad cars of iron ore and cedar telegraph poles from Peshtigo, Wisconsin to South Chicago. As the barge neared Chicago’s port, waves began to break and water made its way into the hold. Otto C. Olson, captain of the ship, threw down an anchor, and began to pump out the water. But the iron ore was too heavy. The ship flipped.