African American art, literature, theater and music are integral to the cultural fabric of Chicago. While the many contributions of the area’s Black communities can be appreciated throughout the year, Black History Month (February) – which dates back over a century – is a special time for recognizing their important role in U.S. history.
Thanks to the important role Chicago played in Black history, the area is home to many fascinating landmarks that are worth the visit. Did you know the windy city’s founder, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, was African American? Find out about his legacy and the many local landmarks, starting with DuSable’s home. Your local South Suburban Currency Exchange (SSCE) will get you started – ensuring your vehicle stickers are updated and your check is cashed before you hit the road.
DuSable Homesite at Pioneer Court
Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable had been a prosperous farmer and fur trader. As lore has it, he was the first non-native to settle here. He established a trading settlement in the 1780s, nearly half a century before Chicago was incorporated as a city. Pioneer Court marks the site of DuSable’s 18th-century home and trading post. Today, you can visit the plaza at the junction of Upper Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, in the city’s famed Magnificent Mile. A statue of DuSable marks the area on Michigan Avenue.
DuSable Museum of African American History
Every Illinoisan should visit the DuSable Museum of African American History, whose collection expands every year, located in Chicago’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood. What better time to check out its more than 15,000 pieces – from paintings sculptures to print works and historical memorabilia. The museum also hosts countless special workshops, lectures and exhibitions. Currently, they include one produced by actress Viola Davis and another celebrating Harold Washington, the city’s first Black mayor.
Chess Records Put Its Stamp on Illinois and the Country
Did you know Chuck Berry recorded some of his biggest hits at Chess Records in Chicago? Though the company is no longer in business, you can still stop by to pay tribute to the record label that helped give birth to rock & roll. Take a tour in the original Michigan Avenue building where numerous blues legends were recorded – from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to Bo Diddley and Buddy Guy. (Call ahead for a tour.)
Monument to the Great Migration
The “Great Migration” refers to the period between 1910 and 1960 that brought hundreds of thousands of African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South to Chicago and other northern cities. Alison Saar’s bronze figure near 25th Street and King Drive, just 10 minutes from the Loop, is a testament to the people who came in search of greater freedom and opportunity and created a vibrant community despite segregation. In the monument, a traveler’s hand is raised to the north in recognition of his new destination. His other hand carries a suitcase that symbolizes his journey and aspirations.
On your way out, swing by the Victory Monument. Erected in 1927, it is located at 3500 South Martin Luther King Drive in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood. This monument honors the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard, an African-American unit that served in World War I. The names of 137 infantry members who lost their lives are inscribed on a bronze panel.
Warm Yourself with Some Traditional Soul Food
One of many contributions of Black culture to the city is its rich tradition of soul food, a cuisine originating in the South. There are many cafes and restaurants throughout the Chicago area that serve up delicious, heart-warming dishes. This list tells visitors where they can go to indulge in “smothered meats, collard greens, peach cobbler” and more.
Take in Some Live Blues or Jazz Music
In Chicago, music can’t be separated from Black history. After visiting the landmarks above, take a moment to recognize the contributions to jazz and blues music of African American musicians. Sure, you don’t need to leave your house to enjoy some historic tunes. But why not support local blues and jazz haunts that are part and parcel of the African American legacy in this country? Notable stops on your tour (if rules permit) should include Buddy Guy’s Legends – you might see the legend himself! – Jazz Showcase or Green Mill.
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