1. Underground Railroad Memorial
The Underground Railroad Memorial exhibit located at 11 North 1st Avenue, Maywood, Illinois is one of several dedicated sites in the state to the Underground Railroad. Though it is missing from the 24 designated sites on the official National Park Service website, It was inducted by The Illinois Historical Markers Group in the year 2000. The most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman. She was known to have travelled back and forth over 13 times between Maryland and Canada. It is understandable that the actual path that was taken is more challenging to distinguish , since the homes and riverbanks that the enslaved walked had to be hidden in plain sight so as to go unnoticed as they fled the horrific conditions of enslavement wherever it was practiced.
The historical site was found when then volunteer Jerri W. Stenson was researching papers, maps, and news articles at the Oak Park, Maywood, and Chicago Historical Societies looking for the first people of color that came to the village according to an article written in 2018 by Village Free Press. Stenson ended up finding out who they were, and, found mention of a "Freedom House" owned by Zebina Eastman. Eastman was an abolitionist and author of "The Black Code" written in 1883, which was the official document of Illinois' stance against slavery. The "Freedom House" served as a safe haven for the enslaved on their way to freedom.
In the year 2000 a memorial site was dedicated alongside the Des Plaines river, adjacent to McDonald's on the corner of 1st Avenue, and Lake Street. It was sponsored by McDonald's Corp and RJ Nelson Enterprises with the cooperation of the Village of Maywood and the Operation Uplift - WestTown Museum of Cultural History. The site consists of a plaque mounted on a rock, with railroad tracks on either side. Closer to the river banks are a pair of broken ankle brackets connected to a chain mounted on top of a stone pillar.
The plaque reads:
"Many black slaves fled from the antebellum south and gained their freedom by secretly traveling through the "Underground Railroad" route during the mid 1800s. A "Ten Mile Freedom House" providing shelter for the "Underground Railroad" travelers stood on this site in that era. It was razed in 1927. The memorial symbolically represents the escape from the chains of slavery, the journey through the Underground railroad and he arrival in this new land of liberty and opportunity. It recognizes the Freedom House site and is dedicated to the men and women who courageously participated in the Underground railroad freedom quest.
If ya' wanna be free, keep a goin'...Harriet Tubman
Dedicated December 2000
Made possible by McDonalds Corp and RJ Nelson Enterprises with the cooperation of the Village of Maywood and the Operation Uplift West Town Museum of Cultural History."
Other ties to the Underground Railroad have been explored through Depaul's archeological department in collaboration with the WestTown Museum of Cultural History in a 2011 article "What Are Maywood’s Connections To The Underground Railroad? DePaul Archaeologists Begin Excavating Answers
2. Fred Hampton Aquatic Center
Located in the heart of Maywood, The Fred Hampton Aquatic Center, is a bitter sweet reminder of the legacy of the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton. Maywood was the birth home of Fred Hampton located on 804 South 17th Ave . After the recent release of the film "Judas and the Rise of the Black Messiah" as reported in The Village Free Press, actor Daniel Kaluuya visited Maywood at the request of Fred Hampton Jr., (Hampton's son). In recent months the area surrounding the home has become a beautiful mural of vivd designs and pictures commemorating Fred Hampton's life and the Black Panthers in general according to Village Free Press article. Fred Hampton Jr. has announced plans to convert the Hampton house into a community center and museum, archive the Panthers’ history and host political education programs and has reopened the gofundme page even though he reached his initial goal and because of ongoing support..
3. Maywood, A City With a History of Black Mayors
Maywood elected its first Black Mayor in 1981 as reported in The Village Free Press. Joe Freelon served three total terms and was well respected. Maywood has had a total of 5 Black Mayors: Joe Freelon, Don Williams, Ralph Conner, Henderson Yarbrough and Mayor Edweena Perkins, who is serving her second term.
4. Operation Uplift - WestTown Museum of Cultural History
Since its inception in 1995, The WestTown Museum of Cultural History located at 104 S 5th Ave, Maywood, has served the community as a training center for jobs and computer use through its founder George Stone, I. Operation Uplift is the parent company of The WestTown Museum of Cultural History and was founded in 1968 by Director G.E. Stone II. It is a true destination location because photographs are prohibited in viewing the treasured archives behind its walls. The administrative staff consists of Director G.E. Stone II, Executive Director N.H. Stone, President/CEO Emeritus (Posthumous), and Edward L. Millon, Chairman. In January 2020, Operation Uplift celebrated its 32nd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Black Tie Awards Banquet where they unveiled a painting called The Chairman Fred Hampton Sr by artist Shanelle Powel. It now is displayed in the Museum's Fred Hampton exhibit paying a noble tribute to the cherished hometown hero. The WestTown Museum of Cultural History is a hidden gem and one of the forces behind many of the cultural activities around town.
In an interview and tour of the Museum, with Mrs. Stenson revealed that the first people of color to live in Maywood was a bi-racial couple in 1887 named The Hurst family on 417 South 13th Avenue which is still standing today.
In a recent interview with the curator, Mrs. Stenson, she shared that she received the Studs Terkel award for the 2000 Underground Railroad marker and is also the president of the Maywood Historical Society which is also housed within the museum. The building consists of two floors with the first floor housing the newspaper articles, memorabilia and classroom. The second floor is a meeting space available for rental. The adjacent empty lot is the future location of the Museum once funds are secured. The Museum currently is accepting visitors by appointment by phone: 708-343-3554. The WestTown Museum of Cultural History is a 5013 organization and accepts donations:
WestTown Museum of Cultural History
c/o Operation Uplift
104 S 5th Avenue,
Maywood, Illinois 60153
5. (Senator) Lightford Recreation Center
In 2018, the South wing of the Maywood Park District was revived and renovated with sponsorship dollars championed in large part by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford. It is located at 809 Madison St. In the early 1900's it was a Children’s Receiving Home for orphans before being turned over to the Park District. According to a 2018 Village Free Press Article, "the new center includes a health and fitness room, a dance studio and music instruction space, a kitchen, administrative offices, an instructional space for the very young, a room devoted to senior citizens and, a third-floor multipurpose room that includes several lounge areas and a billiards table." Senator LIghtford, a childhood resident of Maywood was inspired after seeing its doors shuttered in 1995. She remembered using the building for dances and parties. She went to state rep Gene Moore and inquired about it. When he asked her what she was going to do about it, and suggested she run for Trustee, she launched herself into the political arena. The rest, as they say is history.
For more information regarding the Village of Maywood Parks and Recreation, contact the Mayor's office at 708-450-4492 or the Village Manager's office at 708-450-6301 or 6303.
6. Afriware Books, Co
Afriware Books, Co is a bookstore, gift shop and cultural resource center located at 1701 S. 1st Ave., Suite 400 in Maywood. Since 1993 AfriWare Books has served the community by providing a platform to showcase authors, artists and advocates who infuse us with a sense of cultural pride. Afriware moved to Maywood in 2014 and has hosted book signings with authors like Anthony T. Browder, Maggie Anderson, Runoko Rashidi, Dr. Nnedi Okorafor and many more. An annual Kwanzaa event draws hundreds from the community to come and celebrate with vendors, music and food. Hours through the pandemic are Thursday through Saturdays 12noon-4pm. Visit our website at www.afriwarebooks.com, and Read our latest newsletter.
7. Jazz Desires Music School
Jazz artist D'Erania Stampley opened a music school in 2019 called,"Jazz Desires" as reported in the Village Free Press. Located at 1213 S. 17th Ave, instructors will teach a range of classes in drumming, guitar, saxophone, and piano to name a few. Jazz Desires is a nonprofit, plans to reopen in April 2021, and can be reached for more info or to enroll in classes at the link here. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (773) 392-0948.
8. Maywood Fest
It has been an honor and a pleasure to participate as a vendor in the Annual Maywood Fest in 2018-2019. Maywood Fest is held annually with music, vendors, community organizations, and much more. It takes place in September and is sponsored by the Village of Maywood at 125 N. 5th Ave in Veteran's Park. The vendor contact has been Randall McFarland and Rajeska Jackson of Best of Proviso Township. It is one of many reasons to come and visit this town with a legacy of Black innovation and Black Mayors' broad shoulders who have kept its charm through the tough realities and hard knocks of life in America for Black people. The video at the top of this blog was taken on the grounds during one of the festivals.
9. Maywood Peace Garden
Located on the corner of 17th Avenue and Madison, The Maywood Peace Garden serves as a beautiful accent and symbol of what can happen when the community comes together. As part of Maywood Youth Mentoring's (MYM) scope of community activities, Barbara Cole (pictured below), Executive Director, stated that the garden got its start in 2011. Garden space was donated by the People's Cab Company owner David Scott. In a recent phone interview, Cole stated that MYM has received a grant from Proviso Partners for Health to paint a Mural called - Black on Black Love which will be forthcoming. Each year she also works with the University of IL Masters Gardner's Program as reported by VFP "Loyola Students Help Cultivate Hardy Maywood Peace Garden" who comes out to supervise cleanup, do Spring planting and Fall cleanup.
According to MYM's website, the nonprofit's mission is to:
improve the critical-thinking, cultural enrichment and literacy of Proviso Township youth by engaging volunteers in providing quality mentoring activities for youth.
Tax-free donations can be made to:
Maywood Youth Mentoring Program
P.O. Box 65, Maywood, IL 60153
10. Conner/Heise Park
Located on the corner of Washington Boulevard and 10th Avenue is a park with Baseball Diamonds, Basketball Court, Playground, Soccer Field, Softball Fields Tennis Courts and a plaque mounted to a stone [picture forthcoming]. There are a total of eleven parks in Maywood. Conner/Heise was named in part after an African American. Thomas (Tommy) Conner (brother of Ralph Conner the third African American Mayor of Maywood) was one of the young men. The other man was white, named Thomas (Tommy) Heise. Both were Mayoodians who graduated from Proviso East and killed during the Vietnam War. Both were named Thomas according to a January 18, 1998 Chicago Tribune article posted inside the WestTown Museum of Cultural History, and informally referred to as Tommy. The park is sometimes referred to as "Two-Tommy Park" as discussed in an Op-Ed piece in the the Wednesday Journal.
Though its upkeep has seen better days, hopefully, people will raise their voices to local government officials to improve the park's upkeep.
11. Dr. Percy Julian Home 1935-1950
World renowned chemist Dr. Percy Julian lived in Maywood with his wife Anna and two children Faith Roselle and Percy Lavon for 15 years. The location was 152 South 14th Avenue. In tribute to his contributions and time spent there, the street by the home was re-named Percy L. Julian Family Way in September 2010 as reported in the Rotary Razz newsletter. After the family left Maywood they moved to Oak Park. Within a two year period the house was firebombed and attacked with dynamite.
BONUS MENTION AND THANKS to The Village Free Press
Michael Romain, owner/director/editor of The Village Free Press has spearheaded the archiving of activities in Maywood since 2013. We owe a great debt to his important work which he does with the highest calibre of excellence. It is a job a department of people could be dedicated to, but each year he somehow makes it happen with a small team around him. His mission through The village Free Press is "to build communities and enhance local democracy by providing people with information that actually means something and creating moments that matter." Their motto is “Integrity First.”
Please visit his website and share the financial love to his organization by donation, click here.
His website can be reached here:
Village Free Press
join email list