Rainbow Beach, The Affro Arts Theater, Harold Washington and The DuSable Museum are just some of the cultural monoliths within the constellation of stars stored in the hearts and minds of Black Chicago. This list of titles is a sampling of the architecture, music, political scene, and rich history that impacted its residents over time. There are newer releases paired with more classic works to provide a balance in the perspective.
Books on Black Chicago
At the top of the list is likely the greatest irony of this highly segregated city; The founder of Chicago was a Black Man with origins in Haiti named Jean Point Du Sable. Surprisingly there aren't many books on him, but I was happy to find, "Chicago's Authentic Founder: Jean Baptiste Point DuSable or Haitian Secret Agent in the Old Northwest Outpost 1745-1818 by Marc Rosier" which came out in 2015. I've lived in Chicago most of my life and I remember being surprised to hear that the founder was a Black man in my teen years. It seems to be a well kept secret from mainstream celebrations. There are movements afoot to rename a portion (17 miles) of Lake Shore drive after him. According to ABC News, as reported on April 29, 2021, the City Council Committee has approved of the renaming. A vote still must go before the full council, however. It is baffling to the mind that someone of this historical importance isn't even given a day of celebration each year. But this is likely just part of racism rearing its ugly head; for this is a place where railroad tracks and highways divide the city along racial lines There is a sculpture, a school and a of course a museum (Thanks to Margaret Burroughs) named after him to date. Harold Washington, the city's first Black Mayor, dedicated a park area to Du Sable in 1987, but it has yet to be completed.
And of course the list had to include our beloved Harold Washington who brought a sense of pride and dignity to Black people during his first term in office, and until his untimely death during his second term. He served from April 29, 1983 – November 25, 1987. Just thinking about his warm personality and quick wit brings a smile to my face. I remember seeing him on the street by his home in Hyde Park one day. I was on the bus waving at him as if we were besties. He was that kind of person; very approachable and gregarious. I still have one of those blue campaign buttons seen all across the city and on the buses I would ride. I wore it with pride.
Washington had a famous line he said just before making his acceptance speech, "You Want Harold? You Got him." The crowd roared with applause on camera and in our living rooms. It was a beautiful time. Read more about his campaign and the man behind the microphones in "Harold!" written by WVON host Salim Muwakkil with photographs by Antonio Dickey and Marc Pokempner.
sic scene in Chicago is a full-on vibratory force having been contributed to by Howlin' Wolf, Sun Ra, Oscar Brown Jr, Minnie Ripperton, Dinah Washington, Sam Cooke and many more. Oowee, was I glad to be introduced to Rotary Clubs, "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun" in Michael Rowe's "Move On Up", but I'm looking forward to Ayanna Contrera's "Energy never Dies" after listening to some of her podcasts. AM also eager to browse the photos in, "Bronzeville Nights: On the Town in Chicago's Black Metropolis" by Steven Dubin especially because of the timeframe focused on in the 40's and 50's. Here's the description from the promotional material, "Bronzeville Nights is a treasure box. Souvenir photo folders from the Rhumboogie Club, postcards from the Palm Tavern and matchbook covers from the Grand Terrace. And it's the story of Lonnie Simmons himself, who ran away from his South Carolina home at age 16 so he could play saxophone for Fats Waller and Ella Fitzgerald before making Bronzeville his home." The Palm Tavern was a business in the community owned by the beloved Gerri Oliver who made it a hub of Black Culture. Oliver recently made her transition in 2020.at age 101. The promotion continues with, "Simmons' photos--seen for the first time--exude glamour, swagger and coolness. His images record a time and place that was destroyed more than half a century ago. A place that has never before been reconstructed in pictures. These photos revive this extraordinary social and cultural arena."
The architectural structures that make up Chicago are as unique as the city's ethnic spectrum. In "Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago's South Side by Lee Bey, you'll see a community favorite named "Pride Cleaners", built in 1959 at 79th and St. Lawrence. This is a building that looks like a spaceship. The cloud formation in the background of the photograph taken by Bey makes it look like its travelling through the galaxy. Compare and contrast Bey's book with the photographs taken in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder with boarded up and looted buildings. Chicago has certainly seen its share of building defacement after rioting and rebelling documented from Red Summer in 1919, through Martin Luther King's assassination up to today's times.
No list would be complete without the works of the great historian Timuel Black. Now over 100 years in age, his book, "Sacred Ground" chronicles his life as impacted by notable moments in Chicago history. There's a recent interview of him on WGN News on Feb. 15, 2021 called, "Now 102, Chicago historian Timuel Black reflects on lifelong fight for equality." When history is told in this manner, it is given new life because of the unique qualities that storytelling brings.
If you are thinking of visiting Chicago or enjoy reflecting on the highlights of our accomplishments as Black peple, I'd highly recommend this books mentioned in this post. Of course, I'm hoping you'll consider purchasing them from Afriware Books, Co, a Black-owned bookseller.