End of DuSable Week

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DuSable Museum of African-American History

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Museum Entrance

We’ve reached the end of DuSable week in Chicago.  I have one last site that needs discussing, however, and that is the DuSable Museum of African-American History.  According to the museum guide, “Margaret Taylor-Burroughs (November 11, 1917 – November 21, 2010) was a prominent African-American artist, writer and founder of the DuSable Museum of African-American History.”  I also have to point out she was a teacher.  Dr. Burroughs founded the museum in 1961.  On the lower level of the museum a gallery displays some of her artwork.

The museum stands on 57th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue in the Hyde Park neighborhood.  Upon entering the museum you will step into Founder’s Hall which features mosaics of Dr. Margaret Burroughs and, of course, DuSable standing in front of his cabin.  (Regrettably, but understandably, no photography is allowed in any part of the museum so if you’re local and have the opportunity, head out to see the mosaics and other galleries because my descriptions will not do them justice.  If you’re from out of town and unable to visit, I’m sorry, but my descriptions will have to do them justice.  Or just visit the museum’s website.)  Once in Founder’s Hall, turn right just past the ticket table and head down the hallway with the gift shop to see a large, bronze bust of DuSable.  It was sculpted by Robert Jones in 1979.

In another gallery called “Africa Speaks” there is a small theater showing a short film called Celebrating Chicago’s First Settler: Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.  I didn’t officially time it, but the film appeared to be about 15 minutes long and reenacted important moments of DuSable’s life.

Currently at the museum there are multiple art shows displaying paintings by Charly Parker and also artists of the AfriCOBRA collective such as Wadsworth Jarrell.  One exhibit by artist James Pate is small, but contains powerful images titled Kin Killin’ Kin.  Please go visit the museum or go to their website for more information.

Before I finish discussing DuSable, I need to mention one last thing: his departure.  DuSable closed his successful trading post and left the mouth of the river in 1800.  He sold his property to Jean La Lime.  The violent facts story of Jean La Lime’s death and how the DuSable property eventually became the “Kinzie mansion” will be my next post in September.

As always, thanks for reading.

Other sources & further readings: Bessie Louise Pierce  The History of Chicago: The Beginning of a City 1673-1848, Volume One Christopher Robert Reed  Black Chicago’s First Century, Volume 1, 1833 to 1900

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Other Sources & Further Readings

More DuSable week

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DuSable homesite National Historic Landmark

If you head to the mouth of the Chicago River to see the DuSable statue, you’ll notice several historical plaques along the wall behind the statue.  Walk northeast along that wall to see the plaques.  As mentioned in my previous post, this spot is rich in history.  Thousands of people stroll by daily, heading to working or seeing the city, but many may not have a moment to fully appreciate the river.  Consider what was there and then take a moment to look at what is there.

About fifty paces north along that wall you’ll see a historical marker commemorating the site of DuSable’s home.  According to that marker, DuSable’s homesite was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1977.  Near that is another marker for the Kinzie mansion which stood in the same location after DuSable left the river for Missouri. It’s interesting to note, Kinzie had a mansion and DuSable had a cabin, even though John Kinzie, “purchased the DuSable home and lived there until is death in 1828,” according to a placard at the Chicago History Museum.  (Kinzie, his mansion, and the street named after him will be a post in the near future.)  Much of the early information about DuSable came from first volume of Alfred Theodore Andreas’s three-volume History of Chicago.  It contains an illustration that portrays DuSable’s home as a simple cabin although that same home somehow later became the Kinzie mansion.  There’s more of that grey area between black and white in Chicago.  (You can look up the drawing through the Encyclopedia of Chicago website.)

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Plaque for Marquette

The other prominent plaque along the same wall refers to a point even further back in time and remembers Father Pere Jacques Marquette.  He traveled with Louis Jolliet and mapped much of the Northern part of the Mississippi River.  Portions of Father Marquette’s 1673 diary can be viewed online through the Wisconsin Historical Society.  Like Kinzie, I will examine more on their local history, memorials and monuments.  If you look at the photograph of the plaque, you’ll see it was, “Erected by Illinois Society Daughters of Colonial Wars.”  I’ve never heard of that group before and it is the kind of name that gets my curiosity wondering and wandering.  Put it on the list as something else to research.

As I said before, the mouth of the Chicago River overflows with history, but if you’re looking for something else DuSable related for DuSable week, just head 2 miles north.  On Clark at North avenue stands the Chicago History Museum.  In their “Crossroads of America” exhibit they cover early Chicago life and history.  There you’ll find more information about DuSable and Marquette.

Our last stop for DuSable week will be the DuSable Museum of African-American History which I’ll post about on Saturday.  Check out the photographs below about Chicago from the Chicago History Museum.

Portrait of DuSable at the Chicago History Museum from the Moss Engraving Co.

Portrait of DuSable at the Chicago History Museum from the Moss Engraving Co.

DuSable placard at the Chicago History Museum

Chicago: Crossroads of America exhibit

Chicago: Crossroads of America exhibit

50th Anniversary: DuSable week

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Looking west at the Michigan/DuSable bridge

Before I ever had an appreciation for its historical importance, I loved standing at the mouth of the Chicago River.  Many people do.  During the most beautiful afternoons of summer or under the most bruised-skies of winter people pause and pose for photos on the Michigan/DuSable bridge.

Looking west with your back to Lake Michigan, you can see the city unfurl itself along the banks of the river.  If you stand on the west side of the bridge with your belly against the rail and watch the reversed river flow west, you’ll understand.

Imagine that spot as the narthex of a cathedral.  A narthex is the vestibule or front porch before you enter the cathedral proper.  The river then becomes a nave, the center, dividing the skyscrapers into aisles along the north and south.  Cathedrals were built to inspire awe and the mouth of the river, our inadvertent cathedral, does exactly that.  Get there in the early morning before the chaos of the day begins and you’ll understand.

This is the city’s birthplace.

On the northeast corner of the bridge a statue stands commemorating Chicago’s first settler, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.  He gazes west down the length of the river too.

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DuSable Bust by sculptor Erik Blome 2009

Fifty years ago Richard J. Daley declared the week of August 18th to the 24th of 1963 as “DuSable Week” in acknowledgement of the city’s first resident.  The proclamation states, “…in the report of these British officers that there was first made mention of Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, who the British found living in a trader’s hut along the Chicago River; NOW, THEREFORE, I, Richard J. Daley, Mayor of the City of Chicago, do hereby designate the period of August 18-24, 1963, as DU SABLE WEEK IN CHICAGO and urge that our people give recognition to the fact that DuSable was the first Chicago resident of record.”

Discussing DuSable feels like the most natural way to begin this project about Chicago and this 50th anniversary appears to me the best time to do so.

In honor of this early Chicagoan, take a day this week to go downtown and see the statue in person or take a trip to the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park.

Later this week I will post more about DuSable and include more photographs.  In future weeks I will examine the rich history of this specific spot, the river’s mouth, even more.  I hope you’ll keep exploring with me.

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DuSable Week proclamation dated 8/8/1963: courtesy of the Chicago History Museum

Know any longtime Chicagoans?  I’m looking to add interviews to future posts!