Five Black Facts: Black Chicago

– 1 –

It is believed that Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable was born in San Marc, Haiti to a French seaman and an African woman slave in 1745.

Jean Baptiste received some education in France where he learned Spanish, English and native dialects before moving to New Orleans, LA with friend and partner Clemorgan.

The friends developed a business relationship with Native American missionary from the Great Lakes named Choctaw, who taught them how to hunt and trap animals for fur and operate a trading post.

In early 1770s, the partners relocated to Peoria, Illinois where Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable gained the respect of Native American tribes after assisting them with establishing a peace treaty.

Circa 1779, Jean Baptiste became the first settler of Chicago when he erected his most prosperous trading post along the northern bank of the Chicago river where he serviced Native American, French and Spanish explorers alongside his wife Catherine from the Potawatomi tribe and two children.

– 2 –

When the U.S. Railroad system reduced the use of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, Pullman Rail Car Company became the largest employer of blacks in the country on Chicago’s south side.

Between 1915 and 1970, over six million Black Americans migrated to Chicago from the Jim Crow South to take advantage of the industrial job opportunity.

Prior to World War 1, only 2% of Chicago population was African American. By the end of the migration, African Americans made up 33% of Chicago population.

Cornerstone publications like the Chicago Defender chronicled the exodus of southern blacks to the urban north and spread the news of higher wages for laborers and domestics.

The Great Migration married southern black culture with urban life that gave birth to the Chicago Black Renaissance in music, food, and political power.

– 3 –

Mahalia Jackson was born in October 1911 in New Orleans to Charity and Johnny Jackson.

Her upbringing in a large, devoted Christian family opened the door for her to start singing in church at 4 years old.

Likely influenced by the Great Migration, Mahalia moved to Chicago at the tender age of 16 to study nursing. Instead, she opened a beauty salon and a florist and purchased her home, a Chicago tribute, at 8358 S. Indiana.

She performed at Greater Salem Baptist Church where she later became a member and built a following performing with the first professional gospel group, Johnson Gospel Singers and Thomas Dorsey, a gospel composer.

In 1947, Mahalia’s performance of “Move On Up A Little Higher” earned her the title Queen of Gospel Music and an opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall in 1950.

– 4 –

The black population migrating into Chicago continued to double during the 1940s and 1950s.

Although Chicago maintained a free state for migrating blacks, segregation was actively enforced through residential codes and social customs.

Consequently, new migrants were forced to reside in overcrowded tenements and communities without basic amenities like heat and water.

Restrictive housing contracts and covenants limited the expanding black population to “The Black Belt,” an seven mile stretch south to 63rd Street, north to 22nd street, east to Cottage Grove and west to State Street.

The Black Belt, renamed Bronzeville by theater writer James Gentry, peaked at 300k. The who’s who of Bronzeville frequented 35th and State Street and 47th and King Drive when they wanted to be seen.

– 5 –
When Robert Sengstacke organized the Bud Billiken Day parade in 1905, racial tension and threats did not stop him from bringing black families together, spotlight underprivileged youth and instill racial pride.

Bud Billiken Day parade committee adopted themed parades with their inaugural “Americanism” parade in August 1940 for attendees and participants to demonstrate patriotism for the United States in Black Chicago.

World War Two was a tumultuous time in the nation’s history, but Bud Billiken Day parade’s 1943 theme “Salute To Victory” was the first to transcend racism and sexism by allowing all races and genders to march side by side in the parade.

The Bud Billiken Day parade reached over half million attendees when World War Two ended and continued to be a symbol of black pride and power during intense moments of racial tension and protest.

David W. Kellum, city editor for the Chicago Defender, was honored by the Citizens Committee of Chicago as “Bud Billiken.” He continued to organize the parade until 1949, when Chicago Defender Charities president Dr. Marjorie Joyner took over until 1999.

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