NU Honors Black Chicago History for Juneteenth Seminar

Graphic by Olivia Abeyta

Friday’s event, “The Vibrant Legacy of Black Chicago,” featured presentations from historian and Tiktok creator Sherman “Dilla” Thomas and professor of African-American studies and sociology Mary Pattillo.

Northwestern hosted its June 19, 2022 celebration, “The Vibrant Legacy of Black Chicago,” Friday on Zoom. The event was organized in collaboration with NU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Held exactly one year after President Joe Biden officially recognized the day as a federal holiday, the event brought together speakers Sherman “Dilla” Thomas and professor of African American studies and sociology Mary Pattillo, who talked about the history and sociology of black life in Chicago. The event ended with a Q&A session with questions submitted by attendees.

Juneteenth celebrates the 1865 proclamation that informed enslaved Texans of their freedom, the last group of enslaved African Americans in the country to be notified. The holiday celebrates the freedom of all enslaved African Americans in the United States and has been celebrated by black Americans since the 1800s.

Organizer and Feinberg Clinical Research Associate Rabih Dahdouh introduced the event and speakers. Thomas, historian and creator of TikTok, began with a story of Juneteenth and, in particular, how Chicago tied itself to the continuation of slavery in the country.

“Slavery was legal in the state of Illinois in 1837 in the southern part. It was because that particular area once belonged to the Spaniards,” Thomas said. “And so because of that, it also made us a hub for slave hunters from Texas to come to Illinois.”

Chicago was also a major hub for the Underground Railroad, Thomas said. He said that in the 1850s, slave hunters came to Chicago when they were alerted that an escapee had made it to the city.

To circumvent the Fugitive Slave Act, he said, constables pretended to check warrants against escaped slaves from the city, giving them a chance to sneak through the back entrance.

“Every time the Chicago agent would take the African-American man or woman to the front door, let them out the back, come back to the slave hunter and say, ‘These black people (that’s sure) are quick here in Chicago,'” Thomas says.

Pattillo followed Thomas’ opening remarks with a presentation on Black Chicago as a “metropolis.”

Pattillo also referred to the 40-year downward trend in Chicago’s black population. Even with that decrease, however, she said Chicago has one of the largest black populations in the country. Although Chicago has never been a majority black city, Pattillo said, that doesn’t mean its history hasn’t been shaped by black culture.

“Numbers alone don’t make Black Chicago a black metropolis,” she said. “This distinction comes from the dynamism that exists in the organizational and social life of Chicago.”

While Pattillo began her speech by highlighting the positive sides of Black Chicago, she said she didn’t want it to sound like her celebration was ignoring the ongoing struggles.

“With the constant barrage of bad black news … a lot of these things make it very difficult to celebrate Black Chicago, and it sometimes makes me seem a bit blind to the real hardship and suffering that Black Chicagoans are enduring,” she said. . “I don’t want to do this.”

Instead, Pattillo said, this time of celebration could be focused on finding solutions to systemic issues facing the city, such as gentrification.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital worker Yajaira Navarro, who attended the event, said she knew Juneteenth grew up in Chicago and had celebrated it in the past, but was looking forward to it. learn more during the celebration.

“You’re still learning, even if you’re not actively going to an institution or taking a course,” Navarro said. “It’s good to offer these events to everyone, because there are people who may not be as familiar with what could be today or who are not as informed as they would like. ‘be.”

Navarro said she had to work this weekend so she wouldn’t celebrate June 19 as she has in the past, but she felt missing that day didn’t make much of a difference. She said she tries to support local black businesses and other black businesses in her community year-round.

During a celebratory weekend, Thomas said it was important to recognize the accomplishments of Chicagoans in their work for freedom.

“I know we celebrate Juneteenth as a party that begins in Galveston, Texas, but these people have become free because of a lot of wonderful things the people of Chicago have done,” Thomas said.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @AudreyHettleman

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