From the Lincoln Era to current day, Illinois has played an important role in African American history. There’s no better time to celebrate this rich culture than Black History Month. Festivals, special celebrations, and museums all throughout the state offer visitors a chance to learn from and admire the culture and heritage of the African American community. Read on for a deeper look into all there is to experience during Black History Month and beyond!
There is no better place to begin your celebration of Black History than the DuSable Museum of African American History, the first of its type in the country. This month, the museum will serve as the backdrop for HEART & SOUL, the Emmy Award-winning series that taps into the essence of the African American community. A special Black History Month edition of the show will air on ABC7, Sunday, February 5 featuring special news reports, programs and stories honoring African American figures throughout history. If you can’t tune into the special event, not to worry, the museum is open to visitors year round.
Also in Chicago, the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum celebrates the men that made history by forming the first successful African American labor union in the U.S. The museum is located within the Historic Pullman District which was named a National Monument by President Obama in 2015 and later incorporated into the National Park Service. Book a tour to view artifacts from the train cars and porter strike and learn more about this important movement.
The Pullman Porters were just one of many groups to make strides toward equality. Travel to Peoria to learn about a number of important individuals and events that made a significant impact on the lives of African Americans at the African American Hall of Fame (AAHF). Founded by a small group of civil leaders, the museum works to preserve important African American art and historical documents so that they can be shared with future generations. Another museum looking to further Black History education is the African American Museum of Southern Illinois. Located in Carbondale, the museum’s permanent exhibits feature African American art and slave artifacts, including features of the Underground Railroad in Illinois.
It’s never too early to start learning about the importance of Black History. Bring your young ones to the Bronzeville Children’s Museum for a variety of unique and interesting interactive exhibits and activities. Located in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood, the Children’s Museum is the first and only African American Children’s Museum in the country. Stop by for the special exhibit “Preserving Our Children’s Futures” for an afternoon of crafts, face painting, music and storytelling.
Black History Month isn’t just about celebrating famous figures; it’s about connecting African Americans as they recognize and embrace their own culture. If you’ve ever wondered if you have a personal connection to Black History, the African American Cultural and Genealogical Society Museum of Illinois in Decatur is the place to go. Pastors, teachers and clerical workers come together to voluntarily devote their time and skills to helping people research their family history through the organization’s large database. Don’t miss out on a chance to discover some movers and shakers in your family lineage!
Another place to learn more about your roots is The Ethnic Heritage Museum of Rockford. This museum focuses on the heritage of the numerous different ethnic groups that settled within the city. It emphasizes the old customs and traditions through artifacts, vintage clothing and photographs. The museum is also running a special exhibit for Black History Month, “Saluting Black Military Units” from Feb. 12 – March 19.
The Land of Lincoln is no stranger to African American history. Alton played a key role in the movement of slaves through the Underground Railroad, acting as a safe haven for slaves escaping from Missouri. The tunnels of the Underground Railroad run deep beneath the streets along the “Alton Route.” Visitors can take guided tours to hear the slave’s tales and learn more about Alton’s remarkable past.
These are just a few of the many places to explore Black History throughout Illinois. For even more historical sites, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.
-Illinois Office of Tourism