Museums and History
DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago
Jean Baptiste Point DuSable was a Haitian of African and French descent, who in 1779 established the trading post and permanent settlement which would become known as Chicago. Today, recognized as the founder of Chicago, his name graces the DuSable Museum of African American History, one of the country’s largest repositories of African-American art, history and culture.
Permanent exhibits include one featuring Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor, with more than 150 artifacts about his impact on the city and country, as well as an animatronic likeness of the man who greets guests as they enter the exhibit. Temporary exhibits rotate throughout the year.
Pullman National Historic District, Chicago
The Pullman State Historic Site and the National A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum offer exhibits, tours and interpretive programs throughout the year. The museum recognizes the legacy of the Pullman Porters who were instrumental in our country’s transportation mode at the time, and follows the story of their unionization and link to the Civil Rights movement.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield
This museum not only documents the life of our country’s 16th president but also stages exhibits based on its impressive historical holdings, including an extensive Civil War collection and strong offerings on slavery and abolition.
The museum space that tells Lincoln’s life story includes what is probably the most emotional scene in the entire building—a slave auction of the type Lincoln would have seen when visiting New Orleans. It depicts a family being torn apart, vividly illustrating slavery’s dark realities. This section also includes text and photographs about slavery and Lincoln’s reaction to it.
The museum’s main plaza includes a large reproduction of the entrance to the White House. Figures representing several key individuals of the era are shown outside, including Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.
Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum, Springfield
Just shy of a few miles from the Illinois State Capitol and past the wrought iron gates of the Oak Ridge Cemetery (Lincoln’s final resting place) sits the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum. Through oral histories and exhibits, the museum offers guests insight into authentic stories about African American life in Central Illinois.
Among the current exhibits are object-enhanced oil paintings by Preston Jackson, often more recognized for his monumental outdoor sculptures such as the powerful Acts of Intolerance sculpture in Springfield’s Union Square Park to commemorate the centennial of the brutal Springfield Race Riot of 1908. More of Preston’s work can be found at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, which Preston and other artists started as a studio space for them to work together, create and encourage viewing and discussing contemporary art.
The African American Museum of Southern Illinois, Carbondale
Nestled within the University Mall, The African American Museum of Southern Illinois includes a permanent collection of African art and slave artifacts. Rotating displays include Underground Railroad message quilts, local artwork and exhibits that portray the achievements of African-American citizens.
The Underground Railroad
Many homes around the country were part of the Underground Railroad, the effort to assist persons in bondage to escape slavery. Some Illinois homes that were part of the Underground Railroad offer tours to individuals or groups. Sites include the Owen Lovejoy House in Princeton and Beecher Hall at Illinois College in Jacksonville. The National Park Service keeps an active list of which properties offer tours and when.