Monday, July 25, 2022

DuSable aiming for ‘somewhere better and different’

     A recent Saturday morning found me standing in front of the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center in Washington Park, waiting for a man who, due to a miscommunication, was at that moment waiting in North Lawndale.
     A quick phone call sorted the confusion out, and rather than race across town, we postponed. The remainder of my morning suddenly freed just as the museum’s revolving door was being unbolted. I sensed an opportunity.
     I’d be more reluctant to admit that up to that point I’d never visited the DuSable museum if I thought it made me some kind of freakish anomaly. To be honest, I consider myself exceptional in that I sincerely wanted to see the place but never had an occasion to go, never heard of any exhibit that caught my interest and seemed worth making the trip.
     I imagine a number of Chicagoans must succumb to the racism of low expectations when it comes to the DuSable, picturing something akin to the House on the Rock, up in Wisconsin, an aggregation of random artifacts, maybe with slightly skewed typewritten cards explaining them.
     Frankly, I was content to stay away. What if I went to the museum and didn’t like it? What then? Volunteer myself as the White Guy Who Didn’t Like the DuSable Museum? No upside there. Or worse, cough silently into my fist and say nothing, itself a kind of racism?
      Turns out, my fears outstripped reality, as fears often do. The museum has an in-depth exhibit on Black soldiers in World War I, with original letters and a real rifle. An interesting display on Civil Rights and redlining. A movie that places you in the 1963 March on Washington. Professionally done. A newish interactive display about life in an African village — albeit an idealized, Black Panther-ish village — held my attention.

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  1. That animatronic Harold Washington looks nothing like the real Harold Washington.
    Who'd they get to do it, some Russian company?

    1. Yes, I soft-pedaled that (the whole column was an essay in the light touch). But I also counted on it being obvious.

    2. Life Formations a company out of Ohio

    3. Then Life Formations needs to hire new & far better sculptors!

  2. I took a look at their website. Not sure how comprehensive it was but I didn’t see much about Chicago’s link to Blues music, Chicago athletes, notable Black figures in medicine, business, and industry. Plenty of Black Americans in each of those categories and others.
    Yep, it takes money to develop exhibits but added diversity could only attract more interest, attendees and funds.

  3. A side note first: on the basis of that one photograph alone, I would agree that that looks nothing like Harold Washington. It's almost as if they re-purposed a Black figure from someone else's display.

    But oh, how I cringed at that comparison to the House on the Rock. My wife finds it funny whenever that subject comes up, because it was the one museum that actually left me angry at the end of our visit. It seems like the product of someone with a huge budget and a short attention span. Its various "collections" are stuffed into endless rooms and display cases with little to no commentary or insight on what led Alex Jordan to collect the various artifacts from all different areas of interest, or who made the items on the display, and the slapdash exhibits leave you scratching your head.

    Sloppy and strange presentations abounded. A large display of HO-scale trains were vaguely plonked onto their tracks, some not even sitting properly on the rails. Japanese black lacquer cabinet doors were held shut with drywall screws driven through the front. I gave up looking for signs explaining the artifacts in any detail.

    That was quite a few years ago now, so they may have hired someone who cares since then, but it's disappointing to hear that the DuSable is hurting for funds while the House on the Rock is still packing them in.

  4. Harold Washington is buried in my backyard.
    I took a look at the financials for the DuSable museum and they're operating on around 3 million a year. They have an investment portfolio of $15,000 .museums like the science and industry have over 55 million dollars operating budget

    I went to the website as well and at the bottom of the page there's a donate button.

    At least now I know why you were roaming around aimlessly on the south side the other day

    1. Do a lot of people stop by to pay their respects? And how do they react when they see (and smell) the goats? Just wondering...


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