Across the country, protests have erupted against policing and public policy whose damage is disproportionately inflicted upon African Americans. Chicago has been the site of some of the most relentless protesting. These protests demonstrate that, despite the political accomplishments of the Civil Rights era and of subsequent decades, racial inequality remains an intractable part of American society. Similarly, events in Chicago early in its history and in the years since stand as testimony that the outrage voiced by Civil Rights leaders had been incubating since long before the 1950s and 60s. Through a wide range of documents and images, Civil War to Civil Rights presents stories of African Americans in Chicago between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries as they reconciled the promise of life in a Northern city with the forms of discrimination and prejudice—both subtle and overt—that many of them encountered on a daily basis.
Black Chicagoans confronted painful aspects of America’s past (in addition to those of the present) as they forged a place for themselves in the city. Ernest Griffin, for example, kept the memory of the Civil War alive through displays of artifacts and flags at the family funeral home he ran in Bronzeville and through parades that he marched in wearing full Union Army attire. Griffin's funeral home was located on the site of Camp Douglas, one of the prisoner-of-war camps maintained by the Union Army during the Civil War.
Included in the exhibition are reports, correspondence, diaries, newspaper articles, legal documents, and photographs encompassing the experiences of a few of Chicago's earliest black residents; the Great Migration; the Chicago race riot of 1919; the development of social, cultural, and business networks in Bronzeville; the artistic work of Gwendolyn Brooks, Katherine Dunham, and Richard Wright; housing discrimination and reform; segregation in travel and dining; the Nation of Islam; and the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The exhibition concludes with a section on the protests of late 2015.
Civil War to Civil Rights: African American Chicago in the Newberry Collection is organized by the Newberry Library with generous support from The Allstate Insurance Company. Additional support provided by the Rosaline G. Cohn Endowment for Exhibitions.
Help us document today's civil rights movement. Learn more about how you can contribute materials to the Newberry collection.
Curator-led Exhibition Tours
- Saturday, January 23, 11:30 am
- Thursday, March 17, 4 pm
- Thursday, March 31, 4:15 pm
Admission is free.