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Copyright 2002 Gerri Gribi ||| Email ||| Updated 08/07/15
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Black Heritage Travel: Upper Midwestern United States - Illinois
"Been There!" = Personal notes about places I've visited.

Illinois Indiana Iowa Michigan


Ohio Wisconsin Additional Resources


Illinois Bureau of Tourism

Use the SEARCH function to learn about sites and events of African Amerian interest. You can also order or download the state travel guide, maps, and a guide to Lincoln's Illinois heritage.

African American Experience in Illinois - Illinois Alive!

Use this regional digital library of archival resources (books, maps, manuscripts and more) to explore African American history in west central Illinois.

Aurora - African American Heritage Museum & Black Veterans Archives Updated 2012 this site was Formerly at 126 S Kendall St, Aurora, IL

Smith began a sprawling outdoor memorial/museum in 1985. Though originally dedicated to black soldiers (and highlighting their mistreatment before and after the Viet Nam War) the collection eventually grew to encompass many aspects of black life in America, from slavery to the present. The sculptures were created using found objects, mostly from his neighborhood.

Time and the elements were taking a toll, so the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan WI now cares for over 200 sculptures from the original site. The artist is working on a new site in Louisiana. The Kohler is exhibiting some of the works July 22 2012 - February 17, 2013 DR. CHARLES SMITH: THE TIES THAT BIND

Aurora - Walter Payton's Roundhouse Complex& Walter Payton Museum

Built in 1856 and the only remaining limestone roundhouse in America, this building was renovated by Chicago Bear's legend Walter Payton and turned into a complex which features dining, retail shops, a microbrewery, and live entertainment. The Walter Payton Museum celebrates Walter's life and careers, including atheletics, music and business.

Bloomington - McLean County Museum of History
Been There! - See pictures from my tour

The museum is the home for the Black History Project, and African American artifacts and archival materials are showcased in the museum's Encounter on the Prairie exhibit. Also, the museum features PRESENCE, PRIDE, AND PASSION: THE HISTORY OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN MCLEAN COUNTY through May 24, 2008.

Carbondale - African American Museum of Southern Illinois

Exhibits depicting African American life. Located in University Mall next to the Science Center.

Carrier Mills (60 miles east of Carbondale) Lake View Monument, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Route 2 (Taborn Road) (618) 994-2589

This is one of the oldest African American churches in the U.S. A monument on the church's grounds commemorates 33 pioneer families who settled this once all-black community over 100 years ago. Tours are available in May only. View an online exhibit called Working in the Seams: An Initial Photographic View into the African-American Coal Culture of Southern Illinois

Chicago - The Chicago Defender

"Honest. Balanced. Truthful. Unapologetically Black." Founded in 1905 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the Chicago Defender has been the voice of the African-American Community in Chicago and across the United States for over 100 years. Tours are available upon request. At their website you can get current news, community information and register for their email newsletter.

Chicago - Office of the Mayor

There are many general cultural attractions, theater groups, museums etc throughout the Chicago area which feature exhibits and cultural events related to African American heritage. At this comprehensive site you'll find extensive visitor information. Click on the link for "Things to Do" for an events and festival calendar. You'll also find maps, travel and construction updates, art and culture listings and much more.

Chicago/Bronzeville - Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council: Bronzeville Visitor Information Center

The bulk of Chicago's African American community took root during the Great Migration, when hundreds of thousands of Black Southerners converged on the city fleeing violence and segregation and seeking economic opportunity. Although they did find jobs, housing was segregated and restricted to a narrow "black belt" on the Southside. This area become self-identified as "Bronzeville" and thrived as the central source of culture, music, worship and education.

The Supreme Life Building at 35th Street and King Drive once housed the first African-American owned insurance company in the northern United States. Today it houses the Bronzeville Visitor Information Center, newly opened in 2006, serving as an orientation point of information access for tourists, residents and researchers. Visit the website for visitor information, recommended reading, updates on new (and old!) Afrocentric businesses and more.

Chicago/Bronzeville - Chicago's Black Metropolis

This lesson plan designed to "teach with historic places" provides an excellent tour of Bronzeville, including maps, photographs and historical descriptions.

Chicago/Bronzeville - African American Landmarks Tour

"In the first half of the 20th century, stories of Chicago's burgeoning growth and the need for workers in the city's factories and stockyards led to the city being dubbed "The Promised Land" to African-Americans in the deep south. Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans settled in Chicago as part of "The Great Migration," creating the foundation for one of the country's strongest African-American communities.

"This tour presents many landmarks that played an important role in these communities, including: a major business district, churches, the residences of civil rights leaders, and locations that were vital in the development of African-American music, theater, and journalism."

Chicago/Bronzeville - Carter G. Woodson Library

Named in honor of the Father of African American History, this branch of the Chicago Public Library houses the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History & Literature, one of the largest collections of African American historical documents in the nation. Started in 1932 as a "Special Negro Section" by Harsh, the first black librarian in the Chicago Public Library system, the collection was developed with the assistance of such leaders and writers as Richard Wright, Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes and Horace Cayton. The strength of the collection is concentrated in African American history in Illinois.

Chicago/Bronzeville- South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan Ave. (773) 373-1026

The nation's oldest WPA arts center, and a hub of the Chicago Renaissance. The center, whose alumni include Charles White, Bernard Goss, George Neal, Eldzier Cortor, Gordon Parks, Archibald Motley, and Margaret Goss Burroughs (who also founded the DuSable Museum) continues to offer classes and host exhibitions, and features works of contemporary artists in the main gallery. Call for hours and information.

Been There! Chicago/Bronzeville - DuSable Museum of African American History

Named for the founder of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the museum was founded in 1961. Permanent exhibits include "Harold Washington in Office" and "DuSable Treasures" which showcases a few of the more than 12,000 works of art, prints and historical memorabilia in the museum's collection. They also host temporary and traveling exhibits. For visitor information, resources, history, and events calendar, membership information and more, visit the website.

The museum is in Washington Park, a short walk from the Green Line's Garfield Station. Or take the Red Line to Garfield, and catch the #55 Garfield bus eastbound to to 55th Ave. & Payne, then walk .1 mile south. Plan to spend at least an hour and a half!

Chicago Southland(Evergreen Park) - Bronzeville Children's Museum

"The mission of the Bronzeville Children's Museum is to educate and expose children to the rich contributions, culture, and heritage of African-Americans and people of Africa and its Diaspora through activities, interactive exhibits, and programs." You'll find it on the lower level of The Plaza at 9600 South Western Avenue in Evergreen Park, Illinois. The website has visitor information, plus many details about past, current and future exhibits.

Been There! Chicago - Harold Washington Libary Center

America's largest central library is a monument to Chicago's first African American mayor. The library houses selected personal effects and memorabilia as well as the Chicago Blues Archives and a collection of videos from the Chicago Jubilee Showcase Gospel music television show. At the website you can take a virtual tour of the library and learn more about its vast resources, and visit the exhibition Called to the Challenge: The Legacy of Harold Washington.

The library also hosts special exhibits of African American interest, such as a Buffalo Soldiers exhibit which I viewed when I visited several years ago. I found the Mayor Washington exhibit especially moving and no small part because I was fortunate to receive an impromptu guided tour from the security guard who shared his own memories about the Washington years.

Been There! Chicago - Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society)

The Chicago History Museum cares for, showcases, and interprets millions of authentic pieces of Chicago and U.S. history. This museum and research center frequently hosts or mounts exhibitions of African American heritage in the Chicago area, and you can find their exhibition schedule, visitor information, lesson plans and more at the website

I've enjoyed many Afrocentric exhibits at the Museum over the years, the most memorable being The Birth of Gospel Music. Across the street from the museum (Clark and LaSalle Streets; enter on Stockton Drive) in beautiful Lincoln Park is what must be the cheapest parking lot in Chicago, and museum visitors get a discounted rate with ticket validation. There's no admission charge on Mondays.

Chicago - African American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago

The Center hosts educational and cultural programs that focus on African Americans, such as the visiting lecturers and Visiting Artists Series, which are open to the public. The center also hosts exhibits in its art gallery, in addition to an African Bazaar and Festival, and a World Music Festival Series.

Chicago/Historic Pullman District - A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

Located in the Historic Pullman District, this relatively new museum (1995) celebrates the legacy of A. Philip Randolph (founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union) and contributions made by African-Americans to America's labor history.

Decatur - African American Cultural and Genealogical Society of Illinois Museum

A rare collection of photos, art and other materials.

East St. Louis - Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities

In addition to housing a multi-disciplinary arts organization, the Center's operate the Katherine Dunham Dynamic Museum, with collections of African and Caribbean folk and contemporary art, and an extensive body of material documenting Miss Dunham's life and work. The museum also displays costumes, photographs, programs, letters, awards and mementos from Miss Dunham's career as a dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer and dance company owner.

Freeport - Stephenson County Historical Museum/ Oscar Taylor Home

Built in 1857, it's likely this lovely Italianate home was part of the Underground Railroad. The museum's African American History room contains many items relating to African American history in Stephenson County and the United States.

Gurnee - Mother Rudd Home

According to local oral tradition, Wealthy Buell (known as Mother Rudd) hid fugitive slaves in the barn behind her home, a tavern and a stagecoach stop. The website provides visitor and historical information. The Warren Township Historical Society has published a brochure, "A History of the Mother Rudd Home." Information about it or the Warren Township Historical Society may be obtained by calling the Mother Rudd Home at (847) 263-9540

Jacksonville - Mount Emory Baptist Church, 424 South Church Street (217)243-1944

Organized in 1837 by seven slaves, this church is one of the oldest African American Baptist churches in Illinois. Tours are by appointment only.

Maywood - West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 South 5th Avenue, Maywood (708) 343-3554

The museum celebrates the multicultural heritage of Maywood since the 1800's. It showcases the Ten-Mile Freedom House, a shelter on the Underground Railroad.

Oak Park - Graue Mill & Museum

Graue Mill and Museum, an operating water wheel grist mill and homestead, provides programs that include milling, spinning and weaving and living history presentations, as well as artifacts which illustrate the way of life of area residents between 1850 and 1890 and the impact mills such as Graue Mill had on our culture.The Mill was a major center of economic life during the 19th century and was also used by Fred Graue to hide runaway slaves on their journey to freedom in Canada. You can learn more about Graue Mill and the Underground Railroad at their website.

Peoria - African American Museum Hall of Fame, 309 Du Sable St., Proctor Center Complex, Peoria, Il 61605 (309) 673-2206

Originated in 1987 as a nonprofit educational institution for the collection, study, and exhibition of African American life and culture.

Peoria - Ward Chapel A.M.E. Church 511 North Elliot St (309)676-1348 By appointment only

Founded in 1846, the church became the site of the city's first school for African Amerian children. It hosted such luminaries as Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Langston Hughes. Learn more in this Peoria Magazine article.

Princeton - Owen Lovejoy Homestead

A Former Station on the Underground Railroad, the Lovejoy Homestead is located at the eastern edge of Princeton, Illinois, and was the home of the Denham and Lovejoy families for nearly 100 years. At the website you can take a virtual tour, or learn more about visiting the site in person.

Quincy - Dr. Richard Eells House, 415 Jersey Street (217) 224-1799

In the 1840's the house was a stopping point on the Underground Railroad. Tours by appointment only.

Rockford - Ethnic Heritage Museum

Dedicated to preserving the history of the six ethnic groups that settled in SW Rockford ... the Irish, Italians, African-Americans, Polish, Lithuanians and Hispanics. The African American room highlights the life of one of the city's founding fathers, former slave Lewis Lemon.

Springfield - Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau

A tragic series of events in Springfield's history led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The story of the 1908 Race Riot and its victims is told through a self-guided, eight-marker tour, beginning at the corner of Seventh and Jefferson Streets. To begin your tour, stop by the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau at 109 N. 7th St. for a map and further information, or call the bureau at 1-800-545-7300. The website also offers visitor information, accomodations, sites of interest, shopping, and more.

Springfield - Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Newly renovated and reopened in 2005, the museum communicates the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. Of course, that would be impossible to portray without the inclusion of African American history. For example, one of the permanent exhibits is the "Slave Auction" in "Journey One" of the Museum. "Journey Two" features Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass on the portico of the White House, both of whom made visits.The Massachusetts 54th mural and the exhibit featuring Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd's mulatto modiste, are also featured in "Journey Two" of the Museum.

April 2008-October 2008 - The museum will host a temporary exhibit in the Illinois Gallery from that reflects on the 1908 Springfield race riot. This race riot was an impetus for the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The website provides detailed visitor information and descriptions of the various galleries, plus educational resources.

Utica - Matthiessen Park

Two sculpted faces on opposite, obscure banks of the Illinois River are believed to have served as geographical markers for fugitive slaves. Only one face remains in the canyon; the other is in a private collection.

Additional Resources

A View of Bronzeville. Bernard C. Turner. Highlights of Chicago Press, 2002. Order at

As a native of Bronzeville and a tour docent for the Chicago Historical Society, Turner is well qualified to guide you on your tour of the Black Metropolis.

Black Heritage Sites: The North. Nancy C. Curtis. New Press, 1998. Order at

This volume includes descriptions and detailed visitor information for hundreds of places of national and local significance, from churches and schools to battlefields and cemeteries, from stops on the Underground Railroad to landmarks of the 1950s civil rights movement. Black Heritage Sites is perfect for travelers and historians of all kinds--from the family planning a cross-country trip to the armchair traveler interested in gaining a unique perspective on African American history.

African American Historic Places. Savage, Beth L. Wiley, 2005 Order at

Features 800 sites on the National Historic Register which relate to African American History. Organized by 41 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Because it is designed as an identification tool rather than as a trip planner, the book lists only addresses and does not note telephone numbers, access policies, or admission charges. The introduction, however, notes that approximately three-fourths of the properties are privately owned and not open to the public. Black-and-white photographs are provided for some of the sites, and eight introductory essays provide context for understanding the historical significance of the sites.

A Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement. Jim Carrier. Harcourt Books, 2004. Order at

This book is fascinating even if you never leave home. It's both a travel guide and a reference for anyone wanting to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. But it's not limited to modern times; like many historians, the author takes the view that the struggle for civil rights began the moment the first enslaved African set foot on these shores and tried to break free. And it continued anywhere that people fought for dignity and equality. Consequently, the sites described here include sites of slave rebellions, legal battles, Underground Railroad safe houses, historically black colleges, churches, museums...even the minor league stadium in Florida where Jackie Robinson broke through the color line.

Historic Landmarks of Black America. Canter, George. Gale Group, 1991. Order at

Describes over 300 sites across the US and Canada, with entries ranging from a paragraph to several pages, with lots of illustrations. Each includes a historical sketch detailing the site's significance and practical information such as directions, hours, fees, and related sites....which of course you'd want to doublecheck before traveling! This book is out of print (and out of date) but still useful and available cheap through used booksellers at

In Their Footsteps: The American Visions Guide to African-American Historical Sites. Chase, Henry. Owlet, 1994. Order at

Similar to Canter's Historic Landmarks, but more comprehensive covering 46 states, Ontario and Nova Scotia. This book is out of print (and out of date) but still useful and available through used booksellers at