American Soul: The DuSable Museum of African-American History

Founded in 1961, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois, is one of the first African-American museums in the country.  “We’re talking about 1961, we’re not talking about ancient times,” says former Chief Curator Ramon Price. “But in 1961 there just wasn’t any institution that dealt with the experiences of people of African descent or blacks.”  President and CEO Antoinette Wright adds, “What it means to me is that there was a time when we didn’t tell our own story…and it really relates to everyone. Because we are part of the total America.”

The museum follows African-American history from its beginning on the shores of Africa through modern times.  The museum celebrates the achievements of African-Americans, such as Bessie Coleman, the nation’s first black female aviator; World War II Tuskegee airmen; Major Robert Lawrence, the nation’s first black astronaut; and Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

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The BeginningView larger

The Beginning

The DuSable Museum of African-American History was founded in 1961 in the home of Dr. Margaret Burroughs and her husband, Charles on Michigan Avenue. The Burroughs and their friends and co-founders nurtured the museum for the next 12 years.

What’s American About Americans?View larger

What’s American About Americans?

Curator Ramon Price cautions about over-emphasizing individual achievement: "We don’t want to end up only talking about those people that have made a name for themselves. Let’s take Dr. King. If you isolate him and you talk about him and what he did … and not include all of those nameless people... then you come up with a guy who somehow did all of this by himself."

What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?View larger

What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?

Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s, Dr. Burroughs was driven to discover “truths” about the total American experience. The inspiration behind her search is revealed in her 1963 poem: “I have drunk deeply of late from the fountain of my black culture, sat at the knee and learned from Mother Africa, discovered the truth of my heritage, the truth, so often obscured and omitted. And I find I have much to say to my black children.” (Excerpt)

Bessie Coleman: 1st Black Female AviatorView larger

Bessie Coleman: 1st Black Female Aviator

"Prior to probably 1980 nobody knew who Bessie Coleman was? Out at O’Hare Airport here in Chicago they named a street Bessie Coleman Street and people said who was Bessie Coleman? Now they know who Bessie Coleman is." Earl Moore, Founding Board Member.

Distorted Images: Made in the USAView larger

Distorted Images: Made in the USA

The exhibit is based on material primarily created to sustain racist views about black people, explains Curator Ramon Price. "We call it 'Distorted Images: Made in the USA' because historically they come out of that American experience. And in isolation you can deal with it as a novelty. But then when you see it all together you realize how it’s very effective."

Old Snuff DipperView larger

Old Snuff Dipper

Archibald Motley, 1928

Motley was born in 1891 in New Orleans and raised in Chicago. He studied art at the Institute of Chicago and in 1928, he was the second African American artist to have a solo exhibition in New York City. After returning from Paris, Motley became identified with the Harlem Renaissance although he never lived in Harlem. Old Snuff Dipper, representing his early work, is part of the DuSable Museum's collection.

African Tribal MasksView larger

African Tribal Masks

The museum’s valuable collection of tribal masks speaks to the integral role of art in African life. In an eerie yet beautiful way, these hollow-eyed “faces” represent the nameless Africans who made that first terrible voyage to what was then a strange land. Intended for use in the ritual life of the people, each mask had a special function within a tribe.

Bundu mask of the Sande female societyView larger

Bundu mask of the Sande female society

This mask, with its sophisticated, carved “hair” piled high atop its head was used in a unique ceremonial rite of passage for young women. Curator Ramon Price: "That is the only known mask owned by women in all of Africa and it’s a bundu mask and it belongs to the women in Sierra Leone the Mende women and the society is called the Sande Society."

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Jobmaster:  Just left this comment on your Facebook note, but I hgihly recommend walking along the High Line (see -- it's an old elevated railway track that runs through Chelsea and has been converted to a pedestrian walkway and garden. Very pretty at night and during the day... I'll be uploading my pics of it soon, if you want to take a look at them. AND, if you do walk along there, you can pop into the Chelsea food market afterward in the old Nabisco building, which is very cool.

posted on 08-26-2012

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