New Exhibit at DuSable Museum Explores Blacks Journey to Freedom; New Director Named

Norman Parish | 9/4/2015, noon | Updated on 9/4/2015, 11:59 a.m.
Portions of a life-sized wooden slave ship, a jacket belonging to the late activist Fred Hampton, of the Black Panther ...
The DuSable Museum of African American History opens a new exhibit on blacks strides for progress. Photo by Norman Parish

Portions of a life-sized wooden slave ship, a jacket belonging to the late activist Fred Hampton, of the Black Panther Party, and video of President Barack Obama’s victory speech at Grant Park in downtown Chicago.

Those are just some of the items in a new permanent collection at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl., Chicago.

“The Freedom, Resistance and Journey Toward Equality” exhibit, which opened last Friday, is designed to take visitors through the African American experience from the Transatlantic slave trade to Obama’s 2008 election.

The exhibit’s organizers say it is “dedicated to thousands of unknown lives given in the name of freedom and equality.”

“The exhibit speaks for itself,” said Troy Ratliff, chief operating officer of the museum. “The artifacts are unique and help tell the African American story. . . The walk through gives you a pretty good feel for the African American experience.”

In the display, notes and other items highlight the past slave trade.

The exhibit points out that at one point, nearly one in seven Americans were slaves. There is even a receipt showing where a group of slaves were hired out for $768.

Several items highlight the “Great Migration” of African Americans seeking a better life from the Jim Crow south to northern cities, like Chicago.

The plight of the famous Pullman porters is on display, which includes videotaped interviews of the black railroad workers. Signs and other items mark protests from the Civil Rights movement to the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

There are several items tied to the Black Panthers militant group, including a jacket worn by Fred Hampton. Hampton, the head of Illinois Black Panther Party, was killed in 1969 during a police raid of his apartment on Chicago’s West Side.

The end of the exhibit highlights video footage from Barack Obama’s campaign for president.

“We all have to make this journey for a reason,” Obama tells a crowd in Springfield, Ill. “You didn’t just come here for me. You came for what this country can be.”

The roughly 200 items, which are mostly from the DuSable’s permanent collection, are displayed as the museum gets ready for new leadership.

Perri Irmer, former head of the Illinois Sports Authority, is scheduled to serve as the museum’s CEO later this month, Ratliff said.

Irmer served for nearly seven years as the chief executive officer of the Illinois Sports Authority (ISFA), the government agency that owned and operated U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.

In a past lawsuit, Irmer claimed she was unfairly terminated from the authority.

Irmer also served as director of construction services for the Public Building Commission of Chicago and deputy commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Buildings.

Irmer couldn’t be reached for comment by Chicago Citizen Newspaper press time.

DuSable officials didn’t comment on the Irmer’s appointment but said they would comment at a later date.