Chicago Historic Sites
Chicago Historic Sites are highlighted by the first settler and de facto founder of Chicago, the Obama Residence, Supreme Life Insurance Building, several black publishing headquarters and numerous other black historic sites.
Barack Obama Residence
DESCRIPTION: After Barack Obama became U.S. Senator for Illinois, he purchased his Georgian Revival mansion on the Southside in 2005. Today, it is the historic home of the man who shattered “The Ultimate Glass Ceiling” by becoming U.S. President. The house is close to the University of Chicago, where Professor Obama taught Constitutional Law.
DAYS & HOURS: None; protected by Secret Service
ADDRESS: 5046 South Greenwood Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable Homesite
DESCRIPTION: In 1779 Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable (1745-1818) built the 1st permanent settlement and trading post here. He also developed a friendly relationship with Pottawatomi, Iroquois, and Oneida Indians who passed through, making it possible for further settlement of the region. His home was a 22 x 40 foot log cabin filled with fine furniture and paintings. Thus, Du Sable is the de facto Founding Father of Chicago. Although Du Sable began as a fur trader, his enterprises as a miller, cooper, and husbandman grew to the extent that he added two barns, a horse mill, a bakery, dairy and smokehouse. Anglo-American traders and Native-Americans employed by him settled around the establishment. So you can also call him the first builder of Chicago.
ADDRESS: 401 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
DESCRIPTION: Founded 1945 by John H. Johnson, this site is the home of Ebony and Jet magazines. The distinctive headquarters building facing Grant Park was designed by African American architect John Moutoussamy. The building includes a famous art collection by Mr. Johnson, who was arguably, “The Godfather of Black Publishing.”
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 9a-5p
ADDRESS: 820 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Historic Michael Jordan Restaurant
DESCRIPTION: In the 1990s, when Michael Jordan was the toast of the town, his name and image adorned one of the largest restaurants in town. Crowds of patrons loved it. Jordan often dined in this red-brick building after games. Alas, he licensed was his name & image, but did not own this restaurant. Michael and the owners parted ways, but it was good while it lasted.
ADDRESS: 500 North LaSalle Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Chicago Defender Newspaper Headquarters
DESCRIPTION: At the forefront of the civil rights movement, sleeping car porters circulated the newspaper widely in the South during the Jim Crow Era after 1877. Their efforts attracted thousands of black migrants to Chicago. John HH Sengstacke (1912-1998), nephew to Abbott, took the newspaper’s mission to the next level. He influenced President Franklin D Roosevelt to name the first black correspondent in White House and hire African-Americans in the U.S. Postal Service. President Harry Truman asked him to serve on the Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces, which resulted in the desegregation of the U.S. military. In the 1940s, Sam Lacy, Paul Robeson and John HH Sengstacke influenced major league baseball and Branch Rickey to hire Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1956, Sengstacke converted it from a weekly to daily newspaper.
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 9a-5p
ADDRESS: 2400 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
DESCRIPTION: People United to Serve Humanity was founded by Rev Jesse L Jackson and other prominent leaders in 1971. The organization is housed in a large former synagogue. This national human rights organization works to enable equal rights and opportunities for all people. Each Saturday morning, a live radio program with community activists present is broadcast nationwide. PUSH has enjoyed some success in its economic reciprocity efforts and countering corporate discrimination.
ADDRESS: 930 East 50th Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Vee Jay Records Building/Record Row
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1953 by wife & husband, Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken, hence the name “Vee Jay”, the company ushered in the R&B Era. It was the largest black-owned record label before Motown Records. Vee Jay and Chicago were major parts of the music industry before R&B record companies moved to New York and Los Angeles. Chicago’s Record Row extended from 1200 to 2600 South Michigan Avenue. It recorded 1950s-60s hit-makers Little Richard, Jimmy Reed, McGuire Sisters, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, the Impressions, Dee Clark, Betty Everett, Gene (Duke of Earl) Chandler, The Dells, Staple Singers, and John Lee Hooker. Vee Jay also owned Abner, a Jazz label that recorded Wayne Shorter and Wynton Kelly. Vee Jay suffered a swift decline after its move to LA in 1964.
ADDRESS: 1449 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Third World Press
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1967, acclaimed poet and essayist Don L Lee set to publish the works of writers in the African Diaspora. He became known as Haki Madhabuti. Third World Press has enabled or assisted Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhabuti, Dudley Randall, Mari Evans and many other black writers to reach the public with an unfiltered voice.
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 9a-5p
ADDRESS: 7822 South Dobson Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Final Call Newspaper Headquarters
DESCRIPTION: Founded in the 1930s as the Final Call to Islam, it evolved to Muhammad Speaks in the 1960s, when it boasted a 2.5 million monthly circulation. It is the official communication vehicle of the Nation of Islam, published by the Minister Louis Farrakhan. With a hard-hitting editorial edge from a black perspective, The Final Call tackles controversial national and international issues. It has earned its place as a valuable news source to readership in North America, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.
ADDRESS: 734 West 79th Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Captain Ernest A Griffin Place
DESCRIPTION: Funeral home is located on the former site of Old Camp Douglas where many African Americans were inducted to serve during the Civil War; Capt Griffin was born at this site and his grandfather served in the Fighting 29th US Colored Infantry during the Civil War; mindful of the historic significance of the area, Capt Griffin Place exhibits many weapons, mementos, battle logs and soldier photos.
ADDRESS: 3232 South Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Supreme Life Insurance Building
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1919 as Liberty Life by Frank Gillespie, it was later renamed Supreme Life. During the Great Depression, Supreme Life was one of the largest African-American insurance companies. Earl B Dickerson, the first African-American to graduate from University of Chicago Law School successfully guided the company through the Great Depression. Black Metropolis Tourism Council owns the building and plans to renovate it into a tourism office.
ADDRESS: 3501 Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Grand Terrace Ballroom
DESCRIPTION: First opened in 1921 as the Sunset Cafe, it was the Bronzeville equivalent of Harlem’s Cotton Club; after closing in 1937 the richly adorned club featuring great jazz and high steppin’ showgirls reopened as the Grand Terrace, but was still controlled by Al Capone; in fact Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, and a young Count Basie were among the cavalcade of famous house musicians who worked here. It is now a hardware store.
ADDRESS: 315-317 East 35th Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Eighth Regiment Armory
DESCRIPTION: Another Bronzeville linchpin on the National Register of Historic Places. Erected 1898, it is the first armory for a regiment trained and commanded entirely by African-Americans. The Eighth Regiment was noted for its meritorious service during the Spanish-American War and WWI. Originally begun as a volunteer regiment, the Fighting Eighth was incorporated into the 370th US Infantry during WWI.
ADDRESS: 3533 Giles Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Overton Hygienic Building
DESCRIPTION: A former slave and entrepreneur, Anthony Overton built this structure in 1923 which symbolized the heights of achievement in Bronzeville. It included Overton Hygienic black cosmetic firm, Victory Life Insurance, The Chicago Bee newspaper, Half Century Magazine, Douglass National Bank, Theater Owners Booking Association for Black performing acts, and Walter T. Bailey – Chicago’s 1st black architect. In its heyday, Overton Hygienic sales extended to Africa and Japan. The building was restored to host a number of entrepreneurial activities.
ADDRESS: 3619-3627 South State Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Chicago Bee Building
DESCRIPTION: Opened in 1931, it was the last major privately-owned building erected in Bronzeville. Tenants established it as the second hub of economic, social and political activity in the area. Anthony Overton moved his Chicago Bee newspaper here. The attractive building features a green terra cotta facial. The renovated building is a now a library. It is also home to Center for Cultural Empowerment Through Literacy – a joint venture between De Paul University and Chicago Public Library, which has graduated 40 people in the short lifespan of the program.
ADDRESS: 3647-3655 South State Street, Chicago, IL MAP
PHONE: 773-747-3468 library
Wabash Ave YMCA
DESCRIPTION: Founded in 1911, this building os analogous to Ellis Island for European immigrants to America. It was the landing point for black migrants from the South to Chicago. This YMCA was a sterling example of brotherhood by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who erected this building. In the 1910s-1920s, the YMCA was filled to capacity while staff provided job training, located homes and job contacts for new arrivals. Immigrants gave Bronzeville lots of low cost labor and energy for entrepreneurship.
ADDRESS: 3763 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Chicago Defender Original Site
DESCRIPTION: The newspaper was founded at this site in 1905 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott. The site is a state historic landmark.
ADDRESS: 3435 South Indiana Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Ida B. Wells-Barnett Residence
DESCRIPTION: 1862-1931; home of the world renown civil rights and women’s rights advocate and newspaper publisher. Ida’s anti-lynching editorial struck a nerve in her former home town Memphis, where thugs burned down her newspaper and forced her to leave. She also played an early role in the formation of the NAACP.
ADDRESS: 3624 South Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Richard Wright Residence
DESCRIPTION: Richard Wright (1908-1960) is famous for writing such stirring novels as Native Son and Black Boy, which chronicle a slice of black life in America during the 1930s and 1940s.
ADDRESS: 3743 South Indiana Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Andrew Foster Historic Marker
DESCRIPTION: Andrew “Rube” Foster (1879-1930) was considered by most historians to be the Father of Negro Leagues Baseball. Though he founded the Negro National (Baseball) League in Kansas City in 1920, Rube lived near this corner.
ADDRESS: 39th Street at Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Nat King Cole Residence
DESCRIPTION: This famous balladeer and songwriter cut his teeth in the nightclubs of Chicago. He moved to Hollywood, where in the 1950s, he became one of the first African-Americans to have his own TV show.
ADDRESS: 4023 South Vincennes Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams Residence
DESCRIPTION: Dr. Williams (1856-1931) led a citywide fundraising drive to build Provident Hospital in 1891. It was the nation’s first hospital controlled by and serving African-Americans. Internationally famous, Dr. Williams performed the world’s first successful open heart surgery at the original Provident Hospital. Impressed with his accomplishments, President Grover Cleveland named Dr. Williams Surgeon-in-Chief at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington DC. This site is a National Historic landmark.
ADDRESS: 445 East 42nd Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Original Checkerboard Lounge
DESCRIPTION: For years, it featured the most authentic Delta Blues atmosphere in the city. Illinois Institute of Technology and U. of Chicago students sustained it from the 1980s onwards. Everyone who was anyone in the Blues, played here before the lounge moved to Hyde Park.
ADDRESS: 423 East 43rd Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Joe Louis Residence
DESCRIPTION: The “Brown Bomber” moved to Chicago in 1935. He was a frequent patron of all community establishments. Joe Louis helped make Bronzeville the place to be seen. Joe earned the Heavyweight Boxing title on 22 June 1937. That night, Bronzeville was one big party. Joe held the title for 11 years and 8 months. That’s still a Heavyweight Boxing record.
ADDRESS: 4326 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Oscar S. De Priest Residence
DESCRIPTION: De Priest (1871-1951) was the first African-American elected to the U.S. Congress from a district north of the Mason/Dixon line. While serving in Congress from 1929-1934, he fought for early civil rights legislation and funding for historically black colleges. This house has been a National Historic Landmark since 1965.
ADDRESS: 4536-38 South Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Savoy Ballroom Site
DESCRIPTION: This is where people used to dance all night on weekends; across the street the Regal Theatre rivaled the Apollo Theatre in its ability to attract the biggest names in Black entertainment before integration; today the Harold Washington Cultural Center, a worthy successor, occupies the site
ADDRESS: southeast corner of 47th Street at Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Robert S. Abbott Residence
DESCRIPTION: (1870-1940) Abbott founded the Chicago Defender in 1905, then shepherded the newspaper to become the most widely circulated African American paper by 1917. A large reason for its circulation success was Abbott’s editorial decision to address acts of racism in the South and convincing Sleeping Car Porters to sell the paper on southern routes. His newspaper, more than any other, attracted African-Americans from the Mississippi Delta to migrate to Chicago. It is a National Historic Landmark since 1976.
ADDRESS: 4742 South Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
DESCRIPTION: Built 1903, this Chicago Landmark designed in a Chateau-style was purchased in 1926 by Melissia Elam. She operated the 32-room dwelling as an elegant boarding house for single African American working women.
ADDRESS: 4726 South Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Wendell Phillips High School
DESCRIPTION: Built 1904, the school was named for Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), one of the leading figures in the Abolitionist Movement. Though it began as racially mixed school, by 1920, it became Chicago’s first predominately African-American high school. The school’s basketball teams formed the nucleus of a group that later became the Harlem Globetrotters. The school counts Nat “King” Cole, Dinah Washington, John H. Johnson, George E. Johnson, and Alonzo S. Parham, the first African American to attend West Point, as alumni.
ADDRESS: 244 East Pershing Road, Chicago, IL MAP
DESCRIPTION: Continuing the fundraising leadership established by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams and John HH Sengstacke the Chicago Defender publisher, led the fundraising drive for this $50 million Medical Center. It remains the primary health care center for African-Americans on the Southside. The original and 2nd locations of Provident Hospital have been torn down.
ADDRESS: 500 East 51st Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Roberts Hotel and Club
DESCRIPTION: Arguably, it was the nation’s largest African-American owned club in the 1950’s. Herman Roberts, a black taxicab entrepreneur turned his 55 cab garage into a showplace featuring Sammy Davis Jr., Dinah Washington, Count Basie and Dick Gregory among others. The saying goes that Roberts expanded into the hotel business to accommodate stars rather than wait for them to arrive from other locations.
ADDRESS: 6222 South Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Elijah Muhammad’s Compound
DESCRIPTION: One factor that drove the Minister Elijah Muhammad from Detroit back to Chicago occurred in 1942. At age 45, he was arrested for allegedly “evading the draft”. Winning his release from prison some years later, he returned to Chicago to lead the Nation of Islam. As the NOI grew, Minister Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) built several mansions surrounding the corners of Woodlawn and 49th Street, including one for himself. By the early 1960s, Readers Digest described Minister Elijah Muhammad as the most powerful Black man in America; Muhammad Ali has lived in one of the mansions; Minister Louis Farrakhan lives here now. No uninvited visitors.
ADDRESS: 4847 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Oak Woods Cemetery
DESCRIPTION: This large cemetery is the final resting place for many famous African-Americans, including banker Jesse Binka, 8th Regiment Colonel Franklin Denison, Thomas A Dorsey, Jesse Owens, Harold Washington and Ida B Wells.
ADDRESS: East 67th Street at South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Mahalia Jackson Residence
DESCRIPTION: Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), the world’s greatest Gospel singer, once called this building home. Aside from singing at her church in Chicago, Mahalia Jackson lent her singing talents to Civil Rights Movement events, including the 1963 March On Washington.
ADDRESS: 8358 South Indiana Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Harold Washington Historic Marker
DESCRIPTION: Harold Washington (1922-1987) Chicago’s first African-American mayor, called residence home. Tragically, he suffered a heart attack while in office, just as he began to roll out his agenda for a more equitable Chicago.
ADDRESS: 5300 South Shore Drive, Chicago, IL MAP
Soft Sheen Products
DESCRIPTION: Founded by Edward and Betti Ann Gardner in 1964, Soft Sheen opened the market for African-American hair care professionals. The company now calls itself the largest maker of ethnic hair care products in the world. Call for weekday tours Mon-Fri 8a-5p.
ADDRESS: 1000 East 87th Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Highland Community Bank
DESCRIPTION: Founded 1970 by George R Brokemond, it was one of the nation’s largest African-American banks.
ADDRESS: 1701 West 87th Street, Chicago, IL MAP
Seaway National Bank
DESCRIPTION: Founded 1965 by Walter E Grady, it was just a hair behind Highland Bank in assets. Seaway was once the 5th largest African-American bank.
ADDRESS: 645 East 87th Street, Chicago, IL MAP
DESCRIPTION: The company was founded in 1953 by chemist George Johnson and hairstylist Orville Nelson. In 1954, Johnson spilt from Nelson, then introduced his hit Ultra Wave products. The company moved to this location in 1960, reached $1 million revenue in 1965, and became the first Black-owned company to list on the NYSE. Perhaps it is best known as the sponsor of the Soul Train TV program, purchased by Carson Corporation and moved to LA.
ADDRESS: 8522 South Lafayette Avenue, Chicago, IL MAP
Dr. Percy Julian Residence
DESCRIPTION: Dr. Julian was one of America’s most prominent scientists with earned degrees from Depauw, Harvard and Vienna Universities, plus 18 honorary degrees. His research led to treatments for arthritis and fire-fighting agents. Dr. Julian was honored with a U.S. Postage Stamp in 1991. His home is a National Historic Landmark.
ADDRESS: 515 North East Avenue, Oak Park, IL MAP