An Interview with Librarian Beatrice "Bea" Julian
How did the DuSable Museum of African American History come to be?
The DuSable Museum of African American History is the oldest major African American self-governing museum designated to collect, interpret and preserve the achievements, experiences and history of African Americans. It is the only independent institution in Chicago established for this purpose. Being located in Chicago, one of the greatest migration centers for African Americans since the turn of the last century has given the DuSable Museum the unique position of receiving largely private donations ranging from one item to entire collections. The museum’s 40 plus year history of collecting and exhibiting art and artifacts by and about people of the African Diaspora and mother continent places it in a position of connoisseurship.
Begun as the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art and then changed to the Museum of Negro History and Art, the DuSable Museum was organized by an interracial group of eleven Chicago artists, educators, and activists lead by Dr. Margaret Burroughs and her husband Charles. The museum officially opened its doors in October 1961, housed in the Burroughs’ home located at 3806 South Michigan Avenue on the first floor. Which was the historic former home of the prominent contractor John Griffith? By the 1940’s it had been converted into the Quincy Club, a boarding house for Pullman Porters and other African American railroad workers, with a public meeting hall that served the community. In 1968, the museum was renamed after the Afro-French entrepreneur and pioneer Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable. The first non-Native American to establish a permanent settlement in what was to become Chicago. Soon the museum began to grow out of its space.
In 1970, the Chicago Park District granted DuSable Museum’s request for the former South Park Commission Administration Building built in 1911. Designed by Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, it is located in historic Washington Park at 740 East 56th Place. The museum moved into the facility in 1973. With this move, the museum became the eighth member of the consortium of museums located on Chicago Park District land. It quickly became a center and resource for teaching about the African Diaspora, as well as African American history and culture, and a focal point for the community. The museum and its founder Dr. Margaret Burroughs rose to national prominence, and African American communities and groups around the country have replicated its model, including Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
The museum expanded again in 1993 with a 28,000 square foot addition named after the late mayor Harold Washington featuring new galleries and a 450-seat auditorium. With the beginning of a new millennium, the DuSable Museum is poised to expand again. In 2004, DuSable Museum received another generous gift from the Chicago Park District, the former roundhouse and stables designed and built in 1880 for Washington Park by the architects Daniel H. Burnham and John W. Root, located just south of the museum across 57th Street. With the renovation of this historic building, DuSable Museum will be the largest African American Museum in the United States.
DuSable Museum has a large and diverse permanent collection including archival materials, artifacts, books, costumes, photographs and decorative and fine art. The art collection emphasizes artists of African descent, themes and topics of African American culture, history, and the African Diaspora, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.
It consists of drawings and prints including those by artist Dox Thrash, the African American print collection of artist and collector Ruth Waddy, and the illustrator and graphic artist Henry J. Lewis’ collection. It holds paintings by noted masters’ as Henry O. Tanner, Clementine Hunter, William H. Johnson, Charles Sebree, James A. Porter and Emilio Cruz. The sculpture collection features works by William E. Artis, Richmond Barthe, Elizabeth Catlett and Augusta Savage, and Chicago artist Richard Hunt. Incorporated into the collection is Caribbean art, with an emphasis on Haiti, and a large African art collection representing cultures from the four major regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, for example: the Yoruba and Senufo from Western Africa, the Pende and Chokwe from Central Africa, the Shona and Zulu from Southern African, and Ethiopian art and artifacts from the East. The collection also includes an award winning photography collection, bibliographic files, archival material and artifacts related to many of the artists.
The art collection is noted for its acquisition of Chicago African American artists, and embraces those whose careers or training began in Chicago. It is comprised of artists such as William W. Carter, William MacKnight Farrow (the first African American to teach at the Art Institute), William A. Harper, Frederic D. Jones, Achibald Motley, Jr., Norman Parham, William E. Scott, Charles White, Ellis Wilson, Charles Dawson, and of course Margaret Burroughs. Sculptors include Elizabeth Catlett, Geraldine McCullough, Marion Perkins, and outsider artist Mr. Imagination.
DuSable Museum hosts a minimum of six exhibitions a year that highlight works of these and other leading artists, as well as the history of important local and national individuals and events. It organizes lectures, workshops, various cultural and special events, and an annual arts and crafts festival. From its small beginnings, the Museum has grown to attract scholars and visitors from around the world. More than 150,000 participants attend or utilize the facility each year.
Tell readers about the library and your role there?
Although the DuSable Museum does not currently maintain a physical space for a library or publicly accessible archives, I provide the general research and reference services performed by a librarian working in a special library, along with inventorying and processing books, media resources, and archival materials. Because I am considered a staff member of the Curatorial Department, I also perform duties associated with maintaining the object collections, installing and deinstalling exhibitions, as well as clerical and administrative tasks assigned by the Chief Curator.
What might one find in the Museum's Archives?
Our print and media resources document the history of African Americans and peoples of African descent. Below is a listing of some of my favorite archival collections:
Dawson, Charles Collection. Charles Dawson was an illustrator and portraitist, World War I veteran, and youth leader. Having studied at Tuskegee Institute and the Chicago Art Institute, Dawson worked for the Chicago Engravers and as a freelance illustrator, as well as in the Chicago section of the Federal Art Project. Other posts include co-administrator for the Chicago Work and Training Program of the National Youth Administration; designer of the 1940 American Negro Exposition; and curator of Tuskegee’s George Washington Carver Museum. Dawson’s papers include original drawings, notebooks, correspondence, notes, ephemera, and photographs.
Diggs, Olive Papers. Olive Myrl Diggs (d. 1980), journalist and socialite, worked her way up to become editor of the Chicago Bee, a weekly newspaper based at 3647 State Street in Chicago’s South Side. She served as editor from 1937 until the paper’s folding in 1947. A graduate of Northwestern University and Roosevelt University, Diggs began as the Bee’s auditor, 1929-30; and later served as business manager, 1930-34. After the Bee folded, Diggs was acting director of the Human Relations Commission of Illinois, and later worked in the Department of Urban Renewal, writing and speaking on public housing in Chicago. Her papers include manuscripts, correspondence, pamphlets, and ephemera, mostly dating from her tenure as acting director of the Human Relations Commission of Illinois.
Matlock, Frances Papers. Frances Matlock was a teacher in Chicago area schools for 41 years, from 1931-1972. A prominent society figure, she participated in several community organizations, including the South Side Community Art Center, the Chicago and National Association of Media Women, Inc., the NAACP, the American Negro Emancipation Centennial Authority, and the American West Indian Association. She also occasionally wrote articles for the Chicago Defender. Her papers consist mostly in archival materials of the American West Indian Association and her notes and research files for the exhibition “A Century of Negro Progress,” which was featured at the American Negro Emancipation Centennial Exposition in Chicago in 1963.
Montgomery, Lucy Papers. Lucy Montgomery was a civil rights activist and member of an organization called the Chicago Area Friends of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which was organized to support the southern civil rights organization. Her papers include substantial research/clippings files arranged by subject, notes and manuscripts, correspondence, and other miscellaneous personal papers.
Share a few of the museum's current and upcoming exhibits:
Red, White, Blue & Black: A History of Blacks in the Armed Services: Featuring more than 100 artifacts, objects, images and documents, "Red, White, Blue & Black," highlights the robust collection of militaria from the DuSable Museum’s permanent collection.
A Slow Walk to Greatness: The Harold Washington Story: This new installation takes a closer look into the life and legacy of Harold Washington, twenty years after the passing of the city's first African American Mayor. This exhibition will afford a new generation of Chicagoans the opportunity to learn about the tremendous impact that mayor Washington had on the city, and the country.
For those interested in visiting the DuSable Museum, hours of operation, directions and admission information can be found at http://www.dusablemuseum.org/visit/admission-information.
Beatrice Julian's Biography
As an information specialist, writer, and professional storyteller, Beatrice Julian is interested in researching and documenting traditional forms of cultural expression. Her varied freelance writing and research assignments have resulted in magazine and newspaper articles, essays, elementary school textbook units, and poetry. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Champaign, Urbana with a master's degree in library and information science, Beatrice began her career as a children's librarian with the Chicago Public Library. She left her dream job working with children and young adults at the Lorraine Hansberry Library to pursue another dream, writing for children as part of the editorial staff at EBONY JR! In addition to her work in both public and academic libraries, Beatrice has also served as coordinator of an adult literacy program (Literacy for Every Adult program, or LEAP), an outreach coordinator with a public television station (the Ready to Learn initiative), and a research analyst with the Chapin Hall Center for Children. After volunteering at the DuSable Museum Library during her high school and college years, Beatrice was delighted to join the staff of the institution founded on her birthday. Residence in the new Research Library in the DuSable Roundhouse will be a professional dream come true.
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