The Crusader Newspaper Group

DuSable Museum of African American History to reopen June 19

The DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park will reopen June 19 after being closed for more than a year during the coronavirus pandemic, spokes-person Raymond Parks confirmed to the Crusader this week.

The museum is located at 740 E. 56th Place in Washington Park.

The museum’s reopening will coincide with the Juneteenth holiday, which Illinois lawmakers in Springfield are pushing to make a state holiday. The reopening will come as the DuSable Museum marks its 60th anniversary.

DuSable Museum officials have not disclosed any details of the museum’s reopening but plan to release an official announcement May 19.

The DuSable Museum is among the last member institutions of the Chicago Park District’s Museums in the Park, a coalition of 11 member museums situated on Park District property. While the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Museum of Science and Industry reopened their doors earlier this year and last year, the DuSable Museum remained closed, fueling concerns about the future of the renowned Black institution.

The DuSable Museum had been struggling before it closed during the pandemic on March 14, 2020. Two weeks before it closed, the DuSable debuted its newest exhibit, “The March,” in which visitors can virtually join the 1963 March on Washington.  Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis served as the exhibit’s executive producer. A trailer of the exhibit remains on the museum’s website.

Interest in Black history has soared in recent years, with organizations and institutions hosting Juneteenth celebrations, and the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C., as well as the escalation of police shootings of Black men across the nation jointly contributing to that rising interest.

Efforts are underway to incorporate the New York Times’ 1619 project about slavery into curriculums in public schools across the country. In Chicago, Black aldermen are pushing to rename Lake Shore Drive after Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Haitian-born settler considered the founder of Chicago.

As with many cultural institutions, the pandemic was a blow to the DuSable. President Perri Irmer recently told ABC7 Chicago that the museum had to lay off some of its workers during the pandemic. Unlike other major museums, the Du-

Sable reportedly was unable to reopen earlier during the pandemic because the costs were too steep to make building changes and pay its employees.

The museum meanwhile hosted online tours of its virtual exhibits.

Last February, the DuSable mark- ed its 60th anniversary with a video musical tribute on its website that highlights its history and purpose as the oldest independent Black museum in the country. Today it’s an affiliate of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

The video features Irmer sitting on a stool inside the museum’s unfurnished Roundhouse as she urges visitors to purchase a membership to help promote the museum’s role in showcasing the history, culture and achievements of Blacks in America and Chicago.

“The DuSable story in itself is a story of Black excellence,” Irmer says. “There is no industry, no discipline where Black excellence has not made its mark.”

In the tribute video, Lonnie Bunch, former CEO of the NMAAHC and 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian’s 19-member museums said, “My entire career has been shaped by the work of the DuSable and its founder, Margaret Burroughs. The desire to explore our history, to make it accessible, to make it meaningful, to make it useful, has been the heart of the DuSable Museum and the work we do.”

In the video, Irmer says the DuSable Museum attracts about 150,000 visitors a year.

Burroughs founded the DuSable in 1961 after showcasing Black artwork in the living room of her historic home at 38th and Michigan Avenue in Bronzeville. At the time it was called the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art.

Display cases were donated by several museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry. Most of the exhibit items were owned by Burroughs and her friends.  In 1968, the museum was named after DuSable.

The museum’s collection eventually outgrew its space in the estate before Burroughs moved it to its present location in Washington Park, which is a former Chicago Police Department district station that included a jail cell. Burroughs died in 2010.

Today, The DuSable Museum has more than 15,000 items that include paintings, sculpture, print works and historical memorabilia. Special exhibitions, workshops and lectures are featured to highlight works by particular artists, historical events or collections on loan from individuals or institutions.

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