Historian, author and former Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett Jr. contributes to telling the story of the history of Blacks in Chicago in the WTTW-TV/Ch. 11 documentary, DuSable to Obama.
Some 40 individuals were interviewed for the upcoming WTTW-TV/Ch. 11 documentary DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis in the areas of art, culture and politics.
The show premieres Monday and Chicago-born actress Kellita Smith of The Bernie Mac Show will be narrating. Actor/director Harry Lennix and R&B soul recording artist Chaka Khan – also Chicago natives – will be featured in the production.
The documentary unfolds in four acts, starting with the arrival of trapper Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, telling how he settled in Chicago, and how his groundwork laid the foundation for what would eventually become a thriving city that has shaped the African American experience. “The story of African Americans in Chicago is the story of Chicago itself,” one of the show’s producers, Daniel Andries, told the Defender. The documentary also explores the election of Harold Washington up to Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign.
These highly publicized events created a dynamic legacy, but its the everyday working people who continue to provide Chicago with its diverse narratives and perspective, the production reveals. The documentary called on esteemed luminaries in the Black community to help tell the story. “When I arrived in Chicago on 47th Street (King Drive), Black people were well-dressed in bright colors and we could buy everything on the South Side,” Susan Cayton Woodson, Woodson Gallery owner and a well-known patron of the arts, told the Defender.
Woodson is the great-granddaughter of Hiran Rhoads Revels, the first Black elected to the United States Senate and went on to become the first president of Mississippi’s Alcorn State University. Ironically, the documentary borrows its title from the 1945 book, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, Woodson’s brother, Horace Cayton Jr., co-authored and published. “Horace Jr. was a big part of Black Chicago. He was really the director of the book project,” Woodson said of her older brother. Steeped in a family tradition of philanthropy, Woodson began doing work in the notable Bronzeville institutions, the legendary Rosenwald Building and Parkway Community Center. She now boasts one of the most eclectic African art collections at her Hyde Park gallery, which includes works by Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White.
“The art has its own story, not only the Black side, but just being a part of Chicago history,” Woodson concluded.
When discussing the historical contributions Blacks have made to Chicago, Lerone Bennnett Jr. leads the charge. A writer and historian, Bennett has served on the editorial staff of Ebony magazine for over 50 years. He has authored books and short stories examining the history of Blacks in the United States – as well as Chicago – and their struggle for equality His 1963 seminal work, Before the MayFlower, traces Black history from its origins in Western Africa through the trans-Atlantic sojourn that would be slavery, the Reconstruction, and the upheavals of the Civil Rights Movement. He is a strong proponent of the documentary’s subject matter.
“Its about time somebody did an in-depth look at the city of Chicago. It is truly a great city for African Americans. It’s one of the the first cities in the black world,”á Bennett told the Defender. He can be seen in DuSable to Obama’s preview talking about Harold Washington’s election. “I was overjoyed to be involved in it. Black people mobilized and organized to defeat the most powerful political machine in America. That was truly a made-in-Chicago moment,” he recalled. Bennett and Dr. Margaret Burroughs have been working on securing DuSable’s legacy to be a part of Chicago’s history and landscape.
“We were trying to get the city to name the outerdrive Dusable Drive. Maybe we need to revisit the concept and name it DuSable-Obama Drive,” Bennett said of the historical idea. He said that all races of Chicagoans are children of DuSable’s and owe the trapper a debt.
DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis premieres Monday at 7:30 p.m., with re-broadcasts June 13 at 4:30 p.m. and June 16 at 7:30 p.m.áá á
áCopyright 2010 Chicago Defender.