The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum is poised for expansion that will include a new location with more space and community development opportunities.
“The (historic) firehouse is where we would like to relocate the museum that would be part of the proposed complex we’re calling the Pullman Cultural Factory,” said David Peterson Jr., the museum’s executive director and president. ”We plan to raise the $3.5 million it will take to complete the project in the space bounded by E. 108th and 111th Streets between Cottage Grove and Langley Avenue.”
In addition to event space, the complex would include a business incubation program and banquet hall. Renovation of the 4,000-sq. ft. fire house will include a theater and two floors of exhibition space.
“The complex will also serve as a training ground for economic development which is why we’ll have the business incubation component,” Peterson Jr. said. “It’s definitely a project. This is something that will benefit the entire community but we need help raising the funds to complete the project. We already have the architect in place. We will officially launch our fundraising on Aug. 25 to mark the creation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union.”
Located currently at 10406 S. Maryland Ave., the museum was founded in 1995 by Dr. Lyn Hughes and is situated in the Historic Pullman District, which is now a National Monument and part of the National Park Service.
Former President Barack Obama designated the Historic Pullman District a National Monument in 2015.
The museum was named in honor of Asa Philip Randolph and the Pullman Porters, the men who made up the membership of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union.
Under Randolph’s leadership, the Sleeping Car Porters fought the Pullman Rail Car Company for employment equality and is the first African-American labor union in the country to win a collective bargaining agreement, according to information on the museum’s website.
The group’s efforts are said to have carved a path for many of the civil rights gains that were made at that time.
An integral part of the Pullman community, the African-American museum is the only museum worldwide that is dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
“We’re the global ambassadors of cultural and economic development which is under the umbrella of tourism which gives us the opportunity to benefit from history, heritage and culture,” Peterson Jr. said. “With that, there’s an opportunity to influence the community socially and economically and redevelop the neighborhood.”
He added that museum visitors are provided with an “experience” and a great deal of information about Randolph and the porters.
As for financial backing, with the exception of a couple of programs, the museum’s current operational support does not come from the City of Chicago, state or federal grants. The museum operates mainly on an entrepreneurial model and is always in need of volunteers and donations.
Peterson Jr. and Dr. Hughes currently are looking to get “No Parking” signs placed on 104th Street between Corliss and Maryland.
“There’s a 210-unit apartment building and it’s one way in and one way out,” Peterson said. “When school (lets) out, we have traffic jams. Parents picking up their children block the museum entry way and I have to go out and ask people not to park there. It’s also a public safety issue.”
Peterson Jr. said he submitted a request for “No Parking” signs to Alderman Anthony Beale’s office but has not heard back. He is now looking to start a petition to get the signs placed.
As for current programming at the Pullman Porter Museum, youth are the focus with the Museum 44, “Where Hip Hop Meet History” program.
The program is named after the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, and uses popular culture, media and positive role models to help African-American youth gain the knowledge to help improve their communities.
Peterson Jr. got the idea when ABC’s Good Morning America visited the museum to film a segment, which featured the museum.
As he watched the filming and the production of that show, he said he realized he could create a television show at the museum site.
“Robin Roberts came here to interview Dr. Hughes in 2008 or 2009,” Peterson Jr. said. “I saw the cameras set up and thought it would be a good idea for us to have something like that on a regular basis. It took some years to put it together. We do events now and video documentaries from the youth’s point-of-view.”
Peterson Jr. partnered with Rap artist Lupe Fiasco’s MURAL, Magnifying Urban Realities & Affecting Lives, a community outreach program co-founded by Fiasco’s sister Ayesha Jaco, MURAL’s executive director. The program now includes music education and other arts-based initiatives.
Peterson Jr. also partnered with After-School Matters, a non-profit organization that provides after-school and summer program opportunities to more than 15,000 Chicago high school teens each year.
In terms of protecting Black culture, Dr. Hughes said it’s up to the African-American community to take charge of their history, heritage and culture.
“There is national evidence of aggressive cultural appropriation of African-American culture,” Dr. Hughes said. “That is being done through the revisionist writing of our history. It is up to us to not allow that to happen. It is imperative that we grasp the importance of preserving Black history and making it easily shareable, putting it in the hands of the next generation.”
Dr. Hughes added that she and Peterson Jr. are the official representatives of a very important component of African American History, the story of Randolph and the porters.
“Our goal is to rebuild their true history and bring it to its proper place,” Hughes stated. “In 2003, working through the museum, I established the Pullman Porters National Historic Registry of African American Railroad Employees. The printed version was published in 2007. In 2015, with the assistance of DePaul University, the database was put online. And in 2018 we added a new category, the descendants of the distinguished group of men. I believe that will take the effort and the museum in a new and focused direction.”
For more information about the museum and programs, call (773) 850-8580.