The erasure or omission of black contributors in American history is nothing new. Such is the case of recent research called “Ada S. McKinley: A Hidden History of African-American Settlement House in Chicago” by KangJae Jerry Lee and Rodney B. Dieser. Their research suggests educator and social reformer Ada S. McKinley’s work and contributions in social services has been ignored and omitted from history because she was black. According to Lee and Dieser, Ada S. McKinley succeeded amid the white establishment and patriarchy.
“We believe race factors into the lack of historical information about McKinley,” said Dieser. “As someone who is white, I can say that white historians, whether consciously or unconsciously, wrote a white privileged history that ignored McKinley’s contributions, when compared, for example, to social reformer Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House,” Dieser added.
Ada S. McKinley founded the South Side Settlement House (SSSH), later renamed Ada S. McKinley Community Services. Settlement houses were social service facilities.
Besides housing services, these settlement houses provided daycare, educational, and healthcare services to the poor. According to the report, there were 35 settlement houses in Chicago in 1919. SSSH was the largest in the area and the only house fully staffed by African Americans.
In contrast, history often refers to Jane Adams, founder of Hull House, and her contributions to social reform while ignoring Ada S. McKinley’s similar contributions. The research report spurred the 102-year-old nonprofit organization McKinley founded to push for her inclusion in the history books.
Ada S. McKinley Community Services CEO Jamal Malone says now is the time for historians, government leaders, and the public to help correct what the researchers describe as “white privileged history” and tell the heroine’s story Chicago’s South Side.
Ada S. McKinley’s settlement house provided services to African Americans during the flu pandemic of 1918-19, the Great Migration, During World War I, the race riots of 1919, and more. Unlike her white counterparts, who came from wealthier and more prominent families, Ada S. McKinley faced racism, sexism, and financial struggles yet still managed to provide much-needed services to poor southside residents. This important work continues today.
Ada S. McKinley Community Services CEO Jamal Malone is asking scholars and authors to correct the omission of McKinley’s contributions. He wants her works included in books and school curricula. He is also asking for the community’s support in gathering historical records. The Ada S. McKinley Community Services is also gathering community support in renaming a Chicago street in Ada S. McKinley’s honor.
“Ada Sophia McKinley died in 1952, so it’s possible those who knew her in the early 20th century may still be with us. In the face of the current pandemic and significant racial unrest, her work is as relevant and critical today as it was 102 years ago. Help us tell the story of her bravery, which should be reported and honored,”
To share information or mementos connecting Ada S. McKinley or her contributions, go to https://www.adasmckinley.org/contact/.
Interim Managing Editor Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living on the southside of Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.