Aunt Jemima Brand Changing

The iconic brand of pancake mix and other products produced by Quaker Oats has been criticized over the years because of the stereotype image of “Aunt Jemima”, a figure representing the Southern mammy character, a well-loved servant figure who worked in the home of slave owner families cooking and taking care of the children. This figure and brand name is being changed by Quaker in light of the recent events that call to light enduring symbols of racism and oppression such as the Confederate flag, statues of traitorous military figures, and military bases named for Southern rebel leaders.

Originally invented by a newspaperman named Chris Rutt and partner, Charles Underwood, the self-rising pancake mix was introduced at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The brand name came from the song “Old Aunt Jemima”, which was often performed by a character in blackface and it was also sung by slaves. The innovative product was demonstrated by a former slave named Nancy Green, who was born in Montgomery County, Kentucky. Her demonstrations of the pancakes were so popular at the Fair that she was lauded for her performances at a World’s Fair where there was little participation by Black people whatsoever.

Nancy Green promoted the Pancake mix all around the country until her death in an automobile accident in 1923. But there was more to Nancy Green than just her Aunt Jemima character. While not promoting the brand, Nancy was very active in her church in Chicago and worked to help people who were underprivileged and in poverty.

More on: Who is Nancy Green?

Bernard C. Turner

A Visit to the Chicago Fire Department Academy

The Chicago Fire Department Academy building pays homage to the urban legend of Mrs. O’Leary and her infamous cow. It’s actually located on the spot where the fire took place. We all know now that the cow was not to blame. Although, I believe, some still harbor that tale. It’s ironic that CFD built on that very spot, but it does make a point about Chicago. Although the city burnt due to the drought conditions, the fact that the city was virtually made of wood, and the winds that carried the sparks north and east, Chicago always bounces back from calamity and hardship.

Designed by city architect, Paul Gerhardt, Jr., the Fire Academy is modern and quite striking. According to Morning Shift staff writer from October 4, 2017, “the building is a five-story cube of bright orange brick, with a line of clerestory windows along the top of the fire-training wing. Inside those brick walls is an artificial streetscape of fire escapes, windows, and chimneys that are used for mock firefighting exercises.” I had to look up clerestory, a term for windows designed to admit light and fresh air, historically named for the type of windows above eye level, as in a Roman basilica or classic church.

What’s most impressive about the Fire Academy is the stories that highlight the most severe and devastating fires in Chicago history since the 1871 conflagration. These include the Iroquois Theater fire of 1903 that claimed more than 600 lives when it was all said and done. That fire was due to faulty wiring in what was thought to be a fireproof building at 24-28 W. Randolph Street, where the Oriental Theater is currently located.

Another tragic fire was the December 1, 1958 fire that devastated Our Lady of Angels School on Chicago’s West Side where 92 school children and two nuns died. The fire started in the basement in a trash can and quickly spread. As with the Great Chicago Fire, the firemen went to the wrong place before finding the fire inside the school itself. Because of this tragedy many new fire regulations have been put into place possibly saving many lives since.

Other tragedies are documented that claimed the lives of firefighters and challenged the resources of our city, including the LaSalle Bank fire of 1946, and the Great Chicago Flood of 1992 where 124 million gallons of water from the Chicago River poured into the freight tunnel beneath the loop buildings.

Chicago Tribune Great flood of 1992

The Fire Academy honors the firefighters with plaques and medals that show their bravery and devotion to the safety of our citizens. This is definitely worth a visit and if a trainer is available you can request a tour.

Bernard Turner

Illinois History and Symbols

Illinois will be celebrating 200 years of statehood in 2018. It became the 21st state admitted to the Union in December, 1818. It’s first two capitals were Kaskaskia and Vandalia. Illinois’ flag, officially adopted in 1915, features the Seal of Illinois with a bald eagle atop a rock with the dates 1818, the year of statehood, and 1868, the year the Seal was chosen. There is also a shield with 13 stars and 13 stripes symbolizing the thirteen original colonies that became the United States.
The state motto “State Sovereignty—National Union” appears on the red banner. The word sovereignty appears upside down because Illinois was against state sovereignty as one of the states that fought victoriously in the Civil War with the North. The territory of Illinois wanted to make sure that it benefitted from the access of the Chicago River for transport of goods from the East via the waters of the Great Lakes. This would guarantee commercial success and prosperity for its citizens because ships could reach Chicago with goods and travel from Chicago via Illinois’ rivers down the Mississippi all the way to Louisiana. To ensure that access, they extended the border north. There was another reason to extend the border north and that was to make sure that Illinois commerce remained tied to the north. Furthering that important commercial relationship was the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825.
Illinois also anticipated a growing tension between the North and the South over the institution of slavery well before the southern states seceded from the Union. Illinois wanted to make sure that it was on the side of the North. Illinois and Chicago contributed many troops to the war effort as well as supplies, food and clothing.

Bernard C. Turner

Chicago and The Underground Railroad

Did you know that Chicago was a very important stop on the Underground Railroad? Several well-known abolitionists helped fugitive slaves travel through Chicago to destinations north, including Canada. Also, a black congregation that was one of the earliest in existence was a stop on the Underground Railroad. That church was Olivet Baptist Church on the South Side.
Chicago abolitionists included physician C.V. Dyer and Philo Carpenter, a pharmacist, who operated Underground Railroad stations in his home and in his church. There were also several early Black settlers who were abolitionists and operators on the UGRR, including John Jones, a wealthy owner of a tailor shop in the downtown district. He and his wife, Mary Richardson Jones, harbored many runaway slaves on their way to freedom in Canada.
Two other African Americans also harbored fugitives in Chicago. They were Joseph Henry Hudlun (pictured here) and his wife, Anna. They were thought to be the first African Americans to both build and own a home in Chicago. The house was located on Third Avenue near Dearborn Station. Joseph worked throughout his life for the Chicago Board of Trade. During the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, he was instrumental in saving many valuable documents from the conflagration. He and his wife sheltered the needy and Anna is known as the “fire angel” for the help she gave to the homeless during the Fire.

If you want to learn more about the UGRR in Chicago, check out The Underground Railroad in Illinois by Glennette Tilley Turner

Bernard C. Turner

Chicago Symbols

The Chicago “I Will” Figure. Chicago symbols include the Chicago Flag and the Y figure or Municipal Device that can be seen on buildings and bridges in downtown Chicago, but many people are not familiar with the “I Will” Figure. It dates back to 1891 and pictures the spirit of Chicago. The Inter-Ocean, a local newspaper proposed a contest to design a device or figure that symbolizes the city. “I Will” created by Chicago artist Charles Holloway won the prize. It conveys the strength, vitality and heroism of people who contributed to the progress of the city. It also represents the long-range big picture of success.

So, do you know what the four red stars on the Chicago flag symbolize? And do you know what the Y symbolizes?


Historic Buildings in Bronzeville

Chicagoland has many well-known homes and buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, most notably, Robie House in Hyde Park and Unity Temple in Oak Park. Bronzeville is home to a building conceived by Wright and finished by Perkins, originally called Abraham Lincoln Center, located on Oakwood Boulevard, just west of Cottage Grove. The Center was to be a part of a larger neighborhood center that consisted of All Souls Unitarian Church, which was a project of Wright’s uncle, Jenkin Lloyd Jones. It was to become a community center with an auditorium for worship, a settlement house, and center for education and hospitality for travelers.


The articles of incorporation for the Center state that the purpose was “the advancement of the physical, intellectual, social, civic, moral and religious interests of humanity, irrespective of age, sex, creed, race, condition of political opinion and in furtherance there of the maintenance of institutions of learning and philanthropy.”

Some important historical perspective is provided by Dr. Conrad Worrill in the YouTube video:

Abraham Lincoln Center is currently the home of the Carruther’s Center for Inner City Studies of Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

Bernard C. Turner

Highlights of Chicago Press









Mecca Flats in Bronzeville

The storied Mecca Building at 34th and State stood where Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe’s S.R. Crown Hall now stands. Designed by lesser known architects, Willoughby Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham in 1891, the building served as a luxurious hotel for visitors to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Later it served as apartments for migrants who came to Chicago during the Great Migration.

Mecca had 176 apartments and like many buildings in Bronzeville it was overcrowded. It was a neighborhood described as hyper-populated, dense, bursting at the seams in an atmosphere where Restrictive Covenants held the hopeful dream-filled people in check.

In reading the first chapter of The Third Coast, Thomas Dyja’s factual but lyrical description of post-Depression Chicago, he talks about one of the people who was out of place in the Mecca. Gwendolyn Brooks, the young poet, worked there for E. N. French, a spiritual guide, selling incense and dream guides to the residents there. Dyja says: “the incense helped create a heavenly atmosphere, and it blocked the stench. As she stepped out the door, a complex mixture of smells told stories of the thousand or so people who lived in the Mecca’s 176 apartments: unattended children pissing through the railings; the shit and ammonia stink of boiling chitlins; simmering garbage; the cigarettes of those whiling away yet another day. Gwendolyn didn’t belong here for many reasons, but mainly because she felt tainted by the lies of E.N. French; the work of a poet was truth of the most eternal kind, and Gwendolyn Brooks at twenty-one was above all things a poet.”

William Tillman, An Unlikely Hero

In July, 1861, a merchant schooner, S.J. Waring, bound for Montivideo from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, carrying passengers and cargo, was boarded by sailors from the crew of the rebel ship Jeff Davis. The men took control of the ship and commandeered it for the Confederate States of America.

The invaders ordered the ship’s captain Smith to take down the Stars and Stripes and declared that everything was now the property of the south.

One of the Waring’s crew was a Negro steward and cook named William Tillman.  He knew that his fate would most likely be to be sold into bondage. For him this was an ominous situation. In conjunction with some of the original crew members left aboard, a plot was hatched that would take place while the invading crew were sleeping.

Because his duties on the ship gave him access and opportunity to move about the vessel, it was possible for him to sneak into where the rebel crew members were sleeping. Armed with a heavy club, he struck fatal or near fatal blows to the heads of the sleeping Confederates. When others awoke, Tillman overcame their leader and took control of the Waring and set sail for New York.

The voyage home was interrupted by a severe storm that required help from the captured rebel crew. Tillman ordered them to work to get the ship safely back to port or face the possibility of being shot to death. They complied.

Tillman was celebrated in the New York newspapers as a hero and was given a sizable reward. There was another attempt on a Union vessel by the Jeff Davis a few weeks later. This attempt was foiled by a black steward named Jacob Garrick, who notified a Union gunboat that was in the vicinity.

Because of the heroism exhibited by Tillman, Garrick and other sailors and crew members, Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Wells opened up enlistment in the Navy for colored men in September, 1861.

Prologue, a community-based educational organization is restoring a marina located on Chicago’s far-south side at the Calumet River. The marina is to be used as a maritime training facility and an alternative high school. The William Tillman Marine Science and Technology Academy is scheduled to open in Fall 2016.

Bernard C. Turner


A New Ferris Wheel

Ferris Wheels and Chicago

Chicago is getting another Ferris wheel! Right now construction is underway of a bigger, better wheel for Navy Pier. According to the Navy Pier Web site, “Navy Pier, Inc. conducted a thorough 6-month worldwide search for a wheel that would best meet the unique structural and operational requirements of the Pier. Working alongside engineers from Thornton Tomasetti, a new model was selected and purchased — the DW60 — from Dutch Wheels, the Netherlands-based company that built the Pier’s current wheel. Considered the world’s top designer and manufacturer of Ferris wheels, Pier leadership was impressed with the company’s exemplary safety record and commitment to excellence.”

The new Ferris wheel is 196 ft. tall and will have 42 gondolas. Compare that to the previous one that opened in 1995. It was 147 feet high and had 40 gondolas

But how did these compare to the original Ferris wheel that was built on the Midway at the World’s Columbian Exposition of1893? That crowd pleaser was designed by a Pittsburg engineer named George Ferris. Believe it or not, the original wheel was a whopping 250 feet tall. One of the goals was to produce an attraction in Chicago that was bigger (and better?) than the Eiffel Tower build for the last world exposition in Paris. It had 36 wooden cars that held 60 people. Each 5 cent ride was two revolutions. The Ferris wheel proved to be a very successful money maker for the Fair.

Bernard C. Turner


Whenever I give walking tours in Bronzeville, I like to point out not only the landmarks, which are plentiful in this historic neighborhood, but also the newer local sites that will continue to draw tourists. At the corner of 35th and State there are two six-feet and 4,000 pound obelisks that were installed in November, 2009. The obelisks (Greek for a tall four-sided stone pillar that taper to a pyramidal top) were the created from an idea of the late Senator Margaret Smith and Esther Barnett, a local merchant. The Bronzeville Merchants Association, the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago are responsible for these interesting works of art.

The obelisk south of 35th Street honors the first non-native settler of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable. Many people don’t that many African Americans settled in Chicago as it became a city after 1837. A panel honoring Dr. Daniel Hale Williams is also here, telling the story of Provident Hospital in Bronzeville where the first open heart surgery was performed.

Also mentioned are all of the types of businesses that flourished and the “stroll” area where people walked and shopped and interacted. If you visit the landmark Chicago Bee and Douglas Bank Building two blocks south at 36th and State you can see the mural inside of the entrance to what is now the Bee Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The mural depicts the State Street area and the “stroll”.

The other obelisk is located north of 35th Street closer to the campus of IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology. It tells the story of Bronzeville as a city within a city, complete with its own shops and entertainment. This is because of the racially restrictive covenants that prevented blacks from purchasing or renting homes outside of the “Black Belt”. The area was busy with people and commerce, theaters and clubs for entertainment.

Each of the obelisks has hieroglyphics on them. Every time I visit with tour guests someone asks about the hieroglyphic symbols. I always have to say I don’t know what they symbolize, but now I’m on a quest for knowledge. Can you find out what they mean?

What other obelisks do you know and where are they located?

Bernard C. Turner