Chicago has unparalleled music, food and art scenes in its own right. But here’s something you may not know about the Windy City—it was settled by Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Black man from Haiti. As the story goes, the immigrant of African and French descent established a trading post by the Chicago River around 1779 and became the city’s first permanent citizen. In his honor, the Michigan Avenue Bridge was renamed the DuSable Bridge. You’ll find a stately bronze bust of DuSable near the bridge along the Magnificent Mile. To learn more about him, visit the DuSable Museum of African American History, an independent museum dedicated to the history of African American culture.
Another pivotal point in the city’s history was during the Great Migration in the early-to-mid 20th century, when millions of African Americans uprooted from the rural south and headed north. Black folks seeking social equality and economic opportunity flocked to Chicago, and between 1910 and 1920 the city’s Black population reportedly increased by 148 percent. As a result, Black culture flourished and ushered in an exciting new musical sound called the Chicago blues. This amplified electric guitar remix of Delta blues—the granddaddy of rock and roll as we know it today—was popularized by magnetic musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Koko Taylor and Buddy Guy. Many of these Chicago blues artists honed their chops performing at the open-air Maxwell Street Market, still open to the public on Sundays from March to December. To hear live Chicago blues, visit Buddy Guy’s Legends, a popular club owned by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
Although the reality is that African Americans in Chicago still face challenges and injustice, their light is not dimmed. The proud legacy of Harold Washington, the city’s beloved first Black mayor from 1983 until 1987, lives on in the name of a memorial park, community college and the Harold Washington Library Center, the city’s main public library. Black families and businesses still thrive in historic neighborhoods like Hyde Park, where the Obamas had their first kiss (a plaque on the “Obama Kissing Rock” commemorates the spot) and maintain a home, and Bronzeville, where you’ll find the Bronzeville Walk of Fame, which spotlights more than 100 outstanding Bronzeville residents, including civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, poet Gwendolyn Brooks and astronaut Robert H. Lawrence Jr.
To keep the entrepreneurial spirit of Chicago’s Black community going strong, here are five Black-owned businesses to support now:
In the historic Pullman neighborhood, find several Black food vendors under one roof at One Eleven Food Hall. Sample spicy plant-based dishes at Majani Soulful Vegan Cuisine; sip specialty coffee and teas at AndySunflower Cafe and keep your wet wipes handy at Lexington Betty Smokehouse.
If brunch is your jam, make a beeline for Batter & Berries, run by husband and wife team Dr. Tanya Richardson and Craig Richardson. Share the smothered chicken omelet and a flight of batter-dipped Brioche French toast (blueberry, strawberry, lemon, and caramel).
Named after owner and chef Darnell Reed’s grandmother, who migrated from Mississippi to Chicago in 1943, Luella’s Southern Kitchen is known for tasty comfort food staples like shrimp and grits, collard greens and cornbread.
Tigist Reda serves up authentic Ethiopian cuisine at Demera Ethiopian Restaurant in Chicago’s vibrant Uptown neighborhood. Dig into a Messob (family style) platter with flavor-bursting meat, seafood, and veggie options.
As a tribute to her late father who was a criminal defense attorney and pie-lover, Maya-Camille Broussard opened Justice of the Pies. The bakery satisfies customers with homemade sweet and savory pies (the salted caramel peach pie is calling our name), quiches and tarts, and partners with nonprofits to support lower-income communities.
*With things being the way they are, don’t forget to plan ahead and double-check business hours and days of operation for the locations listed above.