The city’s historical organizations celebrate preservation month The city’s historical organizations celebrate preservation month

Daily archive photo by Sean Hong

The Frances Willard House Museum. The National Historic Landmark reopened to tourists on May 19 as part of the Evanston Preservation Commission’s Preservation Month.

The Shorefront Legacy Center unveiled two inaugural heritage site markers this month as part of a project to recognize African American heritage sites and the contributions of African Americans to the Evanston community.

On May 14, residents gathered at the homes of Edwin B. Jourdain Jr. and Lorraine H. Morton to honor these sites in an important milestone of this mission. The event was part of the Evanston Preservation Commission’s 2022 Preservation Month celebration: “People Saving Places”. Throughout the month of May, the commission organizes several events across the city.

The Shorefront Legacy Center invited community members to nominate historic places they consider vital to the community before considering the suggestions in committee, according to co-founder Morris “Dino” Robinson.

Robinson said he hopes this process will help residents find the agency by telling the story of the area as they know it.

“When you have groups or institutions that don’t know a population (who) are trying to tell that story, they may not understand the nuances and idiosyncrasies of that particular community,” Robinson said. “We want to put that control back in the hands of the community, to determine what’s important. They write a narrative and justify it on their own terms.

A former resident of one of the sites honored during the event, Lorraine H. Morton was Evanston’s first black mayor. She began her career as a teacher at Foster School in 1953 and served the Evanston community for over 50 years. Robinson said Morton had advocated for economic growth in the downtown core during his administration.

In 1931, Edwin Jourdain – a former resident of the other heritage site – became Evanston’s first black alderman, a position he held until 1947. Robinson said Jourdain was a driving force in the fighting the city’s Jim Crow policies, desegregating movie theaters, public beaches and other public spaces.

Six additional heritage markers will be placed at sites in Evanston by the end of the year, Robinson said.

The designation of historic markers was the first of three events held during Preservation Month. On May 12, the History Center hosted a presentation by transit historian Walter Keevil on the Yellow Line, and on May 19 and 22, the Frances Willard House, a National Historic Landmark, reopened for tours. in person.

Willard, a former educator and suffragette, was a founding member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which began in 1874. She was criticized by anti-lynching activist and journalist Ida B. Wells, who said she used stereotypes of black men abusing alcohol and attacking women to gain support for WCTU concerns in the South.

Lori Osborne, director of the Frances Willard House Museum, said that although Willard was not a perfect leader, she promoted women’s rights and their quality of life. Osborne added that visitors are encouraged to take a close look at Willard’s life to understand the full story of his work.

“At this particular time in our history, we question what it means to honor the leaders of our past,” Osborne said. “We’re trying to figure out where we can really face the truth of people’s leadership, but recognizing them for the wonderful work they’ve done.”

Carlos Ruiz, the city’s preservation coordinator, helped organize Preservation Month. He said he hopes this month’s events can help citizens become more aware of the diversity of people who have contributed to Evanston’s culture and history.

With the end of Preservation Month, he hopes people will continue to learn about the history of their own community.

“Evanston has long prided itself on being a very diverse community,” Ruiz said. “So we try to make sure that we recognize everyone who has contributed, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.”

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Related stories:

Home of Evanston’s first black resident named new African-American heritage site

Frances Willard House Museum discusses the relationship between Willard and Ida B. Wells

Local leaders reflect on how Lorraine Morton shaped Evanston politics today

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