By Christopher Robert Reed
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Additional resources for Black Chicago's First Century: 1833-1900
No’m. Killed a nigger. 23 Perhaps Ralph Ellison said it best fifty years ago: “I am an invisible man . . I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids,—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. . That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of those with whom I come into contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality.
Through the point of view of the participating subject of this saga, or that of his or her surrogate who reconstructed history from memory, the African American man, woman, and child live again as they did nearly one to two centuries ago. Their stilled, anonymous voices are represented by their previously overlooked words, recollections, and photographs. The African American point of view is thus facilitated through the existence of the spoken word as written down unceremoniously by observers as well as by trained interviewers.
50 For six decades, organized women’s activities in Chicago contributed to the remarkable progress evident by 1900. Antebellum activities consisted of courageous efforts in behalf of fleeing slaves and laying the A HISTORY OF EARLY BLACK CHICAGO / 23 groundwork for a recognizable community. 51 Helping the destitute during the Great Fire of Chicago has always been a discernible footnote. Postwar endeavors revolved around the church, literary club, and charitable organization. The announcement to the nation in 1891 that Chicago would host the World’s Columbian Exposition spurred women nationally to organize to advocate a positive black presence.