Commentary: World Class Black Chicago-A Historical Overview Part 1

By Malik Ismail @Malik Ismail ,| COMMUNITIES

B.A.W.N (CHICAGO)- A little known fact outside of Chicago is that this great city was founded by a Black Man. Haitian Fur trader and business man Jean Baptist Point DuSable was the first to settle the area that would become known as Chicago. This has been Chicago’s little secret for generations of its inhabitants and least known to the rest of the nation as it is commonly regarded as America’s “Second City.” DuSable is the earliest recorded resident of the settlement close to the mouth of the Chicago River that grew to become the city of Chicago.

DuSable is therefore regarded as the first permanent resident of Chicago and given the appellation “Father of Chicago”. Jean Baptiste Point DuSable settled on the north bank of the Chicago River sometime in the 1780s. He was first recorded living in Chicago around early 1790.

Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, an African-Caribbean, was born in St. Marc, Haiti in around 1745 and died August 28, 1818 in St. Charles, Missouri near St. Louis. In Chicago, a school, museum, harbor, park and bridge have been named or renamed in his honor and the place where he settled at the mouth of the Chicago River in the 1780s is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, now located in Pioneer Court where a bust is prominently displayed (current picture below). The sculptor of the DuSable bust is Erik Blome and the monument was installed there in 2009.  (see feature picture above).

Chicago USA HDR Canal Riverboat Cities Building (HDP)

Point DuSable married a Potawatomi Indian woman named Catherine in English or Kitty Hawk in her native culture in the 1770s. She would bear him a son named Jean and a daughter named Susanne. Jean Baptiste Point DuSable was described by British Commandant Arent DePeyster at Fort Michlilmackinac (1774-1779) as handsome, well-educated and settled in Eschecagou. He was a skilled business man in the tradition of French commerce and because of his manner he, was well respected. DuSable seemed to really prosper in the future named Chicago, but for many speculative reasons he abruptly left Chicago in 1800.

Many claim that perhaps his failed attempt to become a chieftain in his wife’s Potawatomi Tribe may have discouraged him and or the reported death of his wife that led to his leaving.  Perhaps the 1795 Treaty of Greenville and the subsequent westward migration of Indians away from the Chicago area might have played a part in his exit or the fact that Point DuSable was angered that the United States Government wanted to buy the land on which he lived and called his own for the previous two decades may have been a factor?

Who really knows, but what became of his territory would evolve into the great metropolis in the nation’s center. I am not sure that DuSable could imagine Chicago would become a Black Metropolis with the highest concentration of Blacks in the nation.

DuSable widely noted as the man who would establish the first house, trading post, homesteads; he was the area’s first Catholic who would become the only person to see the commercial possibilities of Chicago.

The DuSable Museum of African American History

The legacy of what Jean Baptiste Point DuSable started in Chicago would become a vibrant city of music, culture, sports, black business, art and political influence that would affect the entire nation and the world with its achievement. For example The DuSable Museum of African American History (pictured, above) on Chicago’s South Side is home to a collection documenting the history and culture of African Americans in the United States.

 From the world wide spectacle of the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair or otherwise known as the World’s Columbian Exposition that brought unprecedented attention to this emerging metropolis with thousands of visitors descending on the city.

This historic World Fair would attract many from all sectors of society including social reformers Abolitionist Frederick Douglas, journalist Ida B. Wells, women’s rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony, editors Irvine Garland and Ferdinand Lee Barnett. In 1933, Chicago hosted another World’s Fair with the motto, “A Century of Progress in Technological Innovation.”

This fair attracted many including Robert Sengstacke Abbott from Georgia who would relocate to Chicago shortly after his visit to this mega fair. Abbott, a lawyer by trade, established the Chicago Defender newspaper focused on the African-American community.

The Chicago Defender would attract the writing talents of Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and Willard Motely in a city full of creative writers and playwrights like Richard Wright and Lorraine Hansberry. (M.I.)

(Join us next week for Part 2 of this great series on Black Chicago)

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Malik Ismail is an international traveler, historian and activist. He’s explored many cultures in Africa including Ghana, South Africa and Egypt. Malik is also the author of the book, From Old Guard to Vanguard: A Second Generation Panther and is the coordinator of the From Old Guard to Vanguard: The Panthers UnTold L.A. Story photo exhibit.  He’s traveled to Cuba and South America. He visited Rio de Janeiro and Salvador Bahia, Brazil including the favelas of Rocinha and Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio and most recently visited the Dominican Republic and Haiti. A former Panther Minister of Information (NPVM) whose writings have been featured in the L.A. Watt’s Times, It’s About Time BPP Newsletter, Rolling Out Magazine, the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper, NightBeat Magazine (Germany), Kolumn Magazine, The Burning Spear Newspaper and The Black Panther International News Service. Email:

1 Comment

  1. Much appreciated BAWN and Gregg L Greer for the post of my article about the Black Man who discovered the great city of Chicago – Malik Ismail


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