Thousands of African Americans migrated to Chicago in the early 20th century, seeking greater freedoms and better opportunities. Artist, Alison Saar captures that migration in a bronze monument located at the mouth of a Chicago community known as Bronzeville. The statue is of a male traveler whose hand is raised in salute to his new home. He carries a suitcase in his other hand to symbolize his journey from the South. The figure faces north, the direction of his destination.
I’ve walked or driven past this statue countless times and not paid much attention to it. I could lie and say it had always resonated with me, but that’s not true. Now, I embrace the monument as we kick off African American History Month, February 1 through February 28. Chicago, my hometown, played an important role in welcoming my parents, their siblings, and cousins from the south.
Relatives would move in with us and sleep wherever there was space. Cousins we barely knew crowded into beds with my brothers, sister, and me, and in a month’s time they’d be gone. They came from Mississippi and other times from Tennessee. My father would take the men to work with him and they’d sign on as day laborers until they could find something permanent. My mother took the women to Davis’s Laundry where she worked. My siblings and I shared everything we had, even clothes, with our cousins. Many of our cousins are as close to us today as siblings.
Even now, Chicago is a safe harbor for Mexican immigrants. Throughout this month, I’ll show and tell the history of my city and the great people who lived here. Chicago doesn’t always play well in the press, and I admit a lot of safe communities have changed, but we are still Carl Sandburg’s City of Big Shoulders, and we prove it every day.
Come along and glimpse the history of a great city and the African Americans who called it home.
Alison Saar is a Los Angeles, California based sculptor, mixed-media, and installation artist. Her artwork focuses on the African diaspora and black female identity and is influenced by African, Caribbean, and Latin American folk art and spirituality. Wikipedia