Westside Women in Action

The Chicago West Side Women in Action (WSWA) will record the history of Chicago’s West Side African American community through personal interviews with current and past residents and disseminate a profile of this vibrant community through publications and exhibitions. The project will transcribe, index and archive the oral history interviews in the UIC library’s special collections. It will have the ability to expose and preserve the invaluable stories of community residents while simultaneously create opportunities for UIC students to get hands-on research experience. The project will focus on women as agents of change. We will zero in on questions about how interviewees see problems confronting their community, past and present, and what policies and programs might lead to a solution.

The rich, vibrant and vital history of the black communities of Chicago's West Side is a little known fact outside the boundaries of Chicago itself. Even among Chicagoans it is a history that is fuzzy, fading and always in the shadows of the more widely written about South Side. Historians agree that we cannot fully understand the United States without understanding the history of Black America; a history deeply embedded in the institutions, memories and artifacts of historic black neighborhoods like New York's Harlem, Detroit's Paradise Valley, Atlanta's Auburn Avenue, and Los Angeles' Watts. Chicago's black history has been captured in acclaimed scholarly texts from St. Clair Drake's Black Metropolis to Timuel Black's Bridges of Memory and most recently Adam Green's Selling the Race: Culture, Community and Black Chicago. But these distinguished texts, with an emphasis on Chicago's South Side, only tell part of the story. Just as no story of 20th century United States history would be complete without the history of Chicago, no Chicago history is complete without the story of one of its two black epicenters, the West Side. The Chicago West Side Women in Action, a collaboration between West Side community leaders and Chicago's public research university, UIC, will make this vibrant history visible and preserve it for future generations of community residents, students and historians.

Furthermore, WSWA is a service learning opportunity for UIC students as well as a project that promises to build positive ties with the neighboring West Side community. We will weave this project into our curriculum so that students will have an opportunity to do research, earn credits and provide a much needed public history service to our Westside neighbors. On a macro level, the project will enhance the university’s image and reputation among a large constituency of Chicago’s African-American community. Students will have the opportunity to serve as unofficial university ambassadors as they go into the community to interview residents and acknowledge the accomplishments of individuals when interviews are put on display in exhibitions or in local media. As a university dedicated to diversity, this project will create yet another avenue of direct conversation between UIC and one of Chicago’s largest African-American communities. It is a community that many of our very own students are greatly connected to. The West Side residents’ narratives will provide students and others at the university with insight into the rich history of a community that borders our institution.


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