CNN Black History Month

Birthplace of Black History Month
YMCA gets facelift

February 14, 1996
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Lisa Price

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Locked inside an old, tired and rundown building on the south side of Chicago are generations of hidden history that Father Martin Shaw wants to share with the rest of the world.

workers migrating

The building has its roots in the migration of African-Americans from the south during the early 1900s. "They migrated to Chicago and were not welcomed in the downtown hotels," said Shaw, a priest at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

But black people were welcomed at the Wabash Street YMCA -- called the "colored" Y. Home to thousands over the years, it also became the birthplace of what was then called Negro History Week, 70 years ago. And Shaw wants everyone to know it. He envisions an education campaign to get the message across. (162K AIFF sound or 162K WAV sound)

Early 20th century historian Carter G. Woodson is credited with creating the celebration that evolved into Black History Month.


"We never sat around and spent all our time worrying about being segregated."

-- Clementine Skinner


Eighty-year-old Clementine Skinner of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History was a contemporary of Woodson's. "We worked for integration constantly in all areas of society," she said.

But as the social foundation in the neighborhood began to crumble, so did the YMCA. In order to continue the legacy, several area churches joined together and bought the old Y for one dollar. Now, the building is undergoing a $9 million restoration.


Though the building won't reopen as a Y, backers of the restoration project hope it will still meet the needs of the community, providing affordable housing for more than 100 residents. Holding onto the building is like holding on to the history of the community, Shaw explained. (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)

It's a history that will grow even richer, when the restored building opens in 1998, beginning a new chapter in African-American culture for generations to come.



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