It is a truism that history is all around us. So Oak Park River Forest Museum created a free Black History Bike Tour this year so everyone can learn about the stories of African American life in Oak Park, from 1905 to 2020.
Located at 129 Lake St., OPRF Museum has some of these stories currently on display through 2022 in its exhibit “Open House: The Legacy of Fair Housing” and many others in Suburban Promised Land: The Emerging Black Community in Oak Park, Illinois, 1880-1980, an illustrated, 170-page book published by The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest and available in local libraries and at OPRF Museum.
While museum exhibits and books are fantastic places to learn history, experiencing history where it happens, right in front of homes, schools, and other sites, makes the stories come alive. For instance, the powerful story of suffering and triumph of the Jefferson family, whose home on Cuyler across from Longfellow Park was firebombed in 1914. They resisted this hate crime and daughter Faith Jefferson graduated from OPRF High School in 1923.
“There is a powerful connection with the past when you stand right where history happened,” said Frank Lipo, Executive Director of OPRF Museum. “Our exhibits, programs, and other activities shed light on important stories and the people who walked the streets before us. And bike tours and walking tours put us right into the story and are a key part of our story-telling.”
The free tour booklet is always available as a pdf at oprfmuseum.org so that bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians can access it from their computer, phone or other device. The bike tour was unveiled during the first official Oak Park Juneteenth celebration on June 19, 2021. But this important history should not be experienced just once a year. Now it is available 24/7.
The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest