It's just ok.

an art intervention by Nia Easley

History & Research

We live and move through a network of historical and contemporary relationships of many kinds. To that end, the community area that we call Avondale is situated within the traditional homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires: Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa, as well as the Menominee, Miami, and Ho-Chunk Nations. This was also a site of trade, travel, gathering, and healing for more than a dozen other Native tribes and is still home to over 100,000 tribal members in the state of Illinois. [1]

"Often the most compelling explanations for the present lie in the past."

Modern day Avondale is known for being a mixed community. Largely Hispanic in makeup, Avondale is also home to a popular Korean grocery Joong Boo Market, the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, and the historic Saint Hyacinth Basilica‚Äďa Roman Catholic church whose website can be readily viewed in English or Polish. [2]

One might yet be surprised to learn that one of the pioneer groups to dwell in Avondale were free Black Americans. The map that guided me to this community was drawn by architect Edward Sieja, as described to him by John Stehman, longtime Avondale resident and schoolteacher. In the 1930’s Stehman was trying to remember the community as it was in 1881, so it is not surprising that there may be some omissions or mistakes. However, his map merely designates the “COLORED SECTION” of the neighborhood and neglects to highlight any names of the many Black men and women who lived there.

Avondale is a two-square mile community area on the northwest side of Chicago. Sparsely populated prior to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, it was part of Jefferson Township, which was annexed and made a part of Chicago in 1889. Sidenote: much of the city as we know it was annexed in 1889 to make room for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 including: Jefferson Township, Lakeview, the Village of Hyde Park, and an area known as the Town of Lake that ran from 39th to 87th and State Street to Cicero. Today, Black residents make up about 2% of Avondale residents, but in the last quarter of the 19th century, there was a small and vibrant community of Black Americans living there. The man largely responsible for this was the Reverend John Brown Dawson.

I have constructed a tour based on the facts presented by the map from John Stehman and the records of the Dawson Settlement. One key article in this research was written by John D. Cameron after a conversation we had about the Dawson Settlement. Mr. Cameron’s article about the Rev. John B. Dawson originally appeared in The Quarterly, the Journal of the Illinois State Genealogical Society. [3]


[1] Northwestern University’s Land Acknowledgment
[2] https://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/January-2018/Avondale/
[3] https://ilgensoc.org/cpage.php?pt=576