Tag: West Town Museum of Cultural History

Northica Stone, Founder of West Town Museum of Cultural History, Dies At 85

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Northica Stone during an event in Maywood several years ago. | File

Northica Hillery Stone, who as the longtime head of the nonprofit Operation Uplift and founder of the West Town Museum of Cultural History in Maywood served for decades as the chief archivist of local memories and legacies, died on May 16.

Continue reading “Northica Stone, Founder of West Town Museum of Cultural History, Dies At 85”

In Maywood, a Juneteenth Celebration Prompts an Abiding Question: Are Blacks Really Free?

Panel 1

Community members during a panel discussion last Saturday about the significance of Juneteenth and its current resonance. | Michael Romain/VFP

Panel 2Thursday, June 22, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued on June 19, 1865 General Order No. 3, announcing that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” President Abraham Lincoln (the executive referenced in the order) was dead and the 13th Amendment “was well on its way to ratification,” according to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s online essay, “What is Juneteenth?”

A major reason why news of emancipation reached Texas last was because for many slave owners, the Lone Star State offered temporary refuge from the Union Army’s advances.

“Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach,” Gates explains. “In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book ‘Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery.’ As one former slave he quotes recalled, ‘It looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.’”

Since then, Gates notes, Juneteenth has become “the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.”

In Maywood last week, the holiday presented former and current residents with an opportunity to reflect not just on a historical event with national resonance but also on the village’s local history with respect to race relations.

On June 13 and 14, Operation Uplift Inc., the organization’s West Town Museum of Cultural History and the village of Maywood sponsored Reflections of the Past tours, during which community members learned about significant historical sites — including a section of Maywood where only African Americans and Jews lived.

Last Saturday, the organizations hosted a proclamation ceremony that included a reenactment of the Union army’s arrival at Galveston, Texas and a reading of Gen. Granger’s order. After the ceremony, community members gathered for a Juneteenth Soul Food Feast and a panel discussion that begged the question of whether or not blacks can be considered free — Gen. Granger’s order from more than 150 years ago notwithstanding.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, “all slaves are tree.” This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

“I’m not clear we’re not still in slavery,” said Judge Gay F. Chase, who sat on a 9-person panel during a discussion that was moderated by radio personality Al B. Sylk. Around 20 audience members listened intently under a tent pitched beside the West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood.

George Stone, Operation Uplift’s interim executive director, likened the panel discussion to an old-fashioned community gathering designed to resolve local problems and find common ground — even though most of the problems mentioned during the 2-hour panel are pervasive, plaguing largely minority urban centers from sea to shining sea.

While the panelists were unanimous in their discussion about the many problems ailing the African American population, including chronically high unemployment rates, gun violence, drug abuse and high dropout rates, there was a clear break in consensus when it came to plotting a clear path beyond those systemic problems.

“We need to uplift our race and find out what our issues are so we can heal our people,” said Stone. “We’re not looking for outside healing or a handout. We’ll take reparations because they’re owed to us, but we want to heal ourselves.”

In diagnosing what he called “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” Stone laid many of the problems ailing some blacks to “a false sense of priority” and a range of dysfunctional behavioral patterns (“black men wanting to be pimps,” “women being promiscuous,”) that he said is rooted in slavery.

“We never had any counseling after slavery, we just kept persevering,” Stone said. “This trickles down from generation to generation. We have a lot of mental illness — not just in the youth but in the parents who raise them and their parents.”

Michael Burton, an attorney, said that he attributes most of the problems affecting blacks in America to the breakdown of the family structure.

“When you have prisons for profit, they have to be filled up in order for the stakeholders to make money,” Burton said. “For the stakeholders to make money, they’re going to fill them up with black and brown bodies. The men who are taken away from the family weakens the family, therefore youth are exposed to things they ordinarily would not be exposed to had there been a strong male role model in the house.”

Stephen Allan Hall (also known as Ifagbayi Malefi Ayodeji Adéyafa), a community mental health specialist and DePaul University psychology instructor, modified Stone’s diagnose before emphasizing, along with other panelists and an audience member, what he said is the root cause of the present social dysfunction among blacks.

“One of my colleagues said during a conference a couple of weeks ago that she had good and bad news,” Hall said. “The good news is our community isn’t suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The bad news is the reason they’re not suffering from PTSD is because there is no post. We are in a continual state of traumatized lives.”

Hall said he isn’t necessarily convinced that the social conditions in many black communities are due to broken families. He said the deeper cause of blacks’ problems is white supremacy.

“I think it’s important that we not victim blame,” he said. “Black folks in the United States since our beginning in this country have been victims. That is real. We’ve been victims because folks have oppressed us and we need to own that. [One professor] said this: ‘If you don’t understand white supremacy, white racism, everything you do understand will only confuse you.”

Hall described a history of devastation heaped upon successful, self-contained black communities like Chicago, Atlanta and Tulsa.

“Look at communities that, historically, were black and self-contained,” Hall said. “They were punished for that. They were burned to the ground. People were killed.”

Rasaan Booker, an African American audience member with dreadlocks, had been subtly chastised by another audience member to pull his shorts up while walking to the center of the tent to comment.

Ironically, Booker criticized ‘respectability politics,’ or when, according to an essay in Dissent by Columbia political science professor Frederick C. Harris, the “virtues of self-care and self-correction [i.e., dressing appropriately] are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.”

Booker said respectability politics now defines the black church, long the most powerful agent of social uplift that African Americans could leverage.

“The church doesn’t really allow for resistance and only encourages docility,” he said. “It’s difficult when you’re constantly being told to fit into this respectability model and that there’s always something wrong with you.

“[People say], ‘Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been killed if he hadn’t worn a hoodie or people wouldn’t get stopped if their pants weren’t sagging,’” Booker said. “Respectability has never saved us. When Martin Luther King was marching in his finest suit, he was still stabbed and arrested multiple times.”

Rev. Ronald Beauchamp, the pastor of Bethel New Life Church in Wheaton, agreed with Maywood Park District Commissioner Bill Hampton for the effectiveness, if not for the moral validity, of respectability politics.

“Nobody told me to come out here today and wear my collar and suit coat,” Beauchamp said. “Nobody told me that, but because of my position, because of my understanding of my role, I did what I felt was appropriate. I could’ve come in shorts and a t-shirt, but I knew I wanted to have an image and a presentation. I wanted you to respect the words coming out of my mouth.”

“The way we carry ourselves has a lot to do with how we think,” said Hampton. “Take professional gangsters. You can’t tell they’re gangsters. If you give yourself away with the pants sagging and [profanity] coming out of your mouth, that builds into ignorance … Dr. King said, ‘I want you to be first in moral excellency.’”

“Yeah, but that’s always on black people! You have white kids walking around with their pants sagging and they won’t get shot,” said Brandy Booker, a Moraine Valley Community College professor and Rasaan’s mother.

“[White kids] cuss in front of my grandma, but they don’t get gunned down,” she said. “Why does the brunt of being always above fall on blacks? In 2017? That is ridiculous.” VFP

To read the May print edition of Village Free Press online, click here. To support Village Free Press, click here

The West Town Museum In Maywood Praises The Past, Looks To The Future

Operation Uplift kickoff II

Mattie Robinson, a retired high school teacher, takes a tour of the West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood. Below, attendees at an April 30 reunion fundraising kickoff hosted at the museum. | Michael Romain/VFP

Operation Uplift kickoffThursday, May 12, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

Mattie Robinson, a retired District 209 teacher, peered at an exhibition inside the West Town Museum of Cultural History that featured some of her former students — familiar names like Michael Finley, Dee Brown and Shannon Brown.

“I had Michael when he was in 8th grade,” Robinson said, smiling at the reminiscence. “My son used to love him.”

“You taught them everything they know right?” quipped Michael Rogers, a Maywood trustee and a member of the museum’s advisory board. “Even the cross-over dribble!”

“No, I didn’t teach them that! I was in history,” Robinson said, still captivated by the old pictures as the past seemed to blanket her.

Inside the museum, located at 104 S. 5th Ave., are photos of local luminaries in Maywood and Proviso Township — including mayors, educators, politicians, doctors and police chiefs. There are actual slave manacles and photos of the first African-American family to own a home in the village.

If you’re a lifelong Maywoodian, with generations rooted in this place, there is likely a piece of your past on those walls or in one of the small facility’s rooms.

The museum is the outgrowth of Operation Uplift, Inc., a Maywood nonprofit that was founded in 1968 as a community wellness resource center by local activist and labor organizer George Stone. When he died in 1988, his wife Northica Stone, and the nonprofit’s board of directors, hatched the idea to form a museum.

“We saw that Maywood was under-served and the history that Maywood had was being lost,” Stone said in a 2013 Village Free Press interview.

Operation Uplift kickoff III

Stone and her board also started putting on annual luncheons to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

“This would’ve been our 28th year of holding the luncheon,” said the museum’s curator Jeri Stenson, during an April 30 reunion bash.

Stenson said that, since Stone, the nonprofit’s CEO and president, had been ill, planning for this year’s luncheon had stalled. Stone was typically the person who picked the luncheon’s speaker, Stenson said.

Instead of jettison the idea of convening something altogether, the organization decided to host a reunion and fundraiser at its facility.

“We’ve had over 20,000 people come through our doors over the years,” said Stenson.

Since its founding in 1968, Operation Uplift would grow to offer job training, job counseling, pre-employment skills and GED assistance, among other services, to minorities seeking entry into the country’s burgeoning information economy.

Uplift would eventually supply well-trained minority employees for, and implement some of the first affirmative action programs at, companies such as Illinois Bell (now At&T), Jewel’s and Nicor.

Stenson said the idea was to reunite some of those people the organization has assisted in the past during a fundraising event. Both the nonprofit and the museum that it spawned are desperately in need of funding, she said.

It’s a small favor to ask of an institution that, if it were to go away, would greatly diminish the fiber of this town, said Rogers.

“If you come through here three or four times, you won’t catch everything,” said Rogers, a retired corporate architect who, in 2000, designed an Underground Railroad memorial at the Maywood McDonald’s on Lake Street after the organization’s efforts produced evidence that the iconic route to freedom likely coursed through the village.

“We have a lot of things in Maywood that people just drive by and have no idea about,” Rogers said. “These are things that people would’ve never known were here, but if this is how it was before, we can get back to that or make this place even better.” VFP

To become a member, or to give to West Town and/or Operation Uplift:

Membership Categories

Individuals | $25.00 Yearly

Family | $50.00 Yearly

Business | $100.00 Yearly

For additional details, call 708.343.3554 or 708.516.0628

Make all checks payable to:
Operation UpLift, Inc.
  104 South 5th Avenue
  Maywood, IL 60153

For more information, click here.

U P C O M I N G  E V E N T S

Maywood Civil War event

Safe Summer art contest for grades 6th through 8th 

Safe Summer essay contest.png

A press conference to announce the launch of this year’s Safe Summer program will be held outside of 125 S. 5thAvenue on Saturday, May 14, 2 p.m. To access more information on the art contest, or the form to fill out, click the document above or click here.

With Harriet Tubman Poised To Become Face Of $20 Bill, Maywood’s Place In Underground Railroad Worth Re-examining


An altered image of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill found. “More than 600,000 people voted in the poll between the abolitionist and campaigner and other notable US women,” according to the Independent newspaper. | independent.co.uk. || Below: A picture of the “10 Mile House” in Doug Deuchler’s book, Maywood.

10 Mile HouseWednesday, April 20, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

With the U.S. Treasury Department announcing Wednesday that famed abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman will replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Maywood’s place in the Underground Railroad — the secretive network of routes and hideouts designed for slaves trying to escape to Canada — is worth reexamining.

The link between Maywood and the Underground Railroad, which Tubman — one of its most famous ‘conductors — utilized in the mid-19th Century to free dozens of slaves, was discovered two decades ago by Operation Uplift, the nonprofit that operates the West Town Historical Museum.

As Northica Stone, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, told the Chicago Tribune in 1998, a group of volunteers discovered the site after rummaging through old photographs, maps, newspaper clippings and archived documents of the Chicago Historical Society, the Oak Park/River Forest Historical Society and the Maywood Historical Society.

“They were doing research on Maywood, trying to find out when the first people of color arrived here, when they ran across the information,” Stone said at the time.

What they found was the existence of a “10 Mile House,” which once stood at the southeast corner of 1st Avenue and Lake Street, at the edge of the Des Plaines River, which is presently occupied by a McDonald’s.

“Early Illinois settlers who hauled their crops to Chicago aboard horse-drawn carts needed places along the way to eat and rest themselves and their horses,” noted the Tribune article. “These stops usually were about 10 miles apart and were thus called “10 Mile Houses” or “10 Mile Inns.”

“Besides sheltering horses and farmers, the 10 Mile House in Maywood also sheltered slaves making their way north, said Jeri Stenson, curator of the West Town Historical & Art Museum.”

Stenson told the Tribune that, “since there were stops along the Underground Railroad in places like Chicago and Oak Brook and Downers Grove, they must have come through here … along the way.”

According to Douglas Deuchler’s 2004 book on Maywood, the “10 Mile House” “was a stagecoach rest stop that secretly and dangerously functioned as an Underground Railroad ‘stop.’” The inn was “10 miles, or a day’s ride, from Chicago.”

In 2001, a memorial, designed by Maywood Trustee Michael Rogers, was built to commemorate the location of the now legendary Underground Railroad stop. VFP

Operation Uplift to host April 30 reunion kickoff/fundraiser, in lieu of annual luncheon

West TownOperation Uplift, the Maywood nonprofit that operates the West Town Museum of Cultural History and hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr., luncheon, has announced that it will be hosting a reunion kickoff to help support and bring awareness to its daily services in lieu of a luncheon this year.

“Please help us continue to provide more cultural awareness to our local community, stimulate individual growth,  community pride, and educate the Proviso Township area about the collections of art, artifacts and significant historical materials we hold within our doors,” according to a recent release put out by the organization.

The reunion kickoff activities will include educational tours, an African attire fashion show, live entertainment and food.

It will take place on Saturday, April 30, from 1 PM to 4 PM, at Operation Uplift/West Town Museum, 104 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood.

Donations or pledges of any amount are greatly appreciated. Those who give via checks should make them payable to: Operation Uplift, Inc.

For more information please call Jeri Stenson at 708-289-4955 or email operationupliftinc@gmail.com. VFP

P A I D  A D V E R T I S I N G

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J O I N  T H E  F U N  A P R I L  23rd

Village Wide Village Pride

West Town Museum Founder Northica Stone To Be Honored By Chicago Friends Of The Amistad Research Center

Mrs. Northica Stone
Northica Stone

Thursday, June 12, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

Ms. Northica H. Stone, the founder of the West Town Museum of Cultural History here in Maywood, will be among the honorees at the 19th Annual Irma Kingsley Johnson Awards Luncheon on Saturday, June 28, 2014. The luncheon is hosted by the Chicago Friends of the Amistad Research Center.

According to its website, the Amistad Research Center is “the nation’s oldest, largest and most comprehensive independent archive specializing in the history of African Americans and other Ethnic Minorities.” The Center is located at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Center is named after struggle surrounding the famous La Amistad slaving vessel that was overtaken by captured slaves, but eventually seized in America. The slaves would eventually achieve independence after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to restore their freedom.

Located at 104 S. 5th Avenue, the West Town Museum of Cultural History has been an anchor in the Proviso Township community since its founding in 1995. According to its website, the Museum’s archives “a major vehicle for historic preservation, oral history, photographs, videos, textiles, cultural tourism, self-esteem building and overall community pride.”

The West Town is a member of the Illinois Association of Museums and the Oak Park Visitors Bureau. It is the only officially recognized public museum in Maywood.

Ms. Stone will be among a group of honorees that include Dr. Christopher Reed; Mr. Charles Carpenter; United Black Christians; Mrs. Elaine Lockridge Roberts, Historian/Author; and Rev. Calvin Morris, Pastor & Church Historian, Community and Social Services.

The luncheon will be held at the Lake Shore Hotel, 4900 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, contact Willie Hart: (773) 448-1314. VFP

Villegas Monuments





The ‘Ivana Miles Show’ Hits West Town Museum of Cultural History

The Forest Park Review is Now Partnering with The Village Free Press

By Michael Romain

MONDAY, MAYWOOD — For one day, the second floor room of the West Town Museum of Cultural History was transformed into part cosmetology school, part life class. Ivana Miles–a veteran stylist, trainer and educator–was standing in front of a small, yet diverse group of about eight wide-eyed women, sharing with them her 80/20 concept.

It’s as much an inspirational motif as it is a rough demographic observation. Success (however you define it) doesn’t just happen, which is why only so many people get to realize it at any given time (hence the twenty). And quite frankly, most people will never realize it in their lifetimes (hence the eighty). But those who do share some characteristics with each other that can be learned, practiced and implemented by anyone who’s willing to work to do so (hence the motif). In comes Miles, who wants to revolutionize the cosmetology industry one class at a time.

“I go out and develop programs in salons and communities to bring back the professionalism in this industry,” said Miles, whose big idea came from her sub-par experiences in salons across the country. She believes that issues such as bad time management, a lack of education, a lack of product knowledge, bad client relations and suboptimal financial management are rampant in her industry. But Miles also believes that there’s an 80/20 dynamic in each of us. It’s up to the individual to determine which side of that ‘success ratio’ she allows to predominate.

“Successful [cosmetology professionals] share three characteristics: one) they’re self-smart, two) they’re client smart and three) they’re money smart,” Miles said. Those attributes will set you up to [enhance] your professionalism; otherwise, you’re like a bucket with a whole in the bottom.”

Miles, a certified colorist and stylist, has been doing hair since 1992. She owned and operated a salon in Maywood for four years before moving it to Broadview. And as a regional trainer and educator with Hair Cuttery, she oversaw 135 salons and six education training centers. Miles’s work has taken her to industry shows all over the country, from New York to Los Angeles to Las Vegas. She’s also been featured in such media outlets as WCIU and WGN News.

Now, with her own suite of self-designed training curricula, she wants to bring the knowledge and insight she’s gained over the years back to suburbs like Maywood.

“Here in the suburbs, I think we need to get that passion and inspiration back […] that sense of drive and hope […] to get to the next level,” Miles said. While her passion is undeniable, she understands that it may not immediately transfer to other professionals, some of whom may react to change at arms’ length.

“The response, so far, hasn’t been great to be honest. Last week, we had one stylist and a support team of five or six […] I’m normally charging $500 for these programs. [It would be great] if people just came in to get a taste of them,” she said.

Radiant-A Day of BeauticampAlthough the tepid initial response may have been frustrating for her, Miles’s twenty-minded perspective doesn’t allow her to dwell on the obstacles for more than a moment. She understood that her own response to setback was as important a lesson as the material that she presented on the PowerPoint projector. Besides, it was her tenacity that forced this whole day into being in the first place.

The session Miles was facilitating at the West Town, entitled “The Power Behind the Chair: It’s Time for a Shift,” was a four-hour continuing education course designed for just about anyone in the industry who’s State certified.

“Every two years, [those who are State-certified] have to renew,” Miles explained. “I’m State-certified [to facilitate certain continuing education courses]. And my classes are open to everybody in the industry. Sales representatives, product distributors, nail technicians, cosmetology teachers, braiders, barbers, estheticians [you name it].”

However, not everybody in the group was in the beauty industry.  Gail Walker, a retired nurse, was in attendance to support her friend, Dorothy Hall, a beautician for over 30 years and a longtime supporter of the West Town Museum.

“I’m in my bottom eighty when I fear and am afraid of the unknown,” said Walker, as part of a breakout group activity in which Miles asked each participant to talk about times when they each knew that they weren’t their best selves. “I’m in my top twenty when I’m in control, I know what I’m supposed to be doing [and] I’m confident.”

“I was in my bottom eighty when I was trying to publicize this thing,” said Hall. “I promoted this, because Operation Uplift [The West Town’s parent organization] is in fundraiser mode and I thought we could draw people here to help with the fundraising.” Hall’s collaboration with Miles was born out of a chance encounter at a family picnic.

“I’m sitting next to [Ivana’s] mom and [Ivana] says that she does hair,” said Hall. Miles, whose family dates back generations in Maywood (her uncle owned Wade’s Liquors for many years before it closed down) had suggested to Hall that her sessions would be an ideal way to bring people into the West Town, but Hall said that she had reservations.

“I was in my eighty percent mode,” she said. “I had all the reasons why we couldn’t do it.”

Eventually, however, Hall, with a persistent nudge from Miles, summoned her inner twenty-percent and the two began publicizing the sessions, which were scheduled for less than a month out. Hall set about canvassing the community with flyers promoting the two training sessions, the first of which occurred the Monday prior.

“When I began, I imagined people saying all sorts of [negative things], like ‘We don’t need this.’ I feared people wouldn’t be open,” Hall said. “A lot of people didn’t come out, but at least they accepted me,” she said, noting that, for the most part, people were accommodating and even open to the idea.

“I want to kind of change it up a bit,” said Miles, when asked how her independent recertification sessions were different than those produced and facilitated by big industry names. “I try to bring realness to it.” In addition to teaching technical, hands-on skills, such as hair-cutting, coloring and styling, she reserves the first half of her sessions for teaching what she called “soft-skills,” such as maintaining a positive attitude, communicating effectively with clients and maintaining a professional ethic–the stuff of success.

“Nothing kills a dream but an excuse,” said Sharon Lewis, during Miles’s PowerPoint presentation, an indication that the ladies in attendance seemed to be either absorbing their instructor’s lessons or came prepared with a bit of insight of their own–or both. The women let out oohs and aahs of revelatory agreement with Lewis’s comment.

During a refreshment break, Miles shared her own plans and dreams, among which include launching her own product and wig line (available for purchase at her training sessions and in her personal studio). All of these elements are an extension of what she calls the ‘Ivana Miles Brand,’ the crowning achievement of which she’s still waiting to materialize. “My goal is to have my own show,” Miles said. From the looks of it, she’s halfway there.VFP

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