Owner, supporters fight to save historic Phyllis Wheatley Home from city demolition block

The city is poised to tear down the historic Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home at 5128 S. Michigan Ave., an early 20th century settlement house named for the former slave who was the first African American ever to publish a book of poetry, and third American woman ever to do so. The home was established by suffragettes in the early 1900s, to aid African-American women coming from Down South during the Great Migration.

The city is poised to tear down the historic Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home at 5128 S. Michigan Ave., an early 20th century settlement house named for the former slave who was the first African American ever to publish a book of poetry, and third American woman ever to do so. The home was established by suffragettes in the early 1900s, to aid African-American women coming from Down South during the Great Migration. | Mary Lu Seidel, Preservation Chicago

When Ariajo “Joanne” Tate and her husband bought their Bronzeville gray limestone in 1989, they had no idea it was the historic Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home, among the rare settlement houses established by Black women suffragettes in the early 1900s, to aid Black women and girls arriving in Chicago during the Great Migration.

When Ariajo “Joanne” Tate and her husband bought a gray limestone in 1989, they had no idea their new Bronzeville home had once been the Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home — a historic settlement house established by Black suffragettes in the early 1900s.

It was named for the former slave who at age 20 became the first African American ever to publish a book of poetry, and the second American woman to do so, the home an offshoot of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) founded in 1896 by iconic Black women activists like Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell and Chicagoan Ida B. Wells.

“I had no idea of its history. I just knew I fell in love with the house. It wasn’t until we were having problems with all the repairs that someone told me its history,” said Tate.

“I went down to the Harold Washington Library and looked up the Phyllis Wheatley settlement house movement, and sure enough, there was a picture of my house.”

Currently uninhabitable and in Buildings court, the 125-year-old home at 5128 S. Michigan Ave. is facing potential demolition. In need of significant structural repairs to a rear wall and its roof, it is back up in court on March 16. A judge could potentially issue a tear-down order.

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Tate, a holistic and energy practitioner who raised her 10 children in the home and for 12 years ran a nonprofit there, was forced to vacate it in August 2019 because of the structural issues. She and her husband temporarily live with one of their kids in the south suburbs.

Tate’s battle to preserve the property’s history — and convert it into a public exhibit space — has gained the support of preservationists, along with some Bronzeville residents who started a change.org petition, now with 2,258 signatures.

The building was among the rare settlement homes founded for African-American women at a time when well-known ones like the famed Jane Addams Hull-House and the YWCA were segregated, closed to women of color, according to Preservation Chicago research.

Wheatley’s first name is ‘Phillis.’ But the clubs changed their name, spelling Phyllis with a ‘y.’

“I stumbled upon this history while researching Black women change agents in Bronzeville. …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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