About the Consortium
African Heritage, Incorporated
Located in Northeast Wisconsin, Appleton is part of the Fox Cities metropolitan area and was indigenously home to the Ho-Chunk and Menominee Nations before the arrival of European colonizers who engaged in fur trading. White settlers made a permanent home in 1847, naming the fledgling community after a donor to Lawrence College, founded the same year. In 1853, the construction of a paper mill began the area’s significant industry.
After the Civil War, Black entrepreneurs and property owners built a small Black community in Appleton comprised of business owners, veterans, and teachers. This community was closely connected to Black settlements altogether totaling hundreds of people in Fond du Lac, Neenah, and Oshkosh, and rooted in faith in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Appleton’s overt racial discrimination and violence were so severe that, by 1930, Appleton’s Black population had been completely diminished. Because of Appleton’s reputation as a sundown town, the city became the launch location for the presidential campaign of Alabama Governor George Wallace, a notorious white supremacist.
African Heritage, Inc. (AHI) was established in 1998 to provide educational and cultural exchanges between Africans, people of African descent, and all interested in African, Black issues in Northeast Wisconsin.
AHI joined Unvarnished to build on the success of A Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in the Fox Cities. In 2014, AHI collaborated with the History Museum at the Castle to launch this civic engagement initiative. This mobile exhibit, known as a traveling museum, was the first significant study of Blacks in Northeastern Wisconsin. The project highlighted Appleton’s growing Black community before 1900, Appleton’s sundown town practices from 1915-1960s, and the impact of the Civil Rights Movement.
Today, the pandemic is amplifying institutional and systemic inequities that are legacies of slavery, segregation, sundown practices, and white supremacy in Appleton, Northeast Wisconsin, and the US. For this reason, it is more important than ever to elevate the history and achievements of Blacks in the region. To achieve this, AHI partnered with Unvarnished to create this virtual exhibition and curricula exploring racial inequities and sundown town practices as a community and educational initiative.
Brea Museum & Historical Society
The City of Brea is situated in the foothills of north Orange County California. First recorded in 1908 as the Town of Randolph, the name was changed in 1911 to Brea and was incorporated into Orange County in 1917. For most of its 100+ year history, Brea was an oil town.
Like many cities across the country, Brea’s early history is clouded with evidence of housing restrictions, Ku Klux Klan activities, and the legacy of being a Sundown Town. While some of these points are easily verified, others remain unsubstantiated, though all contribute to a collective memory that includes a racist past.
In 2017, a small group of North Orange County residents set out to right an injustice they believed occurred nearly 50 years before; naming one of Brea’s elementary schools after William E. Fanning. Fanning, a 40-year veteran of the Brea school district, was named on a “known KKK list” housed at another museum. A petition was filed with the school district to change the name of the school. The district drug its heels, the petitioners persisted, and the community became embroiled in a polarizing controversy.
We reached out to Jim Loewen, author of the book Sundown Towns who passed the details of our situation to Donna Sack, VP and Chief Program Director at Naper Settlement and recent recipient of an IMLS Leadership grant studying de facto segregation in the northern and western United States. We were honored by the invitation to join the grant and excited to have access to top scholars and resources to help us navigate the Fanning controversary.
Despite the volume of misinformation this topic has generated, the learning has been extraordinary. We have uncovered previously undisclosed facets of the city’s history regarding housing exclusions, racially restrictive covenants, and segregation. More importantly, this work has already helped us facilitate change at the Brea Historical Society, both in how we share our cities history and how we help the community confront what their education has largely avoided.
Ohio History Connection
Columbus is the capital city of Ohio and with a current population of 879,000. The African American population of Columbus is 264,000. Between 1910 and 1930, African American migration to Ohio swelled the state’s cities. Many historic black communities in Columbus experienced their early roots during this time. One of those communities is the Near East Side.
Columbus’s Near East Side is a community of rich cultural heritage, vibrant neighborhoods, and proud stories. Its historical tapestry includes threads of the great migration, community activism, celebrated art and music, and esteemed African American history.
One of the central residential areas that fed into the area was Poindexter Village. Named after James Preston Poindexter, the first African American City Council Member of Columbus, Poindexter Village was one of the nation’s first public housing projects. It became synonymous with the Near East Side, and its residents were chief patrons of the music, arts, and businesses on Mt. Vernon and Long Street, as well as the social and community centers that existed in the area.
Housing discrimination, employment inequalities, and racial hostilities created a void of living resources for black communities in Central Ohio. Due to legal and defacto norms of racial segregation and restrictions, the residents of the Near East side had to create community structures to fill the void. In its origin, Poindexter Village provided a reprieve from discriminatory housing conditions and a safe place to call home.
The Unvarnished project looks to document the impact of racial restrictions in communities across the U.S., primarily in areas outside of the South. Many of these communities are suburbs and small towns that utilized restrictions to keep their communities White. The existence and development of Poindexter Village and its surrounding community reflects how similar restrictions impact urban areas and how specifically the Black community rallied to change those realities.
The history and significance of Poindexter Village will be memorialized as a museum and cultural center planned where the last two remaining buildings of the complex stand. This story of conflict and triumph, resistance and perseverance will be a central bedrock of the new museum.
Naper Settlement, administered by the Naperville Heritage Society
Naperville is a Chicago suburb and the fourth largest city in Illinois. Founded in 1831 as part of the mass migration to the Old Northwest, Naperville began as a farm town with supportive businesses and local breweries. Connections to Chicago were established early with transportation lines from stagecoach to railroad. In the late nineteenth century these connections helped support Kroehler Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest upholstered furniture company, and North-Western College (now North Central College), a liberal arts college.
Naperville started to embrace its status as a Chicago suburb in the 1960s. Interstate-88 made commuting to Chicago quicker, cheaper, and more accessible. Single-family housing boomed as farms became suburban neighborhoods. City officials pursued businesses to establish in Naperville and benefited from the growth of the Technology Corridor growing along I-88.
Naperville’s population was almost exclusively White for well over a hundred years. In the last forty years, Naperville has become more diverse with significant Asian American community growth. The number of Black and Latino residents has also grown but is not equal to the greater Chicagoland region. Recently, residents are becoming more interested in understanding why Naperville developed the way it did and what that means for the contemporary city.
Today, Naperville prides itself on being one of the best places to live and work. The city regularly earns national recognition for its community life, school systems, public safety, and volunteer spirit. Yet, Naperville recently made national headlines because of racist incidents at restaurants, gas stations, stores, and in its two school systems. The City of Naperville responded with the expansion of the Human Rights and Fair Housing Commission and the creation of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager position. Local school districts, corporations and the Chamber of Commerce have committed to being a part of the solution.
Unvarnished is a critical part of Naper Settlement’s commitment to tell a whole history of our community. Together with community members, we are working to document Naperville’s history of exclusion and working to expand the museum’s collections and narratives.
Oak Park, Illinois
Oak Park River Forest Museum, operated by The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest
Oak Park, Illinois is a suburb on Chicago’s west edge known widely for homes designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as the birthplace and childhood home of writer Ernest Hemingway, and as an affluent village of fine homes with excellent schools and services for residents.
In recent decades, the legacy of these native sons, and its reputation as a prototypical family-friendly, upper-middle-class suburb, has been increasingly overshadowed as the community’s legacy as a racially integrated village has grown. Beginning in the 1960s, this 99 percent White community began to reinvent itself into the much more diverse community of today (just under 20 percent Black American, nearly 10 percent Latinx). This diversity has extended beyond race to encompass a large LGBTQ population. Chicago’s post-WWII era saw many exclusively White neighborhoods transformed into predominately minority districts as White Chicagoans “fled” to all-White suburbs; the decision by Oak Park’s leaders to prioritize stable, gradual racial integration led jointly by the government and grass roots groups, took on an outsize reputation that made regional and national headlines.
Yet this story is often incomplete, unbalanced or interpreted solely with a lens of heroism of the White leaders who stuck their necks out. It also has not fully explored how the village’s ample, affordable multi-family units and modest single-family homes (not its more iconic, larger single-family homes) helped contribute to its ability to welcome minority residents and how the rising cost and/or loss of such housing impacts longer term sustainability of racial diversity. And some do not realize Oak Park had its own homegrown Black church built in 1905 and a small but vibrant Black neighborhood that shrunk after 1930 and was forgotten by many, falsely setting up Black residents as latecomers to the village.
The creation of a so-called “New Oak Park” in the late 1960s, in fact, was not universally supported and in many ways the community has never stopped struggling with what it means to “manage integration” in a partnership between government and the private sector. It is the perpetually “unfinished business.”
West Hartford, Connecticut
Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society
West Hartford, Connecticut is a suburb west of Hartford, the state’s capital with a population of about 64,000. Pre-Colonial settlement, the land was inhabited by Native peoples of the Wampanoag nation for winter camps. The first White settlers arrived in 1679 and converted the woods into farmland. This agricultural subset of the settlement in Hartford became known as the West Division. At this time, the first African Americans arrived to the area by force, as enslaved people brought by wealthy and prominent land owners. The practice of slavery would continue for the next 169 years. West Hartford became an independent town in 1854, but up until the turn of the twentieth century, it remained largely rural with a small population of less than 2,000 residents. An increase in the immigrant population in Hartford in the late 1800s led the city’s wealthier residents to move to West Hartford’s east end. Improvements in transportation allowed for easier transit to the city for work while living in the pastoral setting West Hartford afforded. As West Hartford’s population grew, so did the need for housing and much of the town’s farmland was sold for real estate development. At this time, West Hartford’s demographic was mainly White, with several African American families living in town and a growing foreign-born population from Europe and Canada. In the face of rapid growth, the town instituted a comprehensive zoning plan in the 1920s to control development. The town’s history of restrictive housing practices, including zoning, redlining, racially, ethnically, and religiously restricted covenants and real estate steering against both People of Color and of the Jewish faith were research areas of interest. Working with a consortium to explore these histories deeper brought us to the project. Exclusionary practices disguised within the zoning regulations continues to create barriers and inequity in homeownership in West Hartford. West Hartford’s Mayor and Town Council are aware of these inequities and are taking steps to address them. Knowing and understanding West Hartford’s history contributes to this process.