Restoring Black Voices to the Story of Joliet

Reclaiming the Narrative: Restoring Black Voices to the Story of Joliet

Published: May 25, 2023.

On display in the Gaylord Building’s first-floor gallery through July 14 is "Reclaiming the Narrative: Restoring Black Voices to the Story of Joliet".

The Lewis University History Center partnered with Second Baptist Church, Mount Zion Baptist Church, The National Hook-up of Black Women Joliet Inc., and Warren-Sharpe Community Center on this project, which focused on regional historical collections and allowed them to broaden their scope and facilitate the stories of historically marginalized peoples. In turn, this served to broaden the scope of the collection of the Adelmann Regional History Collection (ARHC) at Lewis University.

This exhibit, created by Lewis University in collaboration with community partners, was funded by the Chicago-based Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation in line with their “Broadening Narratives” initiative.

The Lewis University History Center, which manages the ARHC, selected students to work directly with community members. The students scheduled and carried out site visits to the partner organizations to scan materials that the organizations provided. Through this process, they created a core collection of documents, including organizational histories, papers, and images that represent the organizations’ histories. The community members shared their perspectives and provided keen insight into the lives of African Americans in Joliet, Illinois. At their core, these were stories that they told about themselves.

More information on these archived materials can be found HERE.

African Americans called the Joliet region home before its incorporation in 1852. They have built up the community, found jobs, and enjoyed life in the Des Plaines River Valley. In spite of this long history, the Black community has often been on the periphery of historical narratives.  As a way to increase the scope of history, this exhibit highlights four African American organizations that contribute to the region’s diversity.

The scope of this grant-funded initiative included a traveling banner exhibit and public programs. These banners are currently on display in the Gaylord Building’s first-floor gallery.  

They can also be viewed online at the Lewis University History Center.  

View Banners

The Gaylord Building played a vital role in the creation of the Illinois & Michigan Canal.  landmark since 1838, this handsome limestone warehouse originally stored canal construction materials and later housed a variety of commercial ventures. Today the Gaylord Building is a national example of adaptive reuse and a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. To learn more about The Gaylord Building and upcoming events, please visit, 200 W. 8th St., Lockport, IL  60441. (815) 838-9400.


Lewis University is an innovative Catholic university offering market-relevant undergraduate and graduate programs to 6,500 students. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis University is nationally recognized for preparing intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, and globally-connected graduates who impact the world for the better. Visit for further information.

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