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The Chamber Salutes Black History Month

Our commitment to commerce, history and culture grows everyday.


The Maywood Chamber of Commerce is pleased to join with the community in remembering the service and sacrifice of all Americans who served with honor and valor in World War I, from the Declaration of War on April 6, 1917, through to the end of occupation, in 1919.




February 2018

Last spring, I had the opportunity to lead an executive retreat where we explored the importance of having JOY while pursuing one’s career.  I find February brings me special JOY because it allows me to experience the work of many documentarians, authors and historians who expose the richness of the African American experience in the United States and beyond.

I am especially pleased to highlight a work titled, The Victory Monument: The Beacon of Chicago’s Bronzeville, by the late Dempsey Travis (b. 1920 – d. 2009).

If asked to name an African American entrepreneur who embodied the spirit of Joy in Business and in Life, Dempsey Travis would be high on my list.  He not only founded a successful real estate company, Travis Realty, but served on the boards of numerous civic organizations, including Roosevelt University.  Although he was exceptionally accomplished in business, Travis had a profound love for history; and wrote numerous books that offered wonderful insights into the Afro-American experience, especially the experiences of people who came to and thrive in Chicago during the first half of the twentieth century, and beyond.

It so happens that I share Travis’ fascination with the love of country that so many African Americans demonstrated through their service to their country, militarily, during the final two years of the First World War.  These men and women served dutifully, and in many cases, heroically, despite experiencing countless racial insults and acts of humiliation and discrimination from the government and country that claimed it was fighting to make the world safe for democracy.

The contrasts between American rhetoric and its realities have been voluminous, since the founding of the country; and continue to this day.  Nonetheless, African Americans one hundred years ago were determined to show their patriotism and their resolve in pursuing the fullness of the American promise.

Travis’ book is not limited to the actions of the generations engaged in the First World War.  He goes beyond to examine the struggles of the sons and daughters of that First World War generation.  What is striking are the parallels in the struggles experienced by the two generations.

As we roll into the year 2018, I am doing all I can, as a cultural historian, to promote awareness of the First World War, and the contributions made by African Americans to America’s roll in the war.  It is a contribution that was both broad and consequential.

Chicago’s Bronzeville community is home to one of this nation’s most striking monuments commemorating the service of Black Americans during the war.  The Victory Monument, as it is called, is located at 35th Street and King Drive.  A picture of the monument graces the cover of Travis’ book.  It is a ‘must see’ for everyone seeking a meaningful way to commemorate Black History Month and also the Centennial of America’s involvement in “The Great War,” as it was described, prior to World War II. 

Travis begins his book with a wonderful summary of facts about The Victory Monument, which was designed in two phases, beginning with the construction of the granite column, that now serves as the base of the monument.  The structure was later topped with a bronze helmeted African American soldier, in winter uniform.  The soldier is carrying a bayoneted rifle, which was emblematic of the First World War.  The column was a collaborative design between a French sculptor named Leonard Crunelle, and a Chicago architect named John Nyden.  The bronze soldier was designed by Crunelle, and modeled by Ozzie Levels, a sergeant who served in the Eight Regiment.

Travis explains that African American soldiers were assigned to the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard until the U.S. entered the war, in April of 1917.  As America began to mobilize, the regiment was folded into the 370th U.S. Infantry of the 93rd Division.  The 370th took part in several notable battles, while in France; and is most celebrated for its pursuit of retreating German forces during the final days of the war. 

The fighting, that marked World War I, came to an abrupt end when the Germany government signed the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

The monument, which was erected by the State of Illinois and the South Park Commission in 1927, was the result of a spirited campaign led by The Chicago Defender, which at the time was Chicago’s leading independent Black newspaper.  The Defender played an influential role in the emergence of Black Chicago during the first quarter century, and during the First World War, chronicled the battlefield actions of Black Illinoisans.

The column portion of the monument has four panels.  Three of the panels contain life-size bronze figures in relief: a bare-chested African-American man representing the Black men who fought in the war, a woman representing mothers who sacrificed their sons, and the figure of “Columbia” holding a tablet listing the regiment’s key battles during the war.  The column’s fourth panel lists the names of Black Illinoisans who died in the war.

In 1936, the bronze “doughboy” was added to the top of the column.

As I noted earlier, Travis also explores the contributions of Chicago’s Black Community to the Second World War, in his book.  The two wars are closely linked, both geo-politically, and in the quest for social justice and equality in the United States.  I am most appreciative to the Board of the Maywood Bataan Day Organization, and especially Mr. Edwin Walker, for allowing me to incorporate recognition of the centennial of America’s involvement in World War I, with commemorations of the 75th Anniversary of the fall of Bataan to Japanese Imperial Forces, during our September 10th gathering in Veterans Memorial Maywood Park.  The fall of Bataan led to the eventual imprisonment of American soldiers, many from Maywood, who were stationed in the Philippines.  The two wars are memorialized in the southeast corner of Maywood’s most distinguished park through a canon that serves as a monument to World War I; and a tank that is a monument recalling sacrifices made in World War II.

I recognize that not everyone is drawn to readings covering the two World Wars, but I am hopeful everyone will find a way to honor those who served their country during difficult times, and those that made the ultimate sacrifice that enable us to enjoy the freedoms we presently possess. 

Regardless of how you might choose to pursue your passions, I hope you will take time, this February, to acknowledge the uniqueness, beauty and resiliency of men and women who embody the Black Experience in America.

Happy Black History Month.



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