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History

Henry Gerber

The Chicagoan Who Founded the Earliest Gay Rights Group in America

The Society for Human Rights, founded by Chicago postal worker Henry Gerber, didn’t last long, but its legacy inspired various groups in the decades to come. Gerber's Old Town home where he was arrested in 1925 was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2015.
Valerie Taylor and Pearl Hart. Images: Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame

Chicago's Outspoken Lesbian Power Couple

Pearl Hart spent much of her career as a lawyer defending people from the infringement of their rights, from Communists caught up in the Red Scare to lesbians and gay people. Her late-in-life partner Valerie Taylor advocated for LGBT rights through her writing, speaking, and novels.
Early twentieth century, openly gay pianist Tony Jackson. Photo: From the William Russell Jazz Collection, courtesy of the Historic New Orleans Collection

The Openly Gay Pianist Who Dazzled Chicago in the Early Twentieth Century

Jelly Roll Morton, the self-proclaimed "inventor of jazz," didn't praise many people besides himself, but he made an exception for Tony Jackson: "Tony was considered among all who knew him the greatest single-handed entertainer in the world.” And Jackson was openly gay at a time when that was incredibly rare.
A sculptural panel of Aries by Eugene and Gwen Lux depicting Aries that originally decorated the facade of the McGraw-Hill Building and is now located in the Shops at North Bridge

The Complicated History of One of Michigan Avenue's Most Unusual Buildings

The exterior of the McGraw-Hill Building on Michigan Avenue may look the same as it did when it was built in the twenties, but it underwent a controversial "façade-ectomy" after a battle between developers and preservationists – and it features sculptural panels by a neglected female artist.
The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., for Frontline's Supreme Revenge. Photo: REUTERS/Molly Riley

The 'Worrisome' Politicization of the Supreme Court

The latest Frontline documentary from Michael Kirk, Supreme Revenge, covers the history of increasingly contentious Supreme Court nomination battles over the past few decades. "The tree that has grown is truly misshapen and very, very worrisome,” Kirk says about the Court today.
Workers leave the Pullman Palace Car Works, 1893. This picture appeared in a promotional booklet celebrating the labor policies of George Pullman.

The 125th Anniversary of One of America's Biggest Strikes

Pullman was supposed to be an idyllic worker's town. But the restrictions and deprivations imposed by the wealthy George Pullman on his workers eventually led to one of the biggest labor actions in American history: the Pullman strike, which began 125 years ago. 
A Pulitzer Prize medal

Chicago's Pulitzer Prize Winners in Journalism

Over the 102 years that the Pulitzer Prize has been awarded, four distinct Chicago newspapers have won, for a total of 47 Prizes. Explore the journalism winners, from someone who received a Prize posthumously to the only person to receive two Pulitzers at a Chicago paper.
The 1963 boycott and march against segregation in Chicago Public Schools. Photo: Kartemquin Films

Chicago's Forgotten Civil Rights Demonstration Against Segregated Schools

In 1963, some 225,000 students, or 47%, were absent from Chicago Public Schools in a boycott protesting segregation, the culmination of several years of protests against the school board's failure to address the needs of black students – including one in which a young Bernie Sanders was arrested.
The White Rabbits at work on the World’s Columbian Exposition. Photo in the public domain

Chicago's Unsung, Pioneering Women

Even prominent female groundbreakers are rarely recognized – there are approximately 40 figurative statues of men in Chicago but only two of women – so what about equally important pioneers who have been forgotten, from activists to literary figures to businesswomen?
Jane Byrne at a 1979 WTTW mayoral forum

Chicago's First (And Only) Female Mayor

As Chicago prepares to elect its first female African American mayor, take a look back at Jane Byrne, the first woman to break the mayoral glass ceiling, standing up to the powerful Democratic machine in the process and winning in Chicago's biggest political upset.
Alderman Leon Despres in the Chicago City Council chamber

The Only Alderman Who Stood Up to Richard J. Daley

“[Leon] Despres has been told to shut up – in one form or another – more than any grown man in Chicago," Mike Royko once wrote. "Throughout his career, he has been in the forefront of just about every decent, worthwhile effort to improve life in this city."
A Pullman porter. Source: Library of Congress

How Pullman Porters Laid Groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement

While serving as a porter on a Pullman Palace car was one of the better jobs available to African American men, it still had its indignities. Frustrated that they did not share in the gains of their white colleagues, the porters formed the first successful black union in the country. 
Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke's Beginnings in Chicago

The "King of Soul" grew up in Bronzeville and cut his teeth performing in churches and on streets in the city, striving to be the next Nat "King" Cole, who had attended the same high school as Cooke. 
Mr. Hooper with Bert and Ernie. Image: Sesame Workshop

50 Years of 'Sesame Street' Are Being Added to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting

The collection includes iconic episodes that feature such moments as Ernie singing "Rubber Duckie, You're the One;" Kermit the Frog's "It's Not Easy Being Green;" Big Bird's reckoning with the death of a friend in "Farewell, Mr. Hooper;" and other classics.
Etta Moten Barnett singing "My Forgotten Man" in "Gold Diggers of 1933"

The Many Pioneering Lives of Etta Moten Barnett

She went from being a young mother from Texas to becoming one of the first black women to appear onscreen not as a stereotype and the first to sing at the White House. Gershwin wanted her for Porgy and Bess – and later she became a liasion to Africa and a Chicago cultural patron.
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