It’s been two years since Chicago native Angela Ford purchased the historic mansion once owned by the late journalist and organizer Lu Palmer in Bronzeville. The mansion at 3654 S. King Drive had sat vacant for over a decade before Ford purchased it in May 2021. Ford’s efforts to turn it into a museum and community space have surmounted some obstacles, but securing funding remains a challenge.

Ford is the founder and executive director of The Obsidian Collection, a national nonprofit and hub for Black journalists, content creators, media outlets and archivists. The nonprofit preserves and shares images from Black legacy newspapers and Black photographers for future generations.

Since America’s racial reckoning in 2020, there have been numerous attempts at the state level to ban books on texts discussing race, racism, sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. The current times illustrate an even greater need to preserve Black history.

“It’s important that we tell our own stories,” Ford said.

“This movement to deny history, and deny reality, is a movement that is not sustainable because the arc of human progress is based on embracing truth and reality and science and logic,” Nuri Madina said. 

He’s the director of the Sustainable Square Mile in Woodlawn. Madina is also overseeing the restoration and development of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley Home in Woodlawn. 

Ford has her sights set on turning the 135-year-old, 12,000-square-foot Lu Palmer mansion into a museum, library, archive, and more.

Additionally, the mansion will be used as a meeting space for community members to host events and gather together. Obsidian will also store its vast archive collection in the space. Ford said this space could also counter the aggressive anti-Black acts that aren’t new but have become more commonplace since America’s racial reckoning. 

Black-owned or operated Black history museum spaces in Chicago include the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, the South Side Community Arts Center and Pullman Porter Museum. 

Ford recalls growing up in an era when thriving Black businesses were based here in Chicago, such as Johnson Publishing Company, Soft Sheen, and Black ad agencies like Vince Cullers Advertising and the Burrell Ad Agency. There were even public spaces where she could safely gather with friends while growing up in Chicago. Today, Black Chicagoans, she added, lack safe, open spaces for all generations to congregate.

“We need Black-owned safe spaces. Just one on the South Side shouldn’t hurt nobody,” Ford explained. “Where the whole purpose is, you can just chill here.” 

With the revitalization of the Lu Palmer mansion comes the opportunity for a community hub and communal space for Black people to gather, and preserve and uplift the history, contributions and achievements of important Black figures like Palmer and his wife Jorja, she added.

Palmer “was our Oprah before Oprah. He was on television, which we thought was like magic,” Ford said. “He was on the radio, which was heavily listened to back then, and he had a TV show where he would interview Black people.”

At the time of Palmer’s television show, there were very few Black people on TV discussing Black issues. So Palmer’s TV and radio shows were transformative for that reason, she added. “Everybody listened to what Lu Palmer said.”

Palmer was also accessible. He lived right in the heart of Bronzeville among the community, which was exciting, Ford said. He lived in the home from 1976 until he died in 2004. 

Four members of Obsidian Collection standing outside of the Lu Palmer Mansion
Obsidian Collection team members stand in front of the Lu Palmer mansion. | Photo by Jeron Thompson, provided

Palmer was a reporter, columnist, political activist, radio show host and newspaper publisher. He was born in Virginia, came to Chicago in 1950, and began writing for the Chicago Defender. Ford explained that he was also instrumental in getting Harold Washington elected in 1983. Palmer also founded the Chicago Black United Communities and the Black Independent Political Organization. 

Though Ford closed on the home two years ago, making her vision for the historic mansion a reality has been arduous, she said. Ford needed City Council approval for a zoning change to operate as a museum because the mansion is in a residential area. But that process took two years, which Ford said was stalled by former 4th Ward alder Sophia King. 

“What hurt us was [King] took two years to decide to grant that zoning change,” Ford explained. 

She added that securing additional financing for the building was impossible without the proper zoning permits. 

Ford told The TRiiBE that when she approached King in 2020 about her plans to purchase the mansion, King told her she’d support the zoning change. 

But then, in December 2020, King introduced a proposed ordinance restricting museums from operating out of homes in residential neighborhoods. 

“The ordinance was a nightmare, but what we needed from the alderman was to change the zoning of the home from residential to commercial,” Ford said. 

King’s proposal was met with disapproval by Ford and preservationists. If approved, it also would have hindered plans from community members who are working on launching Black museums and preservation projects, including the Muddy Waters MOJO Museum, Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley House, Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home and the Elijah Muhammad House.

The Tills’ Woodlawn home received Chicago landmark status in January 2021. Blacks in Green, a nonprofit founded by Naomi Davis, bought the building in October 2020, and they plan to restore the home and turn it into a museum. 

“The ordinance would have been so detrimental and damaging,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. Miller was one of many stakeholders who opposed King’s ordinance in 2021. 

King scrapped her proposed ordinance in March 2021, and the zoning change that was needed to move the Lu Palmer mansion project forward was approved on April 19, King’s last City Council meeting. 

“I do believe in my heart of hearts that some of these institutions would be open now, if it hadn’t been for that automatic hurdle, which I think the effects of that are still being felt,” Miller said. 

Ford echoed Miller’s sentiments. Now that the zoning change was granted, there’s still one hurdle looming over the completion of Ford’s vision for the historic property: securing additional funding. 


This past spring, Ford applied for a grant through the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, but she wasn’t chosen. The City selected 130 projects for its current round of funding. They couldn’t previously apply for the grant until the zoning change was approved. 

She plans to apply for the grant again in August. 

The City provides two types of grants: for small projects, assistance of up to $250,000 is available, while larger projects can obtain assistance of $250,000 up to $2.5 million. But the grant, Ford said, would be a Hail Mary. The project also needs financial support at the city and state levels. Without it, Ford said she fears losing the mansion. 

“If we don’t get the support of the city, we can lose the mansion because it’s a 135-year-old mansion. It needs the city’s support and the state’s support,” she said. “There’s no way an ordinary Black business can do that level of restoration. That’s not possible.”

Ford estimates that she needs at least $10 million for the project. The majority would be used to restore the 135-year-old building. 

“I stepped in because I thought the community would follow. It never occurred to me, as a native of Chicago, that the entire Black community would not get behind the restoration of the Lu Palmer mansion,” she said. “We’re hoping the city and state will step up to save arguably the most beautiful building in the Black Chicago.” 

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.