Firmly Planted: A Black Cultural Harvest stood as an event and intergenerational celebration of Black Chicagoans and their storied history. Taking place on March 2, for one memorable day, Black Chicago residents were graciously welcomed to bring forth artifacts symbolizing their lives in the city, thus enriching a collective communal archive. As individuals had their cherished items photographed for digital archiving on the first floor of the Chicago History Museum, the second floor served as an exclusive space dedicated to hosting community partners and cultivating meaningful conversations.

The event was part of the City of Chicago’s Black Cultural Heritage Initiative (BCHI), which was formed in 2022 during Black History Month to collect and preserve lesser-known stories of Black people across the 77 neighborhoods that have played a pivotal role in shaping the city. This initiative operates under the guidance of the Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation Division.

This photo essay highlights six Black Chicagoans and the artifacts they brought to be collectively archived. In this photo essay, for which I took the photographs of each resident, I will tell some of the stories beyond the images of the artifacts.

Latoya Pickens holding an issue of Ebony Magazine
Latoya Pickens holding an issue of Ebony Magazine. Photo by Tonal Simmons for The TRiiBE®
Latoya Pickens holding a JET magazine.
Latoya Pickens holding a JET magazine. Photo by Tonal Simmons for The TRiiBE®

Latoya Pickens stepped out of the archive collection area with a big smile. I asked her which Chicago artifact she brought and, with a chuckle, she said, “Ebony Magazine and JET.” As she shuffled through the magazines, she added, “I used to use these at my grandma’s house to help me learn to read growing up.”

Lowell Thompson stands behind his two young granddaughters. The granddaughter on the right holds his book in her hands as they all smile widely.
Lowell Thompson stands behind his two young granddaughters. The granddaughter on the right holds his book in her hands as they all smile widely. Photo by Tonal Simmons for The TRiiBE®
Close-up of Lowel's book titled "African Americans in Chicago"

Lowell Thompson proudly walked around with a book titled African Americans in Chicago. With his two granddaughters, they meandered through the second floor filled with community partners’ tables. I asked if he had an artifact to add to the archive, and he held up the book. “If you want a definitive look at African Americans in Chicago, then you need to read this book.” He shared that this book, written by Thompson, used to be sold here at the Chicago History Museum.

Jordan Campbell stands holding a rendering of Alt Space Chicago’s original rendering of his redemptive plastics program.
Jordan Campbell stands holding a rendering of Alt Space Chicago’s original rendering of his redemptive plastics program. Photo by Tonal Simmons for The TRiiBE®
Close-up image of Jordan's rendering.

Jordan Campbell is the director of Alt Space Chicago on the West Side in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. For the archive, he brought his original rendering of Alt Space’s redemptive plastics program, which is a recycling initiative focused on redeeming plastic and providing education around environmental justice and job development. The drawing was featured in Expo Chicago.

Kathleen Clark holds an artifact featuring an image of her mom Anna Jones.
Kathleen Clark holds an artifact featuring an image of her mom Anna Jones that was pasted on black construction paper. The headline says, “Is She Really To Blame?” Photo by Tonal Simmons for The TRiiBE®
Close-up image of Kathleen's artifact. The headline says, “Is She Really To Blame?”

Kathleen Clark and her friend were walking out of the archive room when I asked if she could show me an artifact that she brought. She then pulled out a few large pieces of black construction paper. Seated on a bench, she took a moment to decide which one she wanted to be photographed with. Eventually, she chose the one with two pasted images from a newspaper clipping with a headline that read, “Is She Really to Blame?” This news article was about her mom. “She was a dancer for The Black Birds in the 1930s and ran for Miss Bronzeville in 1936, I believe,” she said.

Bobbi Ball stands holding a crystal pitcher with two hands from her childhood.
Bobbi Ball stands holding a crystal pitcher with two hands from her childhood. She smiles brightly with pride as she shows off one of her late mom’s crystal pieces that was passed down. Photo by Tonal Simmons for The TRiiBE®
Close-up image of Bobbi Ball's crystal pitcher with two hands from her childhood.

Bobbi Ball was walking around with a bright pink flower ring on her left hand, which caught my eye. The crystal pitcher she held belonged to her mother’s collection. Her mother passed away when she was 15, and she has held onto the collection ever since. “Can you imagine this is how people ate? Look at the light shining off of it!” she said. Bobbi Ball was attending the event with her daughter and granddaughters.

This artifact features a group of 25 people standing in the pews at church.
This artifact features a group of 25 people standing in the pews at church. Gail Robinson's mom is positioned to the left of the pastor, who stands at the left center. Robinson holds the picture at waist level. Photo by Tonal Simmons for The TRiiBE®
Gail Robinson holding her artifact.

Before the photo was taken, Gail Robinson’s daughter assisted her in fixing her lipstick. They stood there for a few minutes, exchanging glances, and with the final approval from her daughter, Robinson was ready to share a bit of her story. One of the artifacts she brought was a picture from the church her family still attends to this day in Chicago. In the image are her mom and the pastor, both of whom have since passed. Robinson reminisced, “There were times we’d be at church until 11:00 p.m. We just had a good time. It was a fun time!”

is a freelance photographer for The TRiiBE.