The Africans in Chicago Oral History Project is a new project of the United African Organization (UAO). The UAO is a dynamic coalition of African community-based organizations that promotes social and economic justice, civic participation, and empowerment of African immigrants and refugees in Illinois.
This new project will collect the stories of African immigrants and refugees about their journey to Chicago. We’d love to know your personal story and hear about your new life. Read more about the project below and then go to Participate if you would like to get involved.
The project seeks to interview African immigrants and refugees in order to document challenges, successes and acculturation experiences in fashioning a new identity in a new society while retaining and maintaining natural ties to the homeland – something which every immigrant group here cherishes. On this website you will find a set of short documentary films exploring the experiences of African immigrants and refugees who have arrived in Chicago since the 1960s. Through these documentaries, we hope to capture some of the voices and faces of the growing African community in Chicago. We also hope to create an open and vibrant discussion space, where African immigrants and the Chicago community at large can discover common experiences and shared visions.
In addition to our documentaries, the Africans in Chicago project will use photographs, interactive maps, time-lines, and other supporting documents to situate Africans in the Chicago cityscape and contextualize individuals’ stories within African and U.S. history. On this website, you will also be able to walk in the shoes of African immigrants and refugees as they take you on a virtual walking tour through the places that are meaningful to them in Chicago and in their home countries. The Africans in Chicago Oral History Project is founded in the idea that knowledge should inform actions. We hope that providing an open, creative space for people to listen and connect through storytelling will promote learning and civic engagement, and serve as a peaceful vehicle for change.
In the coming months, we hope to expand the Africans in Chicago project to reflect a representative sample of Africans in various fields – education, medicine, arts and culture, business, public service, law, religion, politics, and mass communication – and offer a panoramic view of the new African Diaspora in Chicago. In the future, the project will also document the voices of African youth growing up within the duality of African and American cultures.
About the African immigrant and refugee community in Chicago
The African immigrant and refugee community in Chicago has grown at a remarkable rate over the last five decades. The city is now home to Africans from forty-eight (48) African nations, ranging from Liberia and Nigeria in West Africa to Ethiopia and Somalia in East Africa, as well as South Africa and Zimbabwe in the south and Egypt and Morocco in the north. Given its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, this new Diaspora community adds another vital layer to Chicago’s stature as a truly global city.
The first wave of recent African migration to Chicago started in the years immediately following the attainment of independence from colonial rule in the sixties. Against the backdrop of euphoria and idealism, the primary driving force behind this voluntary migration was the pursuit of higher education with the goal of making a contribution to the post-colonial nation-building projects in their countries of origin. Alas, as optimism about independence was slowly eroded by political instability, downward economic spiral, one-party and military dictatorship, civil wars and diminishing opportunities, many African immigrants and refugees began to establish roots in Chicago as permanent sojourners. Although diffused all over Chicago neighborhoods, African enclaves include Edgewater, Uptown, Rogers Park, South Shore, Bronzeville and Southeast Chicago.