History Center, Schools, Library Commemorate Black History Month

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Byline: Nancy Luebke Daily Herald Correspondent

February is Black History Month, a month designated to recognize the contributions of African Americans.

DuPage County residents who wish to celebrate will find many opportunities to do so this month.

The Wheaton History Center, 606 N. Main St., Wheaton, has prepared a special exhibit, "Despair, Hope and Survival: A Slave's Life from Sunrise to Sunset," for February and March. This is the third year that the center has put together a special exhibit in honor of Black History Month.

Those visiting the exhibit may also wish to view the center's permanent exhibit of a recreated stop on the underground railroad, established to help escaped slaves get to freedom in the North. DuPage County was the site of several stops on the underground railroad, one of which is depicted in the exhibit.

Wheaton History Center curator Wendy Miller said the center has borrowed artifacts for the "Despair, Hope and Survival ..." exhibit. Those who visit the special exhibit will get an opportunity to experience what a day in the life of a slave included. Miller added that the exhibit will show the homes where slaves lived, the kind of work they did, the clothing they wore, the food they ate and some of the leisure activities they pursued.

"We will have authentic artifacts and documents on display," Miller said. "Archaeological objects such as dishware fragments, beads, buttons, a plow and other agricultural implements are included in the exhibit."

These special exhibits usually draw people from all over DuPage County, and beyond. Miller said that so far, 80 school groups have signed up to tour the exhibit, and last year groups traveled from up to an hour away to come to the exhibit.

People who have toured the special exhibits during the last couple of years, and those who view the permanent underground railroad stop exhibit, are learning things. She said that people have told her that they were surprised to learn about what the underground railroad was because they literally thought it was a train railroad that ran underground.

"People are glad to get a lot more information and facts, that broadens their thinking," she said. "They learn that blacks and whites worked together on the railroad, as well as freed slaves."

Those who stop by the Wheaton History Center to view the exhibits today may also want to plan a stop at the Wheaton Public Library at 225 N. Cross St., the only one in DuPage County that has something special planned for Black History Month. A storyteller is scheduled to tell a folk tale from an African country at 11:00 a.m. today. Children's librarian Janet Dumas said that the story is 30- minutes long, and is appropriate for children 5 years and older, and adults. Tickets for the free event are available at the children's and adult's circulation desks at the library.

Schools throughout DuPage County have activities planned for Black History Month. While Mill Street Elementary School in Naperville spends more than 28 days on contributions black Americans have made because it has integrated diversity into the curriculum, other schools are planning special events in February. …