— By Angela F. Allen
Abbeville, SC to Evanston, IL
In 2016, my family and I ventured to Abbeville, South Carolina to walk the land, to visit the cemetery and to spend time in the church of our maternal ancestors. It was the first time for some family members to see this part of the country. Abbeville connected us to our southern roots. That connection made this trip special.
In keeping with the theme of “connection,” the Family Rendezvous 2016 participants voted to explore Evanston, Illinois in 2018. A great number of Abbeville residents migrated to Evanston during the Great Migration. By 1925, our maternal ancestors lived in Evanston: Oscar and Catherine (Jenkins) Davis, 1011 Emerson; Rufus and Annetta (Ramey) Watt, 1012 Ayars Place; Spencer and Mary Watt, 1012 Ayars Place. Oscar and Catherine Davis’ descendants currently reside in Evanston.
On Saturday, July 21, 2018, the major event for the Family Rendezvous 2018 introduced the participants to Shorefront Legacy Center, (Shorefront) 2214 Ridge Avenue, Lower Level, Evanston, IL. Morris “Dino” Robinson, Shorefront’s founder, graciously hosted over 50 family members and friends from California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Evanston residents, Mattie Amaker, Priscilla Giles, and Catherine Johnson, members of the African American History and Genealogy Study Group of Evanston and Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago, attended and offered their expertise.
Shorefront’s welcoming spirit encourages investigating, learning, and researching. This repository immediately immersed participants into Evanston’s African American history. The Shorefront Journal covers spread out across a wall displaying faces from the community. Another wall display highlights various photos and artifacts. The meeting room contains artifacts, books, and an ongoing video presentation. In the midst of all of these displays stands the Archives.
Once everyone gathered, Dino discussed how Shorefront began. He recognized a dearth of Black historic information on the North Shore and the need to establish a center in Evanston that would serve as a place for educating students and researchers, for preserving historic material, and for showcasing the contributions that African Americans made to the community. Participants listened intently. Family members appreciated Dino’s knowledge and passion for history. One member described Dino as a “walking encyclopedia.” Some members pinpointed particular elements of Dino’s discussion that touched them:
- Dino laid out the importance of Shorefront by explaining what would happen if its collection had been given over to a larger institution. Not many people know these things.
- The idea that students and researchers have access to the actual archives impressed me.
- It was wonderful to see photos and artifacts unique to the area.
Dino entertained questions. Family members asked significant questions regarding funding for Shorefront, maintaining the collection, and volunteering to process the collection. Others perused the books and artifacts. Most members purchased copies of Shorefront’s publication –A Place We Can Call Our Home (by Morris Robinson, Jr.). The Family Rendezvous 2018 committee donated copies of the Family Rendezvous 2016 and 2018 Family History books for the Abbeville, South Carolina collection, and a promise to donate the family t-shirt as well. Overall, the visit to the Shorefront Legacy Center proved to be a worthwhile educational experience.
Anyone with an interest in African American History on Chicago’s suburban north shore, take the time to explore the Shorefront Legacy Center, the North Shore Jewel. Consult www.shorefrontlegacy.org for the online finding aid and additional information.