You may be asking yourself, “Who is the man in the photo, and what’s he got to do with the story of Seaway Bank?”
Well, for those of you who don’t know, he’s Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the man credited with founding the city of Chicago more than 230 years ago.
To learn of DuSable, as I did as a young adult, was a powerful and precious addition to my understanding of American history and the contributions made by people of African descent. You see, DuSable was a Haitian-born fur trader, and a Black man. Yes, a Black man from Haiti founded the city of Chicago!
By itself, the story of Seaway Bank is remarkable. The bank, opened on the South Side of Chicago in 1965, became one of the largest Black-owned banks in America before joining Self-Help last year. Seaway's history is the central story I set out to tell as the producer of Seaway’s legacy documentary.
At the same time, I think the success of Seaway Bank is all the more impactful in the context of many other examples of Black Chicago greatness. Consider these high-profile examples:
- Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black President, first engaged in public service as a Chicago community organizer before being elected in 2008.
- Decades prior to President Obama’s victory, the late Harold Washington redefined what was possible in local, big-city politics by winning a racially-divisive, bare-knuckles election battle to become Chicago’s first—and only—Black mayor in 1983.
- In 1992, Chicago’s Carol Moseley Braun made U.S. Congressional history by becoming the first African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. To date, there’s only been one other Black woman ever elected to that chamber, and that was Kamala Harris of California, who won her seat in 2016.
- Ebony and Jet magazines, once staples in Black households, beauty parlors, barbershops and the offices of Black professionals everywhere, were the creations of Chicago’s own John Johnson of Johnson Publishing Company.
- Oprah Winfrey got her start at a local TV station in Chicago and up until fairly recently headquartered her media empire in the Windy City.
- The landmark South Side Chicago high school that up until recently carried the DuSable name was attended by Nat King Cole… Sam Cooke… Herbie Hancock… Dinah Washington… and Redd Foxx. You may have to be of a certain generation to really appreciate some of these names… sorry! Even former first lady Michelle Obama’s father is a graduate of DuSable High School.
- Rev. Jesse Jackson and Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan both make their homes in, and run their base of operations out of, Chicago.
- The great Michael Jordan performed his magic in the 1990s while in Chicago, leading the Bulls to six national basketball titles.
- Even the iconic TV show Soul Train began life in Chicago, created by its silky-smooth host Don Cornelius. If you loved the show like I did, there’s a permanent place in your memory for Cornelius’s signature farewell: “Wishing you…”—say it with me y’all—“LOVE… PEACE… and SOUL…!!!”
To me, there’s something unifying and almost mystical in the way that Chicago’s most accomplished Black sons and daughters continually advance culture, entertainment, business and politics in America. A great contemporary example is Mrs. Peggy Montes, who, together with her daughter Pia, owns and operates the Bronzeville Children’s Museum on Chicago’s South Side. I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Montes while I was conducting research for the documentary.
In addition to her involvement with the museum, Mrs. Montes’ deep, long-standing relationships make her one of the very best examples of Black cultural, social and political influence and inter-connectedness that I experienced while working on the Seaway documentary. She has been a friend and supporter to such institutions as The DuSable Museum, Chicago State University—and Seaway Bank.
I appreciate all that Mrs. Montes shared with me. She was among a couple of dozen people who made significant contributions to this video—too many to name here. The result is a video that tells the story of a remarkable Black-owned bank, but as you watch the documentary, keep in mind that this story is also part of the larger story of greater Black Chicago.