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Black history, from quilts to opera

A West Side McDonalds will be transformed into a quilting bee, and the South Side Cultural Center will be transformed into a 1963 civil rights rally, in two cultural events exploring black history this weekend.

The North Lawndale African American Heritage Quilting Project is holding a “drive-thru quilting day” in the conference room of the McDonalds at Roosevelt and Kedzie on Saturday, February 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Customers will be invited to create a patch for the project’s second quilt, depicting anything they find meaningful including poems or Scripture, traditional African patterns, or depictions of family traditions or neighborhood landmarks or heroes.  People who bring photos or pictures can have them copied and transferred onto a patch.

The project reflects local activist Valerie Leonard’s passion for involving  people in participatory projects and a desire to build community pride.

The group has held quilting sessions at neighborhood churches and senior centers and is working on involving local schools, with students researching and designing patches with historical themes.

At a local church last week, “we had all ages, 3 to 80,” she says.  It’s not just women, either.  “It’s amazing, some of the young guys that do try it, they really get into it,” Leonard said.

On Sunday at 4 p.m., the South Shore Opera Company is presenting “The March,” an opera in development by composer Jonathan Stinson and librettist Alan Marshall exploring events surrounding the 1963 March on Washington.

Artists who’ve performed with the Lyric Opera, CSO, and other top groups will portray characters including Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy (his aria occurs in a meeting the segregationist senators), Bayard Rustin and Chicago native Diane Nash.  A multimedia portion tells the story of Emmet Till, and Till comes back to life with the aria, “Mama, How Was I To Know?”

The music is “contemporary and accessible,” said SSCO publicity chair Gary Ossewaarde.

The performance launches the company’s fourth season.  Housed in the historic South Shore Cultural Center and led by artistic director Cornelius Johnson, the company features work by African and African-American composers along with standard repertoire.  They’ve had notable performances of scenes from “Carmen” and “Porgy and Bess,” and they hope to mount a production of Scott Joplin’s opera, “Treemonisha,” Ossewaarde said.

The Chicago Park District is co-sponsoring the event, which is free.

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Category: arts, history, Lawndale, South Shore


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the mention, Curtis!!! We’re looking forward to a great day tomorrow.

  2. We thank each of you who was able to attend Saturday’s Drive-Thru Quilting event. We thank Mssrs. Ronald Lofton Sr. and Ronald Lofton Jr. for their generous support of the event, including discounted meals for participants. We thank City Year volunteers who helped with the logistics and artistic vision, and got their hands dirty designing quilt blocks. We thank Reneau Diallo, Karen Bailey and Zoe Ann Nance for their leadership.

    We displayed our very first quilt, and the quilt in progress prepared by Carey Tercentenary AME Church. We had a great turnout, and participants generated enough quilt blocks to pull together two quilts. We were so impressed by the work of a Viet Nam Vet who participated that we will pull his blocks together to make a separate quilt. We will display quilts from the project at McDonald’s and take the show on the road when we get a critical mass of quilts. In the meantime, we will be working with schools and other organizations in the community to assist them in making quilts. If your organization is interested in participating, please contact me at We are looking forward to strengthening the social fabric of our community.

    We thank Paul Norrington and Seth Barnhart, for sharing their photos. God willing, I will be able to provide you with more pics later this week.

    Seth’s Pictures

    Paul’s Pictures

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