Joliet plans historical study of African American life in and around the city

City planner shows old redlining map as a sample of history to be found in new project

Candidate for Joliet City Council District 4 Christopher Parker speaks at a forum for the candidates at the Joliet Public Library on Thursday, March 9th, 2023 in Joliet.

Joliet plans to compile a historical study to document African American life and culture in and around the city.

The study will be designed to serve as a guide for future plans for the city while also providing an in-depth look at African American life in Joliet into the late 20th century, City Planner Jayne Bernhard said.

Bernhard on Tuesday made a presentation to the City Council on what is called the Joliet African American Context Study before the council voted on agreements that will fund the project.

“This project will not sit on a shelf,” Bernhard told the council. “It will help ensure that the city and its partners are equitable in long-range planning efforts.”

Bernhard presented an old redlining map, which was used to direct where African Americans could buy houses in Joliet, as an example of how the historical documentation in the study can deepen people’s understanding of the city’s past.

Greg Peerbolte, CEO Joliet Historical Museum, left and Jayne Bernhard, Joliet City Planner, have been working together to open the train museum in the Old Union Depot Tower at the Joliet Gateway Center station on Thursday, May 11, 2023 in Joliet.

The study had the support of the African American Business Association of Will County.

“AABA is aligned with the purpose of this project,” AABA board Chairman Chris Parker told the council.

Parker said the study will serve to “challenge misinformation about the Black experience and to record Black voices for future generations.”

Parker also emphasized the importance of the study in future planning for Joliet.

The project will include collecting local history from people in Joliet.

Approval of a consultant to be hired to conduct the study still is a few months away.

Councilman Cesar Guerrero has a conversation before the start of the Joliet City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 18th, 2023.

But the council voted 9-0 to approve a city contribution of $20,000 to the study as its share of a match for a $21,000 state grant.

The council also approved agreements with other governmental bodies that will contribute to the study, which will extend beyond city limits to include traditionally Black communities that comprise Preston Heights in Joliet Township and Fairmont in Lockport Township.

Joliet Township will contribute $20,000, and Lockport Township will contribute between $5,000 and $10,000, with the final amount still to be determined. The Will County Historic Preservation Commission will contribute another $10,000, making total funding between $76,000 and $81,000.

The city will issue a request for proposals from consultants to conduct the study before recommending a consultant to the council for a final vote.

When casting his vote for the project, council member Cesar Guerrero highlighted remarks made by Parker on the potential importance for future city planning.

Pointing to the redlining map, Guerrero said: “To see it documented is history we can’t ignore. ... We can’t ignore the persistent effects that redlining has had on our community.”