Living Legacies & the Black History of Oak Park

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Adults, Older Adults
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Program Description

Event Details

Join us for an honest and inspiring conversation with three of Oak Park's remarkable Black elders on the history of our community, their lived experiences and wisdom, and where we go from here. Featuring George Bailey, Howard D. Simmons, and Betty Smitherman.

About the Panelists

George Bailey and his family have lived in Oak Park for over 30 years. He is a retired Associate Professor of English at Columbus College of Chicago where he taught courses such as: Oral Traditions and Writing in America, Blues as Literature, and Postmodern Blackness. A visionary, he has served as the VP of Longfellow Elementary School PTO, on the Oak Park Youth Services Township Committee, and Commission on Aging in Place, among others. He is a jazz musician, and his short fiction and articles have been published widely.

Howard D. Simmons and his wife have lived in Oak Park since 1970. After graduating high school in Pittsburg, Howard served in the Air Force as a musician until his discharge in 1966. An aspiring but inexperienced photographer, he flew to Chicago on a whim and secured a job at Ebony magazine as a staff photographer. He also worked at Chicago Sun-Times as their second ever Black photographer, before starting his own business. Howard has photographed historic figures including Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Jordan, and the Obamas, as well as everyday scenes of Black life. 

Betty Smitherman, a longtime Oak Park resident, was one of the first Black teachers in Oak Park Elementary School District 97. Teaching at Longfellow and Lincoln elementary schools, she was an early member of the Black Caucus of teachers in the 1970s and fought against resegregation in Oak Park. She held a Black history program at Longfellow every year, and took a special interest in mentoring Black female students. Beloved by many students, she was known as "The Slicker," because "you can't outslick the slicker."