“A Bronzeville-based archive of Black media is preparing to buy a long-vacant home on King Drive once owned by community organizers Lutrelle ‘Lu’ Palmer and Jorja English Palmer.
“The Obsidian Collection, founded in 2017, digitally archives photographs, video and documents to make Black history publicly accessible. The nonprofit got its start by organizing images from the Chicago Defender’s archives, Executive Director Angela Ford said.
“The organization is looking to establish a physical presence by moving into the Palmers’ former Bronzeville mansion, 3654 S. King Drive.
“‘I know Chicago … but I didn’t know as much as I learned with all of these images of accomplishment, beauty and fabulousness,’ Ford said. ‘These people were fly, and I felt like they were saying, ‘We’re here; we’ve been here the whole time.”
“The nonprofit’s archives and image licensing business would be located at the new ‘Obsidian House,’ along with a coworking and community space for Black media makers.
“‘Our goal is to bring it back online as a kind of museum, library and archival space for Black journalists and content creators,’ Ford said.
“After two years of planning, Ford hopes to close on the Palmer mansion within the next 45 days. With the help of the Chicago Community Trust, she’s secured a $1.25 million loan to buy the home.
“The total project cost — including buying the home, performing ‘an extensive rehab and restoration’ of the decaying building and creating community programs — is estimated at $3.8 million.
“The Obsidian House plans to open by mid-2022, Ford said. In the meantime, she’ll continue to seek funding for the renovation and programs through private lenders and donors.
“The Bronzeville mansion was completed in 1888 for Justice D. Harry Hammer, according to Preservation Chicago. The group listed the home on its list of Chicago’s “most endangered” buildings two years ago, citing its vacancy and disrepair.
“The Palmers purchased the home in 1976 and lived there until Lu’s death in 2004. They worked to boost political participation among Black Chicagoans during their three decades in the home, founding Chicago Black United Communities in 1980 and the Black Independent Political Organization in 1984.” (Evans, Block Club Chicago, 3/3/21)
Preservation Chicago has been concerned about the deteriorating condition of the Justice D. Harry Hammer Mansion/Lutrelle ‘Lu’ & Jorja Palmer Mansion for years. To help raise awareness and to pressure stakeholders, it became a Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2019. We have played an active role working with community organizations, local leaders, and decisionmakers to help bring about a preservation-sensitive outcome for this building.
We are thrilled to support Angela Ford and The Obsidian Collection’s effort to adaptively reuse the Palmer Mansion for a nonprofit digital archives for photographs, video and documents to focused on making Black history more available and accessible. This is an incredibly exciting development and we will continue to do everything we can to support the effort.
In Bronzeville, A Push To Preserve Historic Lu Palmer Mansion — And Chicago’s Black Media Legacy; The 133-year-old mansion at 3654 S. King Drive has been vacant for nearly two decades. The Obsidian Collection is ready to buy the home and turn it into a museum, library and archive for Black journalists and content creators, Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago, 3/3/21
How the Obsidian Collection Is Bringing Black Newspapers to Google; The organization is busy digitizing papers like the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro American. And they’re turning them into virtual exhibits on Google’s Arts & Culture platform, Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, Chicago Magazine, 6/4/18