Watch CBS News

Underground Railroad stop in downtown Chicago that used to be home to a church

Downtown Chicago building once a site for the Underground Railroad
Downtown Chicago building once a site for the Underground Railroad 05:28

CHICAGO (CBS) — An important Juneteenth history lesson took place in the Chicago Loop, a key role in freeing slaves, and hundreds walk past the Monadnock building in the Loop every day, not realizing it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

"This spot, where it used to be a church, was actually used as an Underground Railroad in Chicago before they relocated.

Ernest Crim III is talking about Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, which is now located in Bronzeville. But in the mid-1800s, it was located near Jackson and Clark until the Chicago Fire destroyed it.

It was home to Chicago's oldest Black congregation, which has a long history of activism.

"It's important for Chicagoans to know about the history of this building right here because it shows our place in the Juneteenth struggle," Crim said. 

He is a Black history advocate and former Black history teacher. Crim said the church started in 1844 as a prayer group of seven, holding services at members' homes.

"This church was founded in 1847, which is 16 years before the emancipation proclamation, which is 18 years before Juneteenth is enacted. That shows that even though we weren't a southern state or a confederate state, we played a role in advocating black folks to be free," Crim said.

In the mid-1800s, the church became a station in the Underground Railroad, a secret network of travel routes and safe houses that guided slaves to free states.

"There were Black people here who attended this church, formally enslaved black folks who migrated to Chicago who used their church to help black people either gain freedom here to settle in Chicago or to help provide them with resources to move to Detroit or maybe even Canada," Crim said.

The Monadnock Building now houses office space and retail stores like Florodora Boutique. Michael Blossom owns the store and has been there for 17 years, but he was unaware of the Underground Railroad's history.

"I'm happy to learn that this location is a part of that story. It's cool," Blossom said.

Crim said even though this is a celebration of an unknown historical fact, there are still issues we grapple with connected to systemic racism.

Crim saif Juneteenth celebrations became more prominent in Chicago after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Chicago to protest in the late 60s in Marquette Park.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.