Chicago OKs new site for African American firefighter museum - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Chicago OKs new site for African American firefighter museum

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CHICAGO (Associated Press) -

A vacant, 83-year-old Chicago firehouse will become the new home to a museum honoring the city's black firefighters, replacing one that proved unsuitable and had a checkered history involving racial tensions.

A City Council committee on Monday approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to offer the African-American Firefighter museum a 10-year, $1 lease on the building, called Engine 61, in the city's Bronzeville neighborhood.

The museum was founded five years ago when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley donated a different building -- the site of a 1990 retirement party where white firefighters were caught on videotape drinking and using racial slurs. That incident was considered emblematic of deep-rooted and ongoing racial tensions in the fire department.

But that building never opened fully to the public because it was too old and expensive to renovate and it was located on a dead-end street, museum founder Morris Davis told the Chicago Sun-Times.

"We were strapped trying to bring the place up to standard," said Davis, adding that the group has no access to the second floor and only a small display.

The new museum will feature displays, photographs, artifacts and memorabilia honoring contributions made by black firefighters and their struggles to integrate the department.

That will include the invention in the 1870s of the sliding pole by a Chicago firefighter from an all-black company, the hiring of the city's first black firefighter, the first black battalion chief in 1958 and the 1965 integration of firehouses.

It also will include information on a lawsuit filed on behalf of 6,000 black firefighters who claimed a 1995 entrance exam was discriminatory. The city eventually agreed to pay more than $78 million in compensation and to hire some of the applicants.

"Black people need to be proud of their people and see that we are contributing to this city," Davis said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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