African American Firefighters Museum
BRONZEVILLE — Morris Davis, a retired Chicago firefighter, said the average person knows little about the contributions made by blacks, let alone black firefighters, so he decided to start a museum to recognize their achievements.
"People don't know that a black man [Capt. David B. Kenyon] invented the sliding pole now" once used at all fire stations, said Morris, 81.
"Black firefighters have saved lives and gave their lives doing so, yet people seem to forget that fact, " said Morris, who retired in 1992 after 37 years with the Chicago Fire Department.
“It is important that the city memorialize the public safety contributions of African-American firefighters ... who have protected generations of Chicagoans, ” Emanuel said.
The museum will celebrate the contributions of black firefighters such as Kenyon, the chief of the city's all-black fire brigade at the time of the Great Chicago Fire. Historian Timuel Black said Kenyon, after watching a fellow firefighter slide down a wooden pole, got the idea to create a permanent pole.
A slew of inventions widely used today were created by African Americans. They include the fire extinguisher by T. Marshall in 1872; fire escape ladder by J.W. Winters in 1878; traffic light by Garrett Morgan in 1923; air conditioning unit by Frederick Jones in 1949 and the cellular phone by Henry T. Sampson in 1971.
The museum also will pay tribute to deceased black firefighters and feature fire equipment such as hoses, uniforms and gas masks.
"There will be stories told by [retired] black firefighters, fire station equipment and historical information about Bronzeville and the role blacks have played in the Fire Department, " said Davis, who lives in the West Chesterfield neighborhood on the South Side.
Morris said the museum will open next year, and he hopes it becomes a tourist destination.
In 2008, Mayor Richard Daley introduced an ordinance to allow the museum to lease a vacant fire station at 6843 S. Harper Ave. for $1, but the organization never moved into it.
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