Blog, Collections

The Abakanowicz Research Center’s Top 5 Most Requested Items of 2023

By: Ellen Keith
Jan 02 2024

CHM director of research & access Ellen Keith shares about the most requested research collections from the Abakanowicz Research Center in 2023.

2023 was quite a year for the Abakanowicz Research Center (ARC). We stopped requiring appointments in June. We said farewell to beloved reference librarian Lesley Martin, who retired in October. Staff members Brigid Crawley and Ayah Elkossei created guides to the yearbook collection and true crime research collections. We also served lots of archival material to our researchers. Without further ado, we present the top five requested collections of 2023!

#5 – We had a four-way tie for fifth most requested collection

Leon M. Despres papers [manuscript], 1929–82, bulk 1955–75. A long-serving alderman of the Fifth Ward from 1955 to 1975, representing Hyde Park and, surprisingly, serving as an Independent.


Alderman Leon Despres leads marchers down State Street on the way to City Hall in protest of segregation in Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, June 25, 1965. ST-10104123-0008, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM

Claude A. Barnett papers [manuscript], 1918–67, bulk 1928–63. Barnett was the director of the Associated Negro Press. This is a large collection covering wide-ranging topics.


Undated portrait of Claude A. Barnett at desk. CHM, ICHi-061826

Archibald J. Motley Jr., papers and photographs collection [manuscript], 1894–2004, bulk 1920–90. A famed African American painter whose works can be found in the Art Institute of Chicago, among other museums. He was also the father of longtime Chicago Historical Society archivist Archie Motley.


Cover to catalogue regarding an exhibition of paintings by Archibald J. Motley Jr. at the New Gallery, New York, New York, 1928. CHM, ICHi-067678

African American Police League (Chicago, Ill.) records, part 1 and part 2 [manuscript], 1961–93, bulk 1968–86. Founded in 1968 as the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League, with the goal of elevating African American policemen and eliminating police brutality. The League’s first president, Renault Robinson, passed away in July 2023.


Undated flyer encouraging individuals to report police abuse. AAPL records, box 42.

#4 – A two-way tie

Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago records [manuscript], 1914–78. This organization had as many as 250 social services agencies as members, so it’s been an excellent resource for researchers looking for a specific Chicago agency.


Front cover of a pamphlet titled Building a Better Life in Chicago, published by the Chicago Southern Center, a member of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, 1967. CHM, ICHi-075584

Thing Magazine records, [manuscript] c. 1980–95, bulk 1987–94. This collection documents LGBTQIA+ zine Thing and its predecessor, Think Ink. Zines have only grown in popularity, and Thing is included in the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines.


The front cover of
Thing no. 2 (April 1990) features a stylized photograph of Little Richard. CHM, ICHi-173544

#3 – Special Olympics Chicago records [graphic, manuscript] 1965–2017, bulk c. 1970s–90s

Special Olympics Chicago was cofounded by Anne McGlone Burke in 1968.


Two children light the torch at the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony at Stagg Field, Chicago, 1993. CHM, ICHi-174243

#2 – Chicago Teachers Union records [manuscript], c. 1870–2017, bulk 1930–2015

The Chicago Teachers Union is a powerful organization in the city, and the records spanning over 100 years include strikes, pensions, and the notorious tenure of Superintendent Benjamin C. Willis.


Chicago Teachers Union demonstrators carry a banner that reads “Is Chicago Killing Public Education?” in a protest against payless paydays, Chicago, 1933. CHM, ICHi-016219

#1 – Chicago Police Department Red Squad and related records [manuscript], c. 1930s–86, bulk 1963–74

We can’t imagine a year where this collection of surveillance of suspected “subversive” groups by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) isn’t the most requested collection of our 30,000 linear feet of archival holdings. Two of our staff are notaries to take researchers through the protocols required by the court order.


Example of a Red Squad record at a press conference held by the Representatives of the Businessmen for the Public Interest regarding the Red Squad at the Executive House Hotel, 71 E. Wacker Dr., Chicago, January 5, 1977. Twenty-four Chicagoans claim they were watched by the Red Squad for years and filed a lawsuit that seeks to end the police surveillance. ST-60002106-0029, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM

We hope to see you soon at the ARC. Remember, it’s free to visit!

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