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Celebrating Nigerian Pride

On the first day of October, Nigeria and Nigerians around the world celebrate Independence Day. The day marks the country’s proclamation of independence from British rule on October 1, 1960.

In Chicago, the Nigerian community numbers about 30,000 people, the city’s largest African community. The first major influx of Nigerians to the Chicago area—and to the United States in general—occurred immediately preceding the outbreak of the country’s Biafran War, which lasted from 1967 to 1970. Nigerian residents originally settled mainly on the North Side, along with businesses such as grocery stores, law offices, and insurance agencies. In the twenty-first century, Nigerian communities have grown throughout the area including the south suburbs. Religious diversity has been crucial to Chicago’s Nigerian community, with Nigerian clergymen representing both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations and a Nigerian Islamic Association on the city’s North Side. 

Native Chicagoan Aminatu El-Mohammed-Toheeb Lawal likes to display her Nigerian heritage through her clothing, wearing this ensemble on special occasions. Her parents came to Chicago in the 1970s from Accra, Ghana, with her mother having Nigerian and Egyptian roots and her father having Malian roots. Lawal originally grew up on the South Side then moved to the North Side in the 1980s. Her parents instilled in her a strong belief in Islam and a deep understanding of her ties to West Africa. Today, Lawal drives for the Pace Suburban Bus Service and lives in the south suburbs.

For our exhibition American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago, Lawal helped CHM costume collection manager Jessica Pushor arrange her ensemble, which comprises an ìró (wrap-around skirt), bùbá (blouse), gèlè (headdress), and iborun (shawl or scarf). The outfit is currently on display at the Museum, and you can listen to a clip of Lawal’s oral history interview below. Listen now.

Ensemble courtesy of Aminatu El-Mohammed-Toheeb Lawal. From left: Lawal and CHM costume collection manager Jessica Pushor arrange the ensemble at the Museum, October 4, 2019. The ensemble on display at CHM. All photographs by CHM staff.

American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago

Our exhibition American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago draws from more than 100 interviews conducted with Muslim Chicagoans sharing their stories of faith, identity, and personal journeys. Dozens of objects from local individuals and organizations, such as garments, artwork, and photographs, as well as videos and interactive experiences expand on how and why Chicago is known as the American Medina. Learn more.

26th Annual Making History Awards 

Tuesday, October 6, 6:00 p.m. 

The Chicago History Museum’s Making History Awards honor Chicagoans and Chicago companies whose enduring contributions to art and culture, sports, business, and civic life have made this city a more vibrant place to live. While we’re unable to gather in person this year, our virtual ceremony will celebrate the accomplishments of seven distinguished honorees: Edward J. Wehmer, Wintrust Financial Corporation founder & CEO; Joanne C. Smith, MD, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab president & CEO; Col. (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker IL ARNG (Ret.), TAWANI Foundation president & founder and Pritzker Military Museum & Library chair & founder; Lester H. McKeever Jr., Mitchell Titus partner; Carol Lavin Bernick, Polished Nickel Capital Management CEO; and Jim and Kay Mabie, civic leaders. Learn more.



Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories