Activist, Archivist, Researcher and Author, Toni Costonie, 64After a short illness, Toni Costonie, passed away on Sunday, April 24, at thirty minutes past midnight, in Chicago, Illinois, surrounded by family. Author, archivist, artist, decorator, herbalist, gardener, mother, wife and partner, Costonie was a woman who knew her own mind and did life her own way. She had a wry sense of humor and keen observations.
Costonie was raised in the Kenwood neighborhood, by her mom Edith DeLaine Coles Costonie and her dad renowned Prophet Kiowa Costonie, civil rights leader and faith healer, who had a store on 47th Street. During part of her teen years, she lived with Dr. Deborah and Michelle Willis (Bey-Williams) and was a part of the first graduating class of Kenwood High School in the early 1970s.
Costonie, married to former Kennedy King College Associate Dean, Stanley Young. A Smithsonian Institute trained archivist and an artist, Costonie worked at museums locally and across the country, including The DuSable Museum in Washington Park and museums in New Orleans, Louisiana and Memphis, Tennessee. She served as Director/Curator of the Graystone International Jazz Museum in Detroit, Michigan. Working with the late Cirilo McSween, she designed and installed the thematic décor at several of his McDonald’s restaurants including Jazz McDonald’s, Sports McDonald’s, Chicago History McDonald’s and Civil Rights McDonald’s, all formerly located in downtown Chicago.
Working in close collaboration with historical figures, Costonie collected, catalogued and organized their archival materials and donated them to museums across the nation. Her most renowned archival collections include the historical papers, photographs and artifacts of inventor and businesswoman, Dr. Marjorie Stewart Joyner; and the world famous photographs of civil rights photographer, Ernest C. Withers.
Costonie started her career by being trained and hired as a community activist by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) in the early 1970s. In 1979 she joined the Consortium to Save the South Shore Country Club Park, the organization whose work pressured the city to save and restore what would become the South Shore Cultural Center and Beach. In 1995, she helped to plan the historic Million Man March as the assistant director of Logistics and Travel.
A prolific writer and researcher, she wrote articles for several publications including Shop Talk Magazine, Chicago Renaissance Newspaper and Beauty Trade. She also authored and published two books, Priestess Miriam and the Voodoo Spiritual Temple; and African American Slavery, Indenture and Resistance in Illinois, 1720 to 1864.
Costonie is survived by her husband, Stanley Young, her daughter Olayinka Martin; three sons, Abayomi Martin, Carl Ragland, Jr., and Kiowa (Shauntrice) Ragland; sister, Tina Costonie, five grandchildren, two stepchildren, Saskia and Stephen Young, sister friends, Michelle-Bey Williams and Sheena Freeman, and a host of relatives and in-laws.
A memorial celebration of Costonie’s life was held at the South Shore Cultural Center, Solarium on Tuesday, May 9, 6 p.m. For more information contact Michelle Bey-Williams at 773-294-8944 or Stanley Young at 773-723-4892.