By JOANA SALIEVSKA
Last Sunday, three 2018 Chicago Metro History Fair projects were honored by the Hyde Park Historical Society (HPHS) as the best student projects on the history of Hyde Park Township.
The students presented their projects at the HPHS, 5529 S. Lake Park Ave., to an audience of teachers, historians, parents, and local Hyde Parker residents. Each presentation was followed by commentary from a panel that included Timuel D. Black, Jr., oral historian and educator, Jay Mulberry, former HPHS president and Chicago Public Schools principal, and Warren K. Chapman, Ph.D., a trustee of the Chicago History Museum and former chancellor of the University of Illinois at Chicago. A short audience questions and answers segment followed the commentary.
There were three different kinds of History Fair projects presented. Tobin Ginschel, Ellory Morrow, and Sarah Rovner, freshmen at Lincoln Park High School, created a website entitled “Harold Washington and the Council Wars.” Sohil Manek, Nicholas Merchant, and Teddy Neer, juniors at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School, created a documentary entitled “Laughter is the Best Weapon: Dick Gregory’s Hilarious Fight for Civil Rights.” And Junhui Jin, also a freshman at Lincoln Park High School, wrote a paper entitled “Shakman Decrees” for which she also won the Leon Despres Award for Legal/Political History.
The first presentation, about the mayoral election of Harold Washington in 1983, described Washington’s effects on voter turnout and black voter mobilization. The students also spoke about the difficulty Washington had securing the votes to pass progressive legislation once he was in office. Black, who was a friend of Washington’s, said “Harold proved by example that we could always do the impossible despite the organized conditions of the status quo.” Chapman commended the students on their discussion of voter turnout and said Harold “changed the way campaigns ran across the city,” because he “campaigned in all 51 wards, even if they didn’t want him there.”
The second project was a documentary exploring the ways in which Dick Gregory, comedian and civil rights activist, used humor to “gain audience’s trust,” and “spread his messages,” even reaching white audiences. Mulberry said the project did a great job of “portraying a person in the context of his time.”
When Chapman was a young boy, he lived in the same apartment building as Gregory.
“I would run into him in the elevator and he always asked me how I was doing,” Chapman said. “He was a regular guy, but he was brilliant. He could really get you to think about an issue. I think this project really captured who he was as a human being.”
The final project was a paper about the Shakman Decrees which were federal court orders barring the practice of political patronage issued by Chicago attorney, Michael Shakman, in 1972, 1979, and 1983. Jin said she “heard so many things, even from my history teacher who would always joke about the corruption in Chicago politics,” and this led her to her research topic. Mulberry spoke about “the complicated subject” after Jin’s presentation mentioning that “this system [political patronage] was the governing principal of Chicago for 50-60 years and to some extent, still exists.”
The audience was attentive throughout the event and all three presentations were met with raucous applause. Kathy Huff, board member of the HPHS and organizer of the event, said “these young students put in a lot of work for these projects and competed against many other Chicago History Fair participants to come this far.”